Archive for October 8th, 2017

The documentary film, “The Experimental City” by Chad Friedrichs, will be a part of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival taking place in Chicago from October 12-26 at the AMC River East.  The film, a part of the Spotlight: Architecture program, is a bold, innovative, and entertaining discovery of an almost lost and forgotten story of Athelstan Spilhaus.  Spilhaus lead a team of scientists attempting to develop MXC, the Minnesota Experimental City in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This endeavor, targeting the results of climate change actually garnered state funding and political support, but just as quickly as it was considered, it fizzled out and was buried…until now.  Friedrichs unlocks the treasure of information and provides audiences with the opportunity to know Spilhaus as well as to ponder the era and the outcome.

Friedrichs talked with me about his discovery of Spilhaus and the arduous journey in making this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening film.

UNCOVERING SPILHAUS

I think outside certain sections of Minnesota, [the Experimental City] has been a largely forgotten subject. I came to it as I was searching for a topic along the lines of retro-futurism which is what people in the past used to think the future would look like…I came across some articles about Athelstan Spilhaus who is this scientist [and] academic…[and] this comic that he had written called Our New Age which of course is featured in the film…The very first ‘Our New Age’ that Spilhaus ever wrote in 1958 was about climate change.  He talked about [the fact] that we lived in a greenhouse and the carbon dioxide that is being emitted from our burning of fossil fuels is on the increase with the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere thus creating warming. And the last panel of that ‘Our New Age’ is NYC under water.  The very first one that he ever wrote!   But it’s one thing to do a profile on an individual, it’s another thing to try and define something far greater.  I actually looked it up on Wikipedia (You never know what you’ll find there!)… it mentioned that he had been a part of this project called the Minnesota Experimental City.  I’m originally from Minnesota, so this was something that I kind of cued in on…and you go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and you start reading about this very futuristic sounding city.  Now, of course the Wikipedia article doesn’t give you any where near the kind of depth that we eventually arrived at, but it gave me enough of an indication that  there might be something really cool here.    

AUDIO RECORDING DISCOVERY

When I began this project, like all projects, you have no idea what this thing is going to look like, but…once I read the story of the MXC…[I thought] I’ve got to make this story somehow.  And I didn’t even know that those archival recordings were out there.  Walter Van den Broeck…who was one of the leads on the project donated all of these recordings and all of his materials associated with the MXC to the Northwest Architectural archives at the University of Minnesota.  A quick internet search revealed that they had these boxes. We didn’t know what was in these boxes, but it did mention that there were some reel to reel audio recordings.  Those are the kind of things that can change a film…when I say recordings, probably 40 or 50 reel to reels, and it says Steering Committee meeting, July 1967…this is going to be Spilhaus and all the rest talking about it and sure enough it was.

That was the first find and then the second find was when we went down to Texas to interview Louise O’Connor, Spilhuas’ friend. She mentioned off-hand that she had these recordings when she compiling his biography…In her recordings with Spilhaus, [he was] drinking heavily during the recording… he could say whatever he wanted, he was liberated. That was fun to listen to! That really gives you a sense of this character… we had 200 hours of audio…We had way more audio that we ever knew what to do with.  It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it is a problem.

REINACTMENTS USING ARCHIVAL AUDIO

The people (shown seated from the neck down) who are reading the MPCA transcripts at the end of the film, they’re all family members.  Even through editing, that was always the question mark, were audiences going to accept it? The idea: I’ve seen a film called “The Arbor,” that has lip-syncing involved. I didn’t have either the chops or the budget to pull off something like that. Another obvious choice would to be to do comics, to do an animation, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling that.  And I really wanted to make sure that those recordings didn’t feel abstract.

So when you’re exposed to all this archival footage, all these still images…it’s going to distance you away from that audio…it just doesn’t have that same kind of immersion  when you’re actually seeing people talk even if you know in the back of your mind that those people aren’t real.

It’s the documentarians burden I’ve struggled with all my career.  Sometimes you have fabulous material from one aspect of the film but then you have to find ways to fill in the other aspects of the film, in this case, the visuals. 

WHAT IF MXC WAS BUILT?  WOULD OUR WORLD BE BETTER?

