Chicago Filmmakers announces competition programs for Onion City Festival

Chicago Filmmakers announces the competition programs for the 32nd Onion City Experimental Film + Video Festival, which will take place March 31 to April 3.

The five competition programs will feature 35 short films exploring themes of digital media production, politics of memory, and the value of physical spaces from the United States, France, Canada, South Korea, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Lebanon, and Hong Kong. Competition film programs will be screened both in-person and online.

Festival Programmer, Zachary Vanes, remarks, “This stylistically diverse mix of films and videos use brilliant performances, found footage, image processing, expressive sounds, and unexpected humor to capture the audience’s imagination. I enjoyed the challenge of putting together programs that I hope will allow their individual merits to shine. The programs explore post-lockdown struggles to remain present, histories of art and protest, concepts of home, the troubled relationship between nature and technology, and the ways that media made the pandemic both better and worse. I’m very excited to share these works with the Chicago experimental film and video community. It will be a thrill to see many of them on the big screen for the first time.”

The festival will host the world premieres of works from veteran experimental film and video makers, including CHELSEA 5124 by Kevin Jerome Everson and AI AND I by Cecelia Condit. Previous award-winners will return to the festival with new work, including Ben Balcom with the world premiere of LOOKING BACKWARDS, Ezra Wube with the U.S. premiere of POSSIBLE WORLD, and Sky Hopinka with the Chicago premiere of KICKING THE CLOUDS.

Local filmmakers Caitlin Ryan, Kayla Anderson, Sid Branca, and Leslie Wool will present their films at the festival. Also, Sasha Phyars-Burgess‘s experimental video about Chicago’s Austin neighborhood will screen in competition.

Competition programs will play alongside the previously announced special presentations that include the Chicago premiere of Dani and Sheilah ReStack’s FERAL DOMESTICITY TRILOGY; a new digital restoration of THE BLOODY CHILD by Nina Menkes; a collection of 16mm short films made by Sharon Couzin; and the Chicago premiere of local filmmaker Shengze Zhu‘s A RIVER RUNS, TURNS, ERASES, REPLACES.

Onion City is a production of Chicago Filmmakers, a not-for-profit media arts organization with a more than four-decade-long history of providing film exhibition, educational programs, and resources for the local film community.

For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets, visit To view screeners of selected films or to schedule an interview with the Onion City Programmer, Zachary Vanes, please contact Jackie Robbins at email below.

Full Program

Opening Night Presentation:
Thursday, March 31 at 6:00 p.m. at the Gene Siskel Film Center
Presented in partnership with Conversations at the Edge at SAIC

Opening night of the festival will feature the Chicago Premiere of Dani and Sheilah ReStack’s FERAL DOMESTICITY TRILOGY, which they completed in 2021. The videos of Dani and Sheilah ReStack are radical explorations of queer desire, parenthood, and creative community. Formally and emotionally adjacent to their domestic lives, the ReStacks’ works are exhilarating montages of home, artmaking, sex, parenting, wounds, viscera, animals, gardens, and wild open spaces. The two will present the Chicago premiere of their recently completed trilogy, including STRANGELY ORDINARY THIS DEVOTION (2017), COME COYOTE (2019), and FUTURE FROM THE INSIDE (2021), which brings together body doubles, animal synthesis, and expansive notions of family, all refracted through the beauty, cruelty, and promise of life. Videos courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Friday, April 1 at 7:00 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Presented in partnership with Cine-File

This is the Chicago premiere of a new digital restoration of Nina Menkes’ third feature, THE BLOODY CHILD, originally made in 1996. The film, which offers a deconstructed retelling of a murder investigation on a U.S. military base, is an essential landmark of experimental filmmaking that provides a blistering indictment of patriarchal notions of justice. An Arbelos Films release. New restoration by The Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

Preceded by:

A Story That Doesn’t Have to Do With Me
Kym McDaniel
United States, 2021, 7 mins
As I seek to connect with my partner about their queer and feminist research in bioarchaeology, a conversation emerges about what is left behind after death.

