Elgin Short Film Festival draws record crowd, and they liked suburban saints
By Dave Gathman email@example.com September 23, 2013 4:58PM
Actresses dressed as characters from “Moulin Rouge” and other classic movies arrived at The Hemmens Cultural Center in classic antique cars to entertain the crowd before Saturday’s Elgin Short Film Festival. The filmmakers and judges walked a red carpet and were interviewed for Elgin’s cable TV news program. | Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 25, 2013 6:12AM
ELGIN — The entries in this year’s Elgin Short Film Festival included a documentary, an animated comedy and a romance made in Elgin with no spoken dialogue. But at the end, both the panel of five judges and the audience members’ vote agreed that the best of the fest’s five finalists was a semi-comical, semi-tragic 11-minute film from a Chicago college teacher named “Michael Saints.”
Joe Vassallo, who chaired the committee putting on the fifth-annual festival along with Rich Jacobs, said a record or near-record crowd of about 700 had come to see the event in the auditorium of the Hemmens Cultural Center. He said a sixth festival already has been scheduled at the Hemmens for Sept. 26, 2014.
Vassallo said filmmakers sent in 30 entries from all over the Midwest. Of those, he said, about four were disqualified because they had too much obscene language or adult content. He said the organizers want to keep the festival family-friendly.
A selection committee then had pared down the remaining 26 to five finalists, which were shown to the audience in their entirety. The audience got to see only brief excerpts from each of the other 21.
“Michael Saints,” which won both the judges’ first-place vote and the audience members’ vote, tells the story of three 12-year-old boys who break into a Catholic church to steal holy water. Although their act is motivated by tragic circumstances — one boy’s mother is dying in a hospital — the action largely consists of slapstick misadventures as the youths are confronted by a fussy nun, a creepy janitor and a surprisingly patient priest.
“Michael Saints” was made in 2009 by director Katharine Mahalic as a master of fine arts project at Columbia College, the arts-oriented Chicago institution that has generated many of the festival’s entries through the years. A native of Flint, Mich., Mahalic since has become a film teacher at the Illinois Institute for Art in Chicago. She also is working to start a film teaching program at an orphanage in Guatemala, and she is working on a full-length documentary about foreign-exchange students.
Second place in the competition went to an animated comedy called “Make It a Great Day.” This is the story of a chicken hatchery where one chick fails to hatch at the same time as the others. But the slowpoke ends up heading toward a more fulfilling life as she flies to freedom out of a trash Dumpster while her faster-born comrades are trucked off en masse to an egg farm.
Accepting the second-place prize, director Joshua Jones said he spent three years on the project, with the assistance of DePaul University in Chicago. “Animation is a very tedious thing,” he said.
From far and near
The third-place prize went to a short documentary that originated far from Elgin, named “Drawing on a Dream.” Directed by David Rae Morris and Susan Allen Liles, this uses interviews and music to tell the life story of Jerry Lee “Duff” Dorrough. Living in a small backwater town in Mississippi, Dorrough was both a gifted painter and a successful blues musician. Accepting the award on behalf of the filmmakers, Annie Cleveland said Dorrough died of cancer and liver disease about a year after the film was completed in 2011.
At the other geographic extreme, “An Imminent Love Story” was made entirely in Elgin by director Matthew Blair Jacobsen, with some scenes shot inside the Elgin Professional Building. Told without dialogue, it traces a couple’s romantic relationship from the days of young love through old age but shows the husband always seeing his wife as she looked when they first fell in love.
The fifth film to be shown in its entirety was “Coloring Outside the Lines,” a documentary about a suburban girl with Down syndrome who expresses herself through abstract art. It was directed by William Rudberg.
One more of the 30 original entries was made entirely in Elgin — “Recalculating,” about a father trying to dodge the need to reconcile with his estranged grown-up daughter after she was crippled in an accident. Its cast includes Pete Garlock, who was one of the hosts and organizers of the first two Elgin Short Film Festivals.
Although “Recalculating” was screened for the public at a gala at the Marcus Elgin Cinema last March, the festival’s selection panel did not make it one of the five entries to be shown in its entirety.
The annual festival was created partly to promote Elgin’s image to outsiders and bring more business to downtown restaurants and taverns, a list of which was provided to audience members. And one attendee’s comment indicated the effort may have worked.
“I’ve never been to Elgin before, but I find the architecture is quite interesting,” said Gabe Querol of Glen Ellyn, who had been invited to attend the festival by an in-law who lives in Elgin. “Elgin is often pictured as plagued by a gang problem, but if you come downtown, it’s beautiful,” Querol said as he waited in the Hemmens lobby to cast his vote for the best short film.