Civic cinema is the theme of Oak Park Film Fest

In 2005, after filmmaker Yves Hughes and I screened “Diversity in Oak Park” during focus groups in Cannes, France, we joined casting director Donna Watts to kick off the Oak Park International Film Festival in 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 often global themes in a fun free, jury-less festival. It worked.

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

This year’s festival is dedicated to the late and great actress-journalist Alice Brown. She never missed a festival. Two of her films have been screened in the first festivals and she has moderated panels in the later ones. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Today’s show, and WJ paid glowing tributes to Brown – whose ideas and civic conscience epitomized the party.

This year’s event launches a year-long survey of ‘civic cinema’, exploring the ways in which individuals, collectives and institutions drive change and cross borders. Participants represent multiple generations, ethnicities and identities with ties to Oak Park / Austin.

The party also announces the passing of other iconic local moms: former administrator Vernette Schultz; former Oak Park community relations manager Sherlynn Reid, both of whom spoke out against systemic racism in village structures; the former lawyer-activist Fumi Knox, born in the Japanese-American concentration camp of Manzanar in California; and former educator Bette Wilson, former head of the District 97 Multicultural Education Department. In their honor and to address this critical moment, festival organizers will be screening “Diversity in Oak Park,” which launched the festival in 2005.

The co-coordinator of the festival Nyah Clay, a Trinidadian-American, shares her short film about the class in Washington where the border between the suburbs and the cities symbolizes us and them. Assisting Clay will be the writer Kaitlyn Venturina, a Filipino-American. We’ll see Columbia College’s LGBTQ student shorts. The host of the festival will be the Puerto Rican poet Bianca Rodriguez, also my former student. Among the films she will feature will be Community Television Network’s Humboldt Park-based documentary, directed by teenage Latin, Asian and black filmmakers.

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

My book just came out via Kendall Hunt Publishing.

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