Friday, April 1 at 9:15 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Streaming from April 2 at 10:00 a.m. through April 4 at 10:00 a.m.

More than just a source of transcendent beauty, forests offer a space to think, play, and reconnect with ourselves. Face-offs with technology, explorations of identity, brilliant animations, and image processing appear in this forest floor fantasia dedicated to nature’s most intangible resource. The films in THE IMMANENT GROVE treat the forest as a means to work through our digital anxieties and personal histories rather than escape them.

An Ambush in Suspense
Simon Quéhaillard
France, 2021, 17 mins
Objects and a character enter in a row of brutals crashes generated by falling trees cut by a chainsaw.

AI and I
Cecelia Condit
United States, 2021, 7 mins
Within a backdrop of the natural world, a woman explores a personal relationship with the home artificial intelligence (AI) device, Alexa. AI AND I asks questions as to the nature of what it is to be alive and human, confronting our complex co-dependence with technology.

Kara Ditte Hansen
Canada, 2021, 7 mins
COMPANION follows a woman who dons a sculptural helmet with mechanical arms attached to mirrors and lenses. The helmet functions to ensure a sense of security, but unbeknownst to her, the helmet also heightens her awareness, which spirals her paranoia.

Personality Test
Justin Jinsoo Kim
South Korea/United States, 2021, 8 mins
A private memory is examined and explored through a simple personality test found on the internet. The photographs and sounds, recorded by the interviewee at the forest and other places, become distorted and transformed by the artist or the audience. In the reconstructed forest, the questioner, the interviewee, and the audience start to picture images of an animal, a house, a sound of water, and beyond.

Identity Karma
Olivia Ong Evans
United States, 2021, 11 mins
Footage filmed in Bogor, Indonesia and occupied Hodinöhsö:ni’ land in Western New York interact throughout the video. IDENTITY KARMA asks us to honor who we have been and imagine who we may become.

Guided Meditation for Fantasies of Violence
Sid Branca
United States, 2022, 24 mins
GUIDED MEDITATION FOR FANTASIES OF VIOLENCE searches for ways to metabolize the fears that have taken up residence in the body. The audience is led through a series of guided visualizations and prompts for contemplation, evocative of late-night YouTube comforts and self-help cassettes, but without an avoidant optimism that turns away from the realities of embodied pain. Divided into sections, the work moves through the four elements – an invocation.

Possible World
Ezra Wube
Ethiopia, 2021, 3 mins
For this project, over 100 interviews were conducted in five destinations throughout Ethiopia; teachers, brokers, farmers, students, engineers, carpenters, soldiers, merchants, taxi drivers, cashiers, security guards, house wives, managers, nurses, designers, camera man, accountants, pharmacists, architects, mechanics, technicians, retirees, and more. Reflecting the interviewees’ responses on the potential of a sustainable world, the project intends to instigate conversations and inspire action through imaginative discourse.

Saturday, April 2 at 3:00 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Streaming from April 3 at 10:00 a.m. through April 5 at 10:00 a.m.

It is what it is – until it isn’t. Combining weird narratives and gnarly video montages ripped from social media and YouTube, SURVIVAL MODE features films and videos that create art and often laughter from the media that fuels our culture of hypervigilance. Stories of insomniacs, doomsday preppers, mysterious influencers, and retired child stars are presented with a tongue in cheek and a fist in the air.

I’m At Home
Philip Thompson
United States, 2021, 13 mins
The host of a children’s television show about creativity starts experiencing burnout after needing to force his own creativity every day.

Alex Tahereh Kaucher
United States, 2021, 5 mins
Thoughts on the influences to want babies that the filmmaker experienced as a young girl.

