“Gotham, IL” takes poetic license with Bat-madness during Waukegan “Batman” shoot

When we last checked in with the Waukegan film scene, the big boys were bringing Batman to the Amstutz, and the local boys were challenging aspiring filmmakers to complete a movie in 24 hours over Independence Day weekend.

Now we find that those two events have conspired to bring us the latest film project in the ancestral home of cinema: “Gotham, IL.”.

To explain: filmmaker Theophilus Jamal, co- sponsor of the July Fourth 24/7 Film Event, was one of the stealthy locals who slipped down the bluff last month to glimpse whatever they could of the Batmobile on the Amstutz Expressway.

Some were more successful than others in attempting to sneak a peek at this late-night filming of “Batman Begins.” A reporter and a photographer of my acquaintence, for example, apparently were lucky to emerge without being jailed or sued for stealing trade secrets.

But Jamal was among a cadre of film enthusiasts who managed to get close to the action and not end up on the wrong side of the law. This is their reward for three long nights spent casing out the area and working the phones.

“I think it worked for us because we didn’t actually approach the set and we had a lot of time to kill,” he said, adding that the key was “a few phone calls to various and sundry people who knew where they’d be filming.”

The key location, as it turned out, was the fourth floor of the parking garage on Sheridan Road south of Madison Street. Jamal said “it was a grand view up there ? you could see everything.” The results ? including a two-minute video of the Batmobile racing up and down the Amstutz ? were posted at www.finelymadefilms.com, the Web site for Jamal’s independent film company.

“Last August, we had something like 75,000 hits. This August alone, we had three million hits … It put us in an entirely new ballgame,” Jamal said. Indeed it did ? the site’s overloaded server nearly had to shut things down (the footage can now be seen at www.filmforce.irgn.com).

The experience has inspired “Gotham, IL” shot gonzo style. Jamal said the film will be a poetic-license account of “all the Bat-madness” that surrounded the city’s most recent brush with Hollywood.

The basic plot of “Gotham, IL” ? a short film produced and directed by Jamal and his filmmaking partner, Jim Zahn ? will follow three adventure-seeking young men who run into their share of trouble while trying to see the Batmobile up close and personal.

“It’s a fictionalized retelling of what went on that weekend,” Jamal said. “I imagined myself as a teenager, and what that would have been like. I grew up in Waukegan thinking, ‘nothing ever happens around here,’ but this summer we had something like this going on.”

If all goes well, Jamal said he and Zahn hope to have the film ready in late October for a Halloween premiere. “Batman Begins,” by contrast, won’t open until June 17, 2005, proving once again what Edward Amet* established a century ago: Waukegan is the film king of the Western world.

*Edward Amet is credited with inventing the first practical 35mm film projector.

Reprinted by permission of the Waukegan Sun.