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Newcity Film 50, 2020: Chicago's Screen Gems

Film 50 2020: Chicago’s Screen Gems

Who defines any given year in a single word? 2020 carries bushels: Isolation. Solitude. Hibernation. Silence. Concentration. Inspiration. Resistance. Renewal. Resurgence.

The world has changed and changes every day in ways that storytellers will tell us in clear or mysterious and shapely form, and visionaries will explain: quicker, slower, faster, surer, better. But not the same. As important to the sustenance and longevity of film in Chicago, as a pursuit, an industry, a community, as necessary as any audiovisual work that will explode upon the scene at the appropriate time in the appropriate medium, is vision.

These Chicago creative filmmakers have that. They tap into mind and soul and art, but are aware of its utility and its influence in a community; they are islands, but in the verdant archipelago of Chicago. There are old masters with decades of experience and upstarts, too. We don’t mark ages on the list, but the profiles and portraits offer clues. The exchanges with these talented, vital filmmakers, this blazingly articulate bunch, run 80,000 words in full, the length of a modest literary novel about a major city in a transformative passage of time.

These are not only filmmakers who have finished or nearly finished work, or who are invested in a two-year or a five-year or even seven-year plan, but artists who cannot help but transform storytelling in the new world and in our lasting community: not just in the world, but in this world we breathe in today.We are stopped, but we are not still. Breathe in. Breathe out. (Ray Pride).

Kirsten Leenaars/Photo: Sandy Morris (Sally Blood)


Kirsten Leenaars

Interdisciplinary video artist and documentary maker Kirsten Leenaars, associate professor in Contemporary Practices at SAIC, draws on performance, theater and nonfiction strategies in her work. “I make my work with a hopeful yet critical consciousness,” she says. “I foster an intentional porous process in which I invite others to participate to create the work. Through this collective creative process I am committed to thinking about the political, social and personal possibilities of living a life together.” Current work includes “(Re)Housing the American Dream,” a cumulative performative documentary project. “This experimental multi-year documentary project follows a group of American and refugee youths, growing up in the time of Trump, through the collective making of performative video work and interviews, exploring the construct of the American Dream as it intersects with their own lived realities. I just finished shooting our latest iteration.” Directly in front of her is the completion of “Imaginary Homelands,” a documentary she made via Zoom during the past few months, about “notions of home, belonging, community and citizenship.” Leenaars says she is “both super-excited and intimidated by the process of editing all the footage from the past four years of the ‘(Re)Housing the American Dream’ project into one film.” She thinks globally and locally. “I always want to see more deeply, I want to understand physically, emotionally, relationally, historically, politically the world that I am part of in deeper ways. In some ways perhaps not being from the U.S. helps in this pursuit. My work is community-based—and often rooted in Chicago—hence having an understanding of the local is key. Reality is permeated with dominant fictions, individual longings and collective imaginings. We choose what we believe about what we see and experience. We construct narratives to which we refer in order to make our way through life. In my practice, I explore the nature of these narratives. I look at our ways in which we understand and perform our daily lives and explore possible ways of relating to each other.”


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