Genital Reveal Party
Hogan Seidel
United States, 2021, 7 mins
An exploration of gender binarism, violence, climate disaster, and the second coming of Christ. A 3D spectacle for the whole family! Note: on 16mm – 3D glasses will be provided!

Unidad de Montaje Dialéctico
Mexico, 2021, 16 mins
METEOR juxtaposes, on the one hand, a biopic of Macaulay Culkin up to the moment he gave up acting and, on the other, the letters written by Arthur Rimbaud after he gave up literature. Drawing exclusively on found footage from YouTube, it undertakes a critique of the politics of total transparency and the commodification of the self.

Functions, Unlimited
Leslie Wool
United States, 2020, 11 mins
Strangeness abounds after a mysterious app appears in the lives of several people.

The Well Prepared Citizen’s Solution
Lydia Moyer
United States, 2021, 5 mins
An account of life among those preparing for the end of the world. A report from the garden.

Life Without Dreams
Jessica Bardsley
United States, 2022, 13 mins
LIFE WITHOUT DREAMS is set within the outer space of consciousness, where the surfaces of far out planetary bodies form the terrain for an exploration of the gradual disappearance of darkness, 24/7 capitalism, and insomnia.

Saturday, April 2 at 7:00 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Presented in partnership with Chicago Film Society

As the long-serving chair of SAIC’s film department and a founding figure in the Experimental Film Coalition and its offshoot Onion City Film Festival, Couzin’s impact on the avant-garde film community across the Midwest as an organizer and mentor was immeasurable. Despite being an internationally acclaimed experimental film scene fixture throughout her filmmaking career, her work has been difficult to see in recent years, even here in the city where most of it was made. The program will feature a new restoration of Couzin’s award-winning short ROSEBLOOD (1974) alongside her acclaimed shorts A TROJAN HOUSE (1981), SALVE (1981), and SHELLS & RUSHES (1987), all on 16mm from Canyon Cinema.

Saturday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Streaming from April 3 at 10:00 a.m. through April 5 at 10:00 a.m.

Household elegies for the spaces that we can visit but never truly return to. In WHERE PERFECT GRACE REMAINED, the sight of a garden, an old house, or even a pickle ball court unlocks hidden memories. The filmmakers use celluloid film as a means to preserve stories of lost loved ones, challenge colonial histories, and savor the sights and sounds of places that were once called home.

Greetings from Bonita
Caitlin Ryan
United States, 2022, 5 mins
Celebrity, family, death, and bugs. This film is somewhere between a postcard and stream of consciousness.

Kicking the Clouds
Sky Hopinka
United States, 2021, 15 mins
This film is a reflection on descendants and ancestors, guided by a 50 year old audio recording of my grandmother learning the Pechanga language from her mother. After being given this tape by my mother, I interviewed her and asked about it, and recorded her ruminations on their lives and her own. The footage is of our chosen home in Whatcom County, Washington, where my family still lives, far from our homelands in Southern California, yet a home nonetheless.

Summer Light for Tula
Silvia Turchin
United States, 2021, 9 mins
SUMMER LIGHT FOR TULA is a garden symphony of sorts, a tribute to the light and beauty, and an effort to reconcile with death. Moving from the concrete toward the abstract, the film lives in a liminal place between sleep and wakefulness, oneness and consciousness.

Home When You Return
Carl Elsaesser
United States, 2021, 30 mins
Superimposing the stories of two women— the filmmaker’s late grandmother and the amateur filmmaker Joan Thurber Baldwin— HOME WHEN YOU RETURN explores the psychogeographies of mourning through a variety of modes, from documentary to melodrama. Emptied and put up for sale following its matriarch’s passing, the family home becomes the site of a winding tour through polymorphic representations of the past in media and memory.

Golden Jubilee
Suneil Sanzgiri
India/United States, 2021, 19 mins
The title GOLDEN JUBILEE refers to both a forgiveness of debt and the 50th anniversary of liberation. This final chapter of the trilogy moves with a sense of palpable urgency. It underlines both the losses in our personal quests for repair in the shadow of imperial legacies and compels us to look further than the ancestral in our shared pursuit of collective liberation.

