On behalf of the Oak Park International Film Festival, I’d like to thank the scores of attendees and several filmmakers who helped make our 7th annual event possible.

We dedicated this year’s festival to two groups of local filmmakers: Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James, producer and director of The Interrupters, which recently screened at the Lake Theatre, and Derek and David Grace, co-directors of On the Frontline: Taking Back Our Street, which played both days to packed houses at the Oak Park Public Library.

Both films were previously screened to sold-out audiences at Chicago’s Black Harvest Film Festival at Gene Siskel Theatre — The Interrupters in 2011 and On the Frontline in 2010. Both films take a close look at the problem of handgun violence against local youth. Both films provide some solutions to the complex problem that affects our villages and beyond. And both films move audiences to tears.

Since parts of On the Frontline were filmed just one mile west and one mile east of the library where viewers were sitting, the issue of handgun violence against local youth took on an urgent immediacy, viewers said.

“When I saw my sisters and brothers being shot down in Austin and Maywood in this film, I knew that we needed to have a serious discussion after the screening,” said distinguished casting director Donna Watts, moderator of Saturday’s screening. She invited director Derek Grace to field questions.

“I knew a cop whose teen son was killed trying to protect another kid, and if a cop’s son can’t be safe, who can?” he asked.

In a tearful scene in the film that featured Chicago police Officer Ron Holt and his wife, Chicago Fire Department Captain Annette Nance- Holt, pinning a button with their son’s picture on her husband’s lapel during an official ceremony where he was promoted to director of the city’s community policing program, there was sobbing in the audience.

Perhaps the most poignant moment came when one of my watery-eyed Columbia College students, Vassia Mastrogianni, and her wailing mother visiting from Athens, bawled before and after the screening, and later wrote this note just prior to Derek Grace’s visit to my “Culture, Race and Media” classroom.

“I was touched by the film we all watched called On the Frontline. I thought it was a masterpiece. It made me view things as never before and I am willing to further explain what I mean. Being a Greek, not a Greek-American, the opportunity to become part of a group of people who become aware of several social issues was a big deal. Just by being in the library, just by observing, I felt that I am participating in something extremely significant for the American culture. Thank you.”

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