Filmmaker Harris takes a risk with Englewood Film Fest

Filmmaker Mark Harris of 1555 Filmworks is doing something bold and brave, without any sponsorship support to speak of, for the love and hope of his neighborhood, which happens to be the most stricken in the city.

Harris is hosting the Englewood Film Festival, the first held inside Chicago’s African American community on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28-29 at Kennedy King College at 63rd and Halsted, in the heart of the beleaguered South Side Englewood neighborhood.

A native and current resident of Englewood, Harris sounds both naïve and hopeful about his community, home to a decreasing 30,000 people who live within three square miles.  He believes that if Englewood could be transformed, its poverty and crime rate reduced and its culture improved, it could be a model for similarly distressed black communities throughout the country.

“One of the reasons I wanted to bring film to the community is that films inspire,” he says. 

Producer Mark Harris, host of the Englewood Film Festival The Englewood Film Festival’s start is modest – six films and four free film-related panels, supported by three lone sponsors, WBEZ, the We are Light organization and Honee Earth, LLC, and Harris digging into his own pockets to cover the costs of Kennedy-King theatre rental and other basic expenses.

“I’m not doing the festival for a profit,” he says. “I’m doing it for change.” So when Alisa Starks, co-owner of the South Side chain of I.C.E. theatres told him she wanted the event in her theatres, he declined so he could keep his commitment to the ‘hood.

Program of six features and three free movie-related panels

Opening the festival Friday night is “The Saints of Mt. Christopher,” a basketball drama starring Clifton Powell, Tom Sizemore, Chicago actor Mel Rob and Shane Dean, who directed and produced, followed by Q&A with the actors.  An after party is planned.
Saturday’s activities start with three free panels, preceded by a Continental Breakfast served from 7:30 to 9 a.m. 

Three Chicago entertainment attorneys, Doc Walls, Spark Anderson and Xavier Pope, speak at the first panel, “Law and Order,” from 9-10:30 a.m. 

Konee Rock, a Caucasian music video director/producer for artists like Kanye West, Rhymefest and Wutang Klan, speaks on the “Movies and Music” panel, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The last panel, “Acting 101,” features Jackie Taylor, executive director of the Black Ensemble Theatre, actor Eric Lane, who appeared in the Chicago-Made “One Week” and others to be announced, 12:30-2:00 p.m.

Headlining the Saturday lineup at 2 p.m. is the drama “Damilola: Death of a 10 Year Old,” followed by Robin Givens’ drama “Breathe,” also starring Jazsmin Lewis, Elise Neal and Miguel Nunez Jr.

Two Kartemquin docs that should resonate with an Englewood audience are producer/director Steve James’ “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson,” and the highly acclaimed “The Interrupters.”

Harris has produced 10 features in five years

Since Harris gave up his retail furniture sales job in 2006 to focus on filmmaking, he has produced an astounding 10 features and says he’s making a living at it in Chicago.  He admits the films are made on “a very low budget, usually under $1 million,” a budget that can be met by his preference for “using new Hollywood faces and surrounding them with black local talent.” 

Producer Harris and another prolific local filmmaker, Ricardo Islas, just wrapped “Frankenstein: Day of the Beast,” which Islas directed and shot. Harris’ recent feature, “Over and Over