Sunday, April 3 at 1:00 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Streaming from April 4 at 10:00 a.m. through April 6 at 10:00 a.m.

It’s not easy being everywhere at once. The films in A HICCUP OF UBIQUITY feature street racers, amateur photographers, rappers, and artists searching for ways to exist between an oversaturated digital landscape and an ever-eroding physical world. Merging experimental film tropes with vernacular forms of viral image making, the filmmakers recognize that in the attention economy the struggle for relevance is a struggle for survival.

Stay with the Body
Kayla Anderson
United States, 2019, 17 mins
A video about the proliferation of images and the disappearance of bodies. For locations not captured by Google Street View, people can upload their own photos to the map. Through the Google Panorama app, volunteers are instructed to choreograph their own bodies out of the frame with the goal of producing an “objective” disembodied image, but sometimes clues remain.

Every Method of Being in The World Looks Bad But Feels Spectacular
Charlotte Zhang
United States, 2021, 9 mins
An elliptical adaptation of the filmmaker’s own 38-page libretto, an unnamed narrator recounts the fallout of an online romance scam and the ecstatic exploits of a street racer and drifter of mythic proportions; parallel tragedies which are connected through the consequences of naming and ordering, and the ambivalent pleasures of the endlessly modifiable body.

In Praise of Shadows
Joshua Gen Solondz
United States, 2021, 4 mins
On December 10th, 2020 I dreamt that I saw a film consisting of mostly leader with my voice repeatedly stating the greeting “Buenos Dias” but with the room reverberation shifting in dimension with each utterance. Then there was a brief shot of flowers in a window. It cuts back to black, then my voice says “Buenos Noches” and the reverb becomes that of an impossibly enormous space.

Ross Meckfessel
United States, 2021, 12 mins
When you question the very nature of your physical reality it becomes much easier to see the cracks in the system. ESTUARY charts the emotional landscape of a time in flux. Inspired by the proliferation of computer generated social media influencers and the growing desire to document and manipulate every square inch of our external and internal landscapes, the film considers the ramifications of a world where all aspects of life are curated and malleable. As time goes on all lines blur into vector dots.

Easy Go
Grace Mitchell
United States, 2021, 7 mins
Depression, fetish and friendship. A shapeshifting portrait of healing bodies & eroding landscape.

Hail Mary
Sasha Phyars-Burgess
United States, 2021, 22 mins
A photographic and video lament on race, class, and space in one of Chicago’s westernmost neighborhoods – Austin. Beginning in the late 1960s, Austin experienced dramatic demographic changes due to white flight, redlining, and economic disinvestment. Both an expression of what is on the surface and what emerges when one takes a moment to look deeply, this project aims to capture the ongoing effects of these changes in the everyday lives of Austin residents. Through a mixture of straight photographs, in-camera aberrations, developmental mistakes, and recorded footage, the work aims to center the subjectivity of these residents by garnering awareness of a community whose narrative has been lost and evacuated of nuance.

Sunday, April 3 at 3:00 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Streaming from April 4 at 10:00 a.m. through April 6 at 10:00 a.m.

Should we paint over history or keep it in a glass case? The films in STANDING BY THE RUINS draw inspiration from disruptive spaces and works of art from the past. In the midst of gathering fragments, the filmmakers consider the costs of preservation in the face of government censorship, economic development, and art historical revision. Key sites in Hong Kong, Libya, United States, and Canada are presented through the material legacies of revolutionary events that shaped them.

Chelsea 5124
Kevin Jerome Everson
United States, 2022, 3 mins
CHELSEA 5124 is the 1966 Andy Warhol film “Chelsea Girls” realized through sculpture.

Looking Backward
Ben Balcom
United States, 2022, 10 mins
Filmed on the former grounds of Black Mountain College, LOOKING BACKWARD is a brief elegy to the legacy of a utopian college and other impossible projects.

