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Monday, November 18

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Film Fri May 29 2015

Chicagoland Brings the Soft Line Between the Urban and the Wild into Sharp Focus

chicagoland_still_website.jpgChicagoland, Manual Cinema's first original short, is a simple story, beautifully told. A coyote moves through the city at night, passing through parts familiar and unknown in a quest to feed her pups. Through her, we see the city as a place still wild, bursting with life and danger.

To bring the characters -- both human and animal -- to life, designers Lizi Breit and Drew Dir created intricate paper shadow puppets. Each limb was designed on computer, printed and assembled by hand, creating characters that are both true-to-life and surprisingly expressive.

The short was originally inspired by director Ben Kauffman's interest in the concept of "rewilding" and a desire to question our understanding of what cities are and what they can be:

"Rewilding" suggests that some of the ideas we have about cities, as totally separate from "Nature", as a place for just humans, are basically false and have never been true. Cities are teeming with non-human life, they have complex ecological systems, and the boundaries between urban and natural are more fuzzy than we might realize.

The story's development was informed by the insights of experts in urban wildlife and ecology, conversations with whom are available for viewing on the film's website. The filmmakers' research is integrated seamlessly into the story, adding color and depth. It's informative without ever feeling didactic.

Chicagoland owes much of its success to its score, a co-creation of composer Kyle Vegter and Percussionist Matthew Duvall (Eighth Blackbird). Alternately eerie and playful, it perfectly sets the tone, helping the short to maintain a delicate balance. It is moving, but in a way that is unexpected, not cloying.

Manual Cinema has been around since 2010 creating work that is both evocative and highly original. While they are most well known for their live performances, which have been presented at various Chicago locations and as far afield as Tehran, they've recently started creating more video-based work. Chicagoland comes on the heels of a video opera and installation at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and a series of short vignettes for the Chicago History Museum. For Kauffman, the short feels like a "natural progression." It's certainly an exciting one.

Plans for screenings are in the works. For now it's available online at

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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