In 2005, after filmmaker Yves Hughes and I screened “Diversity in Oak Park” at focus groups in Cannes, France, we joined casting director Donna Watts to launch the Oak Park International Film Festival at the Oak Park Public Library, thanks to the largesse of then-Associate Director Jim Madigan. Our vision was to present diverse films with local connections and oft-global themes in a free, non-juried fun festival. It worked. 

This Saturday, Sept. 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., along with co-coordinators Nyah Clay, Kaitlyn Venturina and Bianca Rodriguez, we will host the 15th festival, including free screenings at Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., and online in this first hybrid exhibition (after skipping last year). The multiplicity of this year’s films and filmmakers is an exercise in diversity itself, especially in this racial, gender, health, and class pandemic. 

This year’s festival is dedicated to the late, great actress-journalist Alice Brown. She never missed a fest. Two of her films were featured in early festivals and she moderated panels in later ones. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC’s Today Show, and WJ featured glowing tributes to Brown — whose insights and civic awareness epitomized the fest. 

This year’s event launches a year-long inquiry into “civic cinema,” allowing for investigation of the ways individuals, collectives, and institutions foment change and cross borders. Participants represent several generations, ethnicities, and identities with some links to Oak Park/Austin.

The fest also heralds other iconic local moms who passed: former trustee Vernette Schultz; former Oak Park Community Relations head Sherlynn Reid, both of whom cracked systemic racism in village structures; former lawyer-activist Fumi Knox, who was born in California’s Manzanar Japanese-American concentration camp; and former educator Bette Wilson, former head of District 97’s Multicultural Education Dept. In their honor and to address this critical moment, festival organizers will screen “Diversity in Oak Park,” which launched the fest in 2005. 

Festival co-coordinator Nyah Clay, a Trinidadian-American, shares her short film about class in D.C. where the line between suburb & cities symbolizes us & them. Assisting Clay will be writer Kaitlyn Venturina, a Filipina-American. We’ll see Columbia College LGBTQ student shorts. Festival host will be Puerto Rican poet Bianca Rodriguez, also my former student. Among the films she’ll introduce include Community Television Network’s Humboldt Park-based doc by teen Latinx, Asian & Black filmmakers. 

Featured as well this year will be our festival “godmother,” Oak Park actress Joyce Porter, starring in a suspenseful short by Jeph Porter. Projects I worked on range from “The Light of Truth – Richard Hunt’s Monument to Ida B. Wells” trailer, co-produced by Canadian-American Laurie Little, Haitian-American Natasha Phicil, Hyde Parker Rana Segal with Chicagoan Enero Ray, to the “James Baldwin’s Black Lives Blues Are Mine” trailer, which we’ll sneak preview with my book promo at a private Sept. 17 filmmaker’s reception at Buzz Café’s, “Party Room,” 905 S. Lombard, 5 to 7:30 p.m. to which Brown, Schultz, Knox, Reid & Wilson’s daughters are invited. 

My book just rolled out via Kendall Hunt Publishing. 

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