Talking Pictures Festival brings independent film to Evanston

    Still from The Road to Amman, a Medill student film, part of the Refugee Lives program. Courtesy of Talking Pictures Film Festival.

    Discouraged about the distance between Evanston and Cannes? Look no further, because this week will bring a taste of independent films from around the world to campus.

    Northwestern has partnered with Percolator Films, a local non-profit media arts organization, to bring the third annual Talking Pictures Festival to Evanston April 14-17. The showcase will feature films, including some created by Medill students, accompanied by a discussion component with filmmakers and guest speakers.

    Founded by independent filmmakers Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger, Percolator Films spawned out of the Reeltime series, a free program at the Evanston Public Library that shows documentary films and hosts an additional forum for discussion. Sommer and Berger hosted the Reeltime series for over ten years before developing the Talking Pictures Film Festival. “We thought we would try something new and grow something a little bit bigger than the series,” Sommer said.

    The festival consists of 22 programs and features films from abroad and the local area, including two programs Medill graduate and undergraduate students created in documentary classes. The Refugee Lives program will feature, along with an Academy Award nominated film and others, two shorts by Medill students in the Refugee Lives class, which sent students to Jordan, Malawi and Namibia. Another student-produced feature, Dream Chicago, contains four documentary shorts about “people with big dreams and big ambitions in the Chicago area,” said Brent Huffman, the Medill assistant professor who programmed the two sections.

    Huffman says he tries to encourage students to use documentary film to expose human rights violations. “I also think it’s important just to tell stories in the area and capture the human experience in Chicago,” he said. Huffman also believes the festival is a great opportunity for students to showcase their work to a wider audience and network with other people in the area. In general, a lot of films will be showing in the area for the first time. “They’re kind of the Chicago premiere for a lot of the films,” Huffman said.

    Zachary Pardes (MSJ ‘10), co-producer of the short film Caged, which is featured in Dream Chicago, is also looking forward to the festival. “We have Northwestern’s built-in audience, so right off the bat more people will get to see our film,” he said. Caged follows the story of a Mixed Martial Arts fighter and the obstacles he must face. “I think it’s a good step for not only the Medill school but for the school in general because a lot of the students throughout the university do great work and not everyone always gets a chance to see it.”

    Sommer described the rigorous process through which most films are submitted in competition for awards. “There’s pre-screening panels where the film is reviewed by a number of people and ranked according to originality of story, production values, all the different aspects that go into making a successful film. Then there are a number of films that we actually book because we want to round out the program.”

    The festival also emphasizes a discussion aspect similar to the Reeltime series. In addition to filmmakers who will be in attendance at six of the programs, other programs will feature panelists, including community members associated with subjects addressed in the films. For example, Saturday’s screening of The Colony, a film about the disappearance of bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder and its consequences, will be co-presented with The Talking Farm, an urban agriculture group in Evanston that advocates sustainability through local farms.

    “Obviously, I want an audience member to have an interesting and engaging aesthetic experience, for sure. That’s one aspect,” Sommer said. “I would also hope that the films resonate…that the films will stay with the audience members and with the added discussion component, it will be great if audience members think, ‘the people in the film did this and maybe I can help with it.’”


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