Film Fest focused on females

Opinion: Columns

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By Stan West

The Ninth Annual Oak Park International Film Festival was a huge success on many levels. It received positive press in local daily and weekly papers as well as TV, radio and online calendar mentions. It provided a film component to Downtown Oak Park and Visit Oak Park's "Oaktoberfest." And it "connected filmmakers and audiences in fun ways, and did so without screening on Jewish, Muslim or Christian holidays," said co-coordinator Yves Hughes Jr., who founded the event with Donna Watts and yours truly nine years ago.

The filmmakers, who ranged from teenagers like Mary Alexander to senior citizens like Gloria Onischuk, shared a sense of community with each other. Onischuk, the Under the Ginkgo Tree hotelier, charmed a group that included Jim Madigan, associate director of the library, and Joy Jones, who connected well with wonderkid Mary Alexander and Renee Domenz (whom she directed in her stunning Not That Different music video, featuring singer Hannah Rand), the night before the festival at the filmmakers' private reception.

The camaraderie was most apparent at the lunchtime forum, "Oak Park Women in Film," an event that captured the interest of the Chicago Tribune's Regina Robinson, who mentioned it in her Sept. 20 "Do It Now" column. The forum paid tribute to Oak Park's Ms. Mary Moore, who died recently. Betty Jackson-Uzzell, the maker of the 2007 standing-room-only documentary about Moore, said a public goodbye.

"She was an amazing woman entrepreneur who specialized in designing leather goods but created a shoe-shining job at McCormick Place to help put her son through college. Mary Moore died way too soon," Jackson-Uzzell said. Mary Moore's son is former Chicago Bulls forward Linton Johnson Jr.

Virginia "Ginie" Cassin, co-founder of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, announced from the audience that their museum and the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home are available as locations for local filmmakers, something that Promise Land director Kevin Dalvi said he planned to follow up on. In his film, Dalvi featured Joyce Porter, who inspired the 2013 theme, "The Cinema of Borders Being Crossed." Also in the audience was Bernadette Staszewski, Visit Oak Park's director of membership and advertising, who was delighted to see so many talented women on stage.

"It's a ladies love-in," she said.

The forum heralded prolific actress-producer Renee Domenz; Porter, who is probably the film fest's most consistent supporter (and occasional critic); and one of the youngest directors, Joy Jones, a recent Columbia College film grad, who has contributed to our festival since she was in high school. Her offerings this year included The Coming, What About Chrissy and Grandma's Peer Pressure. Jones' films focus on religion, relationships and relatives.

This lively, noon-time event showcased three generations of female narrative filmmakers and film critics discussing "civic cinema," which is where film meets civic engagement. The panel, moderated by DePaul University graduate film student Betty Jackson (co-producer of Drums of Peace with Bryan Cosgriff) and local actress Alice Brown, centered on stories about female filmmakers' contributions to ongoing human rights, identity and spiritual struggles. During the event, Brown shared with the audience that the 2014 theme will be "The Citizen as Artist."

Hope to see you there!

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