Yves Hughes, Jr., a recent art school grad and OPRF High School alum (Class of ’99), joined this reporter at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where we conducted focus groups on two of our new documentaries, and reported for WNUA 95.5 FM on new works by some of the world’s best filmmakers.

Additionally, we were able to connect with filmmakers who committed to visiting the Oak Park International Film Festival, Sept. 22-23, and Columbia College Chicago’s Critical Encounters Film Series on Poverty and Privilege. Columbia is co-sponsor, along with Downtown Oak Park, the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Oak Park Public Library, of the Oak Park festival.

The Tribeca Institute remains a real inspiration. Founded in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11, originator Robert DeNiro wanted to breathe life back into the area around the World Trade Center. Today, the institute continues to teach and reach. “This year, between the Youth Filmmakers, Film Fellows, and our pilot Tribeca Teaches: Films in Motion programs, we will directly reach more than 1,300 students,” said Jane Rosenthal, co-chair of the institute. “Through these initiatives we will be able to really encourage youth filmmakers and hope that these programs will double and triple in years to come.”

We studied the educational aspects of “Tribeca Teaches” as a model for both what the Oak Park International Film Festival and Columbia College festival could do in our communities.

Our second night in New York, we listened to Ava Mendez, the actress-producer of Live, and Rosario Dawson, the actress-producer of Descent, at a panel of new women filmmakers. Mendez discussed her controversial critique of television that might remind some of Network three decades ago. Live asks how greedy are TV networks and how bloodthirsty are viewers, and would the current craze for reality shows support Russian roulette on camera, on cue? I think we know the answer.

The Devil Came on Horseback was one of the most gripping documentaries shown because of its close shots of kids’ corpses in Darfur, Sudan. Yves and I invited director Annie Sundberg and Devil‘s main subject, Marine Captain Brian Steidle, to visit Columbia College and our festival for a screening and a talk.

Our final interview, scheduled to be broadcast Sunday, June 3, 6:30 a.m. on WNUA, features the Academy Award-winning director Bill Guttentag, who directed two films at Tribeca, Live and Nanking. We invited Bill to visit us this fall to talk more about Nanking, which chronicles the rape of 20,000 Chinese women by invading Japanese troops in 1937. Chicago-born author of Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang, whom Guttentag said “inspired this film,” killed herself last year after being haunted by the stories of rape victims’ stories.

We also saw “On The Downlow,” a stunning documentary by Abigail Child on bisexual black males that made some intellectuals here question why only black men are said to be “downlow” and not whites – like the former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, who stepped down in November after reporters revealed the married governor slept with a male aide. We loved “The Last Jews of Libya,” a Vivienne Roumani-Denn-directed documentary in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Italian, which chronicled how 25,000 Jewish citizens of this North African country coexisted peacefully for centuries with Christian and Muslim neighbors until the two world wars hardened the positions of those in power. Isabella Rossellini narrated this beautifully photographed film.

Yves and I are now at the Cannes Film Festival where the Oak Park International Film Festival has official credentials. Here attendees are learning more about our homegrown festival. We’re also participating in Columbia College’s Film Showcase, led by Oak Parker Bruce Sheridan, who heads Columbia’s Film Department.

We invite you to join in, simply by sending entries to the upcoming film festival. Here’s the info: The Oak Park International Film Festival is accepting entries for the upcoming Sept. 22-23 event at the Oak Park Public Library. It’s a free local film festival by local filmmakers for area film fans. Works should be on DVD format in any genre: shorts, features, documentaries, cartoons, etc. All entries should be mailed with a bio and description to: The Oak Park International Film Festival, c/o Soweto West Press, P.O. Box 1294, Oak Park 60304. The deadline is July 15, 2007.

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