"As an Act of Protest," by Dennis Leroy Kangalee.

The Oak Park International Film Festival cinema screening event reflects celluloid resistance in our divisive era. It’s a quirky visual feast. On Saturday, Sept. 21, the film festival, which includes free screenings and discussions at the Oak Park Public Library, is open to all. 

A participating film must have a local connection (cast, crew, subject, location in Chicago’s western suburbs or Austin). This year’s theme is “Resistance Cinema.” Festivities begin Friday, Sept. 20, with a private filmmakers-only reception at Oak Park’s Buzz Café “party room,” thanks to owner Laura Maychruk who provided hospitality space to support this idiosyncratic, non-juried film festival.

This year’s local films are an exercise in diversity itself, especially in this “Hands-Up/I Can’t Breathe” era. They range from Rana Segal’s “Gwendolyn Brooks: Oracle of Bronzeville” about how Oak Park sculptor Margot McMahon’s tribute in bronze to Illinois’ first black poet-laureate, to Darryl Mitchell’s psychological thriller trailer “The Dark Total Eclipse,” to Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s provocative “As an Act of Protest” introduced by Floyd Webb, to festival returnee Laurie Little’s award-winning short “Totalité,” about a French photographer’s spiritual liberation; and Joyce Porter’s acting in recent Northwestern University film grad Elenore Pan’s family drama, “Stagger 19.”

There’s also an opening salvo of shorts from my Columbia College “Culture, Race & Media” students on ableism, immigration, cultural appropriation, homophobia, white supremacy, religious intolerance, women’s rights and resistance to injustice anywhere and everywhere.

Others range from two blues-infused trailers by Columbia College photojournalists Jacqueline Luttrell and Samantha Buttiliere on James Baldwin and Muddy Waters, featuring commentary by this reporter, to a grand finale of Okema Seven Gunn’s lovely “Signatures of Sisterhood” short featuring Austin music man Rob Diggy. He scored the track to this film seen recently at the Black Harvest Film Festival, which centers on identity.

This will be followed by a fun noontime filmmaker’s panel moderated by Reel Black Filmmakers founder Derek Grace.

This year’s festival launches a year-long inquiry into “resistance cinema,” a cinematic subject that allows for intense investigation of the ways individuals, collectives and institutions foment change and cross borders. From the spoken word to scientific intervention, we consider the reasoning and actions that critique and disrupt systems of hierarchy and oppression.

This visual inquiry provokes debate, confronts convention, and promotes actions of social justice and civic engagement via the festival’s unique form of visual rebellion. There will be a forum featuring community youth and filmmakers discussing their process and product of their work. This year, Asian, Latinx, Black, White and Biracial filmmakers represent the festival’s rainbow coalition of cinematic resisters.

The educational outreach connected with this seminar is inspired by “Tribeca Teaches,” a New York-based program where film professionals and teaching artists instruct low-income teens. Students from area schools like OPRF, Austin, Trinity Spencer Tech and CPS are cordially invited.

The Oak Park International Film Festival was the brainchild of director Yves Hughes, casting director Donna Watts and yours truly after we attended workshops at the Cannes, Tribeca, Sundance, Toronto and Chicago International film festivals more than a decade and a half ago.

This local festival has global flavor and it often gives voice to the visual voiceless.

Celebrating the festival’s 15th anniversary, special tribute is being paid to Oak Park actresses Joyce Porter and Renee Domenz, Maywood-born director Derek Grace, Oak Park actress-writer Alice Brandee Brown, and Maywood producer Floyd Webb for their consistent support in nearly every festival to date. The festival also appreciates media partners — WPNA-AM 1490’s Doris Davenport and Wednesday Journal’s Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley.

Attend the 15th Oak Park International Film Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Veterans Room, Main Library, 834 Lake St., Oak Park. Preview a trailer of “Totalité”.

Stan West is a filmmaker-journalist and Columbia College adjunct professor who lives in Oak Park and occasionally contributes to Wednesday Journal. He is the host of the Oak Park International Film Festival.

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