“?Chicago River” film emerges from licensing quagmire for DVD release

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Producer Steven A. Jones threatened to throw the negative of John McNaughton’s horror movie “The Borrower” into the river to force the bond company to pay the back wages owed to local crew. It worked.

To get an obstructing truck out of a crucial shot, Teamsters working on “The Blues Brothers” hoisted the offending vehicle into the water.

These are just a couple of ways that Chicago’s most famous waterway has impacted the city’s film history, as documented in “Chicago Filmmakers on the Chicago River,” out this March on DVD.

Director D.P. Carlson brought 21 local cinema figures onto the water to reflect on their creative struggles, in boats corresponding to the size of their budgets. Harold Ramis (“Analyze This,”) just moved back from California, pontificates from a towering Tiki boat, while underground stalwart Tom Palazzolo fights to dislodge his canoe from weeds along the shore.

Each filmmaker shows how their hometown forged their career. Michael Mann (“Heat”) credits the claustrophobic feel of his debut “Thief” to the maze of streets he had combed as a cab driver. Haskell Wexler (“Medium Cool”) has most gracefully navigated between the Hollywood and indie worlds. “[The hierarchy] isn’t ?up’ to mainstream filmmaking, it’s ?up’ to independent filmmaking ? because that’s where you have the control,” Wexler tells Carlson in the film.

“I took a lot of strength from what Haskell said,” Carlson recalled as he prepared to dive into self-distribution of the DVD. “I’d rather have total ownership of every element and work hard to make my money back than worry about getting what I’m owed from a distributor.”

Carlson will sell the film on his company web site, and personally market it to video stores and to his main audiences at indie organizations and film schools. He plans to follow up with a DVD release compiling his short films later this year.

Carlson first screened “Chicago Filmmakers on the Chicago River” in 1998. The original cut was full of clips from the subjects’ work. But after securing clearances from the actors featured in the clips, Carlson got hung up with licensing at a couple of the studios that owned the films.

“I would have had to spend $70,000 on clearances just for the rights to play on PBS for two years,” Carlson lamented. He finally pulled all the clips and expanded scenes with the filmmakers, lengthening the picture from a broadcast-friendly hour to 80 minutes.

The DVD comes with a pair of pulfric 3D glasses, with which viewers can accentuate the sense of depth created by constant motion along the river. Explains editor Mike Webr on the DVD, “the eye with the dark lens processes information a moment later than the eye with the clear lens, creating the impression of 3D.”

Music and audio sweetening is by Tom Krol of TK Audio. Graphics and stills by Carlson’s wife Jessica Feith. DVD authoring by Salvatore Pecorado.

See www.filmfoetus.com.

? by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com.

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