It’s tempting to look at that.  Let me give you my point of view on that.  I always, from the very beginning, try to strike a balance.  I always want audiences to come out kind of  a 50-50 split. I want audiences to see virtues of both sides. The people from [Minnesota] absolutely had to do what they did.  I mean it’s crazy to think that the city would come in, and if you believe in where you live is a good place, that’s the last thing you want to do is have that taken away… It’s very possible that this could have ameliorated some issues that created climate change today.  It’s very possible that it may not have done anything and become a ghost town after 20-30 years.  It does show [that] Spilhaus very early on was aware.  He was on the fence.  They knew that some sort of change was going to be taking place, but throughout the 70’s they weren’t sure whether it was going to be the climate change that we know or things were going to get cooler because of particulates in the air from pollution and that would block sunlight and it would have gotten cooler.  So he was on the fence.  To cast Spilhaus as this totally prescient person about our predicament today, is to do an historical injustice to him.  He was operating on the best information he had at the time.

RELEVANCY TODAY

A lot of people expect relevance out of documentaries…[However], this film is a kind of time piece as well.  It captures the spirit of a toxic era, so I wanted to remain true to that era  I didn’t want to move it forward to the 21st century.  It was a story about the 1960’s and ’70’s…At the same time, I think it’s great that people find relevancy that makes your work fresh; it keeps it interesting. 

GOALS

Number one, I want people to be entertained. There’s a burden that’s placed on documentary filmmakers to have this larger social outcome from a film.  That is not my desire, nor is it my particular talent.  Mine is making the movie and then letting other people use it as a tool.   The reason I got into this is that I’m attracted to the story…if audience walks out of it and they’re happy and entertained or sad and entertained, that’s enough for me.

chasing the blues

The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival, October 12th-26, has one of the most memorable line-ups in its history.  Unique to this festival, CIFF features “City & State” films showcasing “local characters and settings” and this year, there are 6 standout films in the category.  “Chasing the Blues,” starring Grant Rosenmeyer, Jon Lovitz, and Steve Guttenberg and co-written and directed by Scott Smith is just one of the truly wonderful films to see.

“Chasing the Blues” takes us into the life of Alan (Rosenmeyer) who is behind bars.  This soon-to-be released convict, previously a teacher in Chicago, has his story to tell as to how he ended up in this lowly state.  Lincoln Groome (Lovitz) visits Alan just before he’s released to dangle a carrot, hoping to entice Alan to look for the record album that landed him in prison 20 years ago.  The temptation is too much and Alan takes the bait.  We take that journey with him as he recounts to a random (and beautiful) fellow bus traveler the sordid and simply hilarious details of a mythical 1930‘s blues musician, a cursed rare record, and his rivalry with a fellow collector.film_chasing-the-blues_1200x800

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

I had the opportunity to talk with Smith, currently a filmmaker as well as a creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago about making this Windy City independent gem and  creating the mystery and intrigue of the fictional blues legend Jimmie Kane Baldwin.

Pamela Powell (PP):  Tell me about your background and how you got into filmmaking.

Scott Smith (SS):  Long ago, when my interest in filmmaking started to get more present in my life, I decided to shoot a couple of spec commercials for myself to see what it was like. I came up with these fake commercials for a fake yoga studio…targeted to men.  There are two guys who are calling a baseball game, but there’s a rain delay.  To show something, they went out to this yoga competition and they had to announce the [it].  It’s them trying to understand what’s going on.

PP:  That sounds hilarious!

SS:  It’s a 30 second thing and it was done with a couple friends that are improv actors.  Eventually, I wrote a short film about a guy who breaks all ten commandments (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0429172/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_12) in a couple minutes!  That one was the one that really encouraged me and validated my interest and belief that I could have some sort of competence.  And that short allowed me to compete in the third series of Project Greenlight.  I was one of three director finalists in the third season…I didn’t win…[but] it boosted my confidence and my ability to do something semi-worthwhile.

PP:  “Chasing the Blues” isn’t your first feature though.

SS:  It’s the first narrative feature.  The first feature was a documentary feature called “Being Bucky.”  “Chasing the Blues” was based on a short story that my friend wrote.  He and I wrote the screenplay…John Fromstein, the executive producer, was reading an anthology of short stories about Blues in Chicago and he read this one and said, “Oh, my God!  You have to read this.  It would be a really great short film.”  I read it and I looked at the author and said, I’m pretty sure I know Kevin Guilfoile.  The first thought I had was, yes, this would be a great film, but it would be a great feature.

chasingsdf

Smith shared that he and Kevin would take turns writing a scene and passing it back and forth, but then the project sat on a shelf for several years.  Then, 3 years ago, they picked it up again and began rewriting it as well as beginning the fundraising process.

