From reel to real

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

Although the 48th annual Chicago International Film Festival ended Oct. 25, Columbia’s involvement with festival organizer Cinema/Chicago continues.

Bruce Sheridan, Film & Video Department chair, said the college is involved with Cinema/Chicago’s year-round efforts, in part because of both entities’ nonprofit status. Cinema/Chicago’s  mission is to facilitate communication among people from diverse cultures through film.

“When [the school makes] a profit, we put that back into more education, and the film festival does the same thing,” Sheridan said. “We’re putting what we get back into what we do. That means the festival links us to a like-minded organization.”

Festival founder Michael Kutza said education has always been an integral part of the event. The panels, screenings and visiting directors from around the world exemplify Cinema/Chicago’s mission to educate.

“This giant international film festival is a niche market,” Kutza said. “You’re not going to see this product or meet these people anywhere else but in Chicago.”

Eric Winston, vice president of Institutional Advancement, said the college’s sponsorship of the event grew out of Sheridan’s involvement and the participation of faculty and students in the Film & Video Department.

“We believe that [being involved with the festival] really increases the value of the students’ film & video degree in the city of Chicago, because people have a greater respect for our graduates [through] our high profile with the film festival,” Winston said.

For the past 20 years, Cinema/Chicago’s educational outreach has brought Chicago Public Schools students to the festival for screenings and discussions with directors,

Kutza said.

Screenings occur daily during the festival and semimonthly during the rest of the year at Columbia’s Film Row Cinema in the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

“It’s a really wonderful way for [CPS] students who wouldn’t [otherwise] have the opportunity to go on a field trip and see a foreign film or see a college atmosphere,” said Rebecca Fons, Cinema/Chicago’s education program manager, and an arts, entertainment and media management alumna. “We often reach out to Columbia film & video instructors and professors to lead conversations following those screenings.”

CineYouth, the International Film Festival’s youth film festival, which also takes place in Film Row Cinema, will have its ninth airing in 2013. More than 400 entries will be whittled down to approximately 100 films, Fons said.  Entry is open to the public, ages 21 and under. Applicants can submit work for CineYouth 2013 from Dec. 1 through March 2013.

“We showcase the young filmmaking talent we have in Chicago and around the world,” Fons said.

Cinema/Chicago’s educational advisory board plans all these efforts and augments the educational outreach efforts with its resources, connections and experience to help Fons’ programming,  said Jack Newell, a film & video adjunct and 2004 alumnus.

Newell serves on the board and has “film-tutored” two CineYouth participants. He has led students through the Media Production Center to show them what goes on behind the scenes of a real set.

Newell said storytelling is a powerful way to connect with students of any age.

“Filmmaking is a sort of storytelling [that offers] a lot of tools to try to elicit a response,” Newell said.

He said students he’s worked with through Cinema/Chicago are willing to take chances, and he thrives on that energy.

“I think when making films [professionally] or teaching films, it’s easy to [take your work for granted],” he said. “But with the kids, they’re just so excited that it’s really hard to [feel] that way.”