Filmmaker captures magical Chicago moments with iPhone


Courtesy of Myles Green

Filmmaker captures magical Chicago moments with iPhone

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

As Matthew Broderick’s famous line in the 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” goes, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Local Chicago filmmaker Justin Harenchar took that quote to heart, as evidenced by his monthly film project, “How We Got Here,” in which he captures the beauty of everyday life in Chicago.

Harenchar was looking for an exciting way to explore his new home after relocating to Chicago from his hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, last year. The only problem was his minuscule budget that caused him to delve into Chicago using only his iPhone 5s, he said. 

“I didn’t have any expendable income to spend on a camera, and I wanted to get to know the city better,” Harenchar said. “It was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone scenario where I decided to see what I could film using just my phone.”

With his iPhone in hand and the urge to explore his new home, Harenchar embarked on a monthly film project in which he explores Chicago’s beauty using three-second shots spliced together to show off the city’s splendor. The series, titled “How We Got Here,” focuses on everyday life as the months and seasons pass.

“I try to get four to five shots a day,” Harenchar said. “I try to have it feel like there is a level of comprehensive nature to it instead of little vignettes. I like them to all be sort of tied together and portray a certain mood from month to month.”

Harenchar said the video project has helped him discover new parts of the city that he might not have otherwise noticed.

“It really helped me see Chicago in a different way,” Harenchar said. “The funny thing is I know my way around the city more than I would without having done [the project] because a lot of days there wouldn’t be too much going on around town, so I’d just pick a direction and go with it.”

He said the iPhone’s ability to shoot beautiful raw footage made it the perfect equipment for “How We Got Here.” Harenchar said he was inspired to create this video series after getting a new phone at the beginning of the year and noticing how great the footage looked.

Since starting his monthly film series, the project has received media attention from the Chicagoist, DNAinfo and Fox 32, which Harenchar said took him by surprise.

“There was a section on ‘Good Day Chicago’ about my videos,” Harenchar said. “Waking up and watching that on TV was the craziest thing because you’re just watching TV and then the anchors start talking about this project and you go, ‘Oh, that’s me!’ It’s just a really crazy and simultaneously awesome feeling. That was probably my favorite moment so far.”

Harenchar said one of his favorite parts of doing the “How We Got Here” project is the amount of praise he has received from lifelong Chicago residents.

“That’s the litmus test, isn’t it?” Harenchar said. “If people like [the videos] that’s great, but if people from Chicago like them, then I really know I’m doing my job. I have those people who say, ‘You really look like you’ve been here for a long time,’ which makes me happy that I could assimilate into the culture that well. But the ones I really like are the Chicagoans who write in and say, ‘I lived there for years and this makes me miss home.’”

Harenchar said the reactions make all of his work worth the effort. He said he wanted to remind Chicagoans that they live in such an extraordinary city.

“I wanted to make a project that’s fun to watch, but also one that inspires Chicagoans to go out and look at their city,” Harenchar said. “They live in a great place, and it’s easy to forget that, no matter where you are. If I could  be a reminder of that, I think that’s great.”

Harenchar said he hopes to show people that it is possible to make striking films on a budget and with limited equipment.

“I want to motivate people who are in positions like I am, and on a budget like I am, to go out and just shoot something, regardless of whether you think it’ll be good or bad,” Harenchar said. “Just go do it, and you’ll be surprised what you could come up with on a shoe-string budget when you’re left with just you and your own devices.”

For more information about “How We Got Here,” visit Joyland Films on