PP:  You have a great cast.  Tell me about getting Lovitz and Guttenberg on board.

chasinglovitzSS:  Our first goal was to keep everything in Chicago.  When we weren’t finding what we needed, we expanded out…Steve Gutenburg came to us and was really interested in playing the lead…he wanted to be a part of the project and ended up being “Diamond Dan” and his agent is the same as Jon Lovitz’.  I started re-imagining the role before he actually came on—just the potential and the possibility of it.  We had a phone call.  He was totally into it.  He wanted to put on a southern accent [and] he signed on.

 

PP:  That’s great that you focused on keeping as much as possible in Chicago and it really has the flavor of our city.  What says “Chicago” most to you in this film?

JR-Jones-O+DEATH_v3i

SS:  Record stores here in Chicago.  When we were shooting at Val’s (Records) in Oak Park, that was a really fun scene to shoot.  Just being in there, to me it really reflects the depth of music in Chicago.  Chicago has 15-20 record stores that are prominent and busy with a great knowledge.  Re-creating the studio scene, Cicero Studios, felt Chicago-y to me.  It gave it that historic blues feeling.  And approaching the three flats… the apartment and Mrs. Walker felt very uniquely Chicago to me.

 

PP:  Your actors who played Paul (Ron Connor) and Alan were polar opposites, but so wonderfully compatible in their roles!  They really seemed like they were having fun while they were antagonizing one another!

M.+Walker

SS:  The three of us rehearsed a bunch [and] luckily Ron Connor is from Chicago…we went through a lot of the scenes and pre-blocked [them].  They did bring a different energy to it and we capitalized on it.  They were really fun together and there was a lot we had to cut out!

PP:  There’s something special about filmmaking in Chicago, don’t you think?

SS:  One of the things John and I wanted to do is to really emphasize Chicago and really use a Chicago crew; support Chicago as much as we could.  There was a conscious effort to keep it here and use people from Chicago.  It’s like a family.  It’s all the same attitude:  let’s get it done [with] enthusiasm.

Energy, quick wit, and definitely enthusiasm can be found in “Chasing the Blues.”  Check out the trailer and the video that had me believing in the myth of Jimmie Kane Baldwin right here:  TRAILER   JIMMIE KANE BALDWIN VIMEO

TICKETS INFO AT CIFF

SWING AWAY
Director: Michael Achilles Nickles
Cast: Shannon Elizabeth, John O’Hurley, Manos Gavras, Renos Haralambidis, Karl Theobald,
Alexandros Mylonas, Olga Damani, Christos Sourgaris introducing Viktoria Miller
Screenplay by: Paul Robert Lingas, Julia Wall
Story by: George Elias Stephanopoulos, Paul Robert Lingas
Producers: George Stephanopoulos, Stamatios Tom Hiotis, Costas Lambropoulos, George Kiriakos
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media

“Swing Away” takes a swing at American investors, men vs. women, and family heritage and hits a hole in one!  Zoe Papadopoulos (Shannon Elizabeth) has a major meltdown on the golf circuit, finding herself suspended.  Attempting to regain her game and composure, she goes back home to Greece, melting in the comfort of grandparents, great food, and familiar surroundings.  What she doesn’t come prepared for is the fight of her life to help a little girl and the entire town protect itself from big business.  Her game of golf just might help them all…and her!  Check out the trailer below and watch for the full review soon!

Theatrical Release

Coming to Theaters and Video On Demand on Friday, October 13th!

 In Major Cinemas for a Limited Time

Check Box Office for Showtimes

New York, NY – Kew Gardens Cinemas 6
Philadelphia, PA – AMC Cherry Hill 24
San Francisco/San Jose, CA – AMC Mercado 20
Washington DC – AMC Hoffman Center 22
Los Angeles, CA – AMC Burbank Town Center 8
Providence, RI – CW Theater
Chicago, IL – AMC South Barrington 30
                    Pickwick Theater
Salt Lake City, UT – Megaplex Jordan Commons
                              Megaplex Thanksgiving Point
                              Megaplex The District
Detroit, MI – Emagine 18
Vero Beach, FL – The Majestic 11
Denver, CO – Harkins Northfield 18
Tampa/St. Petersburg – Centro Ybor 10

Exclusive Screenings

Boston, MA – Regent Theatre-October 14th, 2pm, 7:30pm    
Toronto, ON – Innis Town Hall-October 15th, 4:30pm
Columbia, SC – AMC Dutch Square 14-October 15th, 3pm
New Haven, CT – Bow Tie Cinemas-October 19th, 7pm
Dallas, TX – Studio Movie Grill-October 19th, 7pm

Video On Demand

Swing Away  will be available on all cable and satellite platforms as well as:
Amazon Instant Video  – FandangoNow – Google Play – iTunes – Vudu – YouTube Movies – Xbox