The Ruins (Al-Atlal)
Raed Rafei
Lebanon, 2021, 16 mins
In a French travel book to the Middle East, a drawing of an ancient bathhouse sparks a visual poem inspired by the Arab poetic tradition of “standing by the ruins.” The ambivalence of the five-hundred-year-old image gestures towards enduring imperial power dynamics. Pleasure and pain, seduction and domination, homoeroticism and violence, archives and ruins, histories of sex and of empire, all commingle in this essay film.

We May Go in a Different Direction
Sally Lawton
United States, 2021, 10 mins
A survey of Detroit’s central train station, vacant since 1988, as it transforms into Ford Motor Company’s self-driving car campus. The ability of knowledge to sedate us is explored through renderings of the future and incomplete pictures from the past. These images are then painted over in an attempt to see what is between automation and delusion and who is in opposition to the truth of the myth.

Tugging Diary
Yan Wai Yin
Hong Kong, 2021, 16 mins
TUGGING DIARY documents a footbridge in Hong Kong over the year between August 2019 to January 2021. As protest rallies and strikes are often conducted without a central leadership, both the internet and physical spaces act as critical communication platforms of its own during this period. As such, information can be circulated in the community more widely and rapidly outside of the existing mainstream media. As time goes by, these materials are continuously altered, some were renewed, while the others were removed, covered with paint, or overlaid by other information.

All My Life
Ariana Hamidi
United States, 2021, 3 mins
A single shot around the Marcus-David Peters circle in Richmond, Virginia, formally known as the Robert E. Lee Monument. After police shot and killed local teacher Marcus-David Peters during a mental health crisis on May 14, 2018, amidst the BLM protests, MDP Circle was named by the people and served as a transformative hub for the Black Liberation movement in Richmond. The state erected a fence around MDP Circle in 2021 in preparation for its full removal. The film serves as an homage to filmmaker Bruce Baillie and a love song to the community space reclaimed in 2020.

Last Lost Time
Gabi Dao
Canada, 2021, 17 mins
Experimental and experiential sonic interventions into two contested architectural spaces — a sugar refining factory and a former law court cum-civic art gallery bring together the complexities and complicities between corporations, cultural institutions, and the state.

Closing Night Presentation:
Sunday, April 3 at 7:00 p.m. at Chicago Filmmakers
Presented in partnership with Nightingale Cinema

The closing night film of the festival will be the Chicago premiere of local filmmaker Shengze Zhu’s A RIVER RUNS, TURNS, ERASES, REPLACES (2021). This modern city symphony set in Zhu’s hometown of Wuhan, China pairs the ever-changing beauty of the Yangtze river with stories of heartbreak and resilience in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Winner of the Caligari Prize at Berlinale Forum in 2021. A Q&A with Shengze Zhu will take place after the screening.

Preceded by:

The Difference Between Dirt and Soil
Liz Cambron
United States, 2022, 10 mins
This short documentary film follows the filmmaker as she goes on a journey to find her father’s grave. She starts her quest by growing a pollinator garden. This story is loosely woven together through the ecologies of land, history, and memory.

Attending In-Person Screenings
Admission for all screenings at Chicago Filmmakers is a suggested donation of $10 and $8 for students with a valid school ID. Admission for Opening Night at the Gene Siskel Film Center is $12 and $7 for students with a valid student ID and youth under 17. Tickets may be purchased online in advance or at the respective theaters on the day of the show.

Proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test result are required for entry into all festival screenings and events. Masks will also be required to enter theaters and must remain on except when actively eating or drinking in your seat. For up-to-date information on this policy, please visit the festival website.

Viewing Online Screenings
Competition programs will be available to watch on the Onion City website the day after the in-person screening starting at 10:00 a.m. CT. Online screening tickets are $10 and $8 for students with a valid school ID.

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