This month we celebrate the forces behind Chicago’s flourishing film and television industry. Of all our annual Leaders of Chicago Culture lists, it’s the one that Jan and I have the most firsthand connection to, as well as the most obvious potential for conflicts of interest: many of these folks engage with us in our other role as film producers. And so we defer to the judgment of the editor of the feature, Ray Pride, to make the list choices and set the order. We do offer some input, naturally, most often in expanding the always-lengthy shortlist of candidates, as well as people to consult for input and suggestions. We do our best to keep our journalistic values apart from our film interests.
This month, we’ll see these two worlds come together more than ever, as we have a film in the Chicago International Film Festival for the first time. It’s the Chicago premiere of “Knives and Skin,” and we hope you’ll join us for one of our screenings, but if you can’t, you can see the movie in December, as we’ve signed with IFC Midnight to give the film a proper domestic distribution. And our foray into filmmaking continues, with “Dreaming Grand Avenue” nearly finished and The Chicago Film Fund, an investment fund to catalyze even more Chicago-centric movies, getting off the ground.
The case for empathy, continued. Back in July, Jan wrote an editor’s letter about the culture sending messages about the value of empathy. And so it continues as the fall art season kicks into full swing, the message now that increasingly rapid-fire mass media is not taking the time for empathic storytelling and so we must rely on art to fill the void. In Loy Webb’s fine new play, “His Shadow,” at 16th Street Theater, a family of football players grapple with the call of activism against police brutality. Like so many of us who supported the leadership of the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick and his protest against police violence during the playing of the national anthem from the no-risk vantage of the armchair, the play’s main character supports activism only in principle until it affects him personally. The play delivers a deeper appreciation for the struggle and the pressures behind players’ decisions to risk their careers for a cause, making a case for all of us to forsake the comfort of the chair.
The day after Webb’s premiere, photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier opened her first Chicago solo show at the Renaissance Society. “The Last Cruze,” an ongoing body of work, documents the way General Motors’ decision to “unallocate” its Lordstown, Ohio plant—the most Orwellian of euphemisms—threw the lives of its workers into upheaval. It was a story that the national media portrayed as a parable for the Trump era, when the truth was that it was not a political story, but deeply personal. At her artist’s talk at the opening, Frazier observed, “This country has no empathy. It’s apathetic. Because of social media, it’s always on to the next story.”
With its power to bridge divides and end disputes, empathy is perhaps the most powerful force for good in the world. The great propagator of empathy is storytelling, whether in film, art, theater or, of course, journalism. We have our marching orders.
Look for Newcity’s October 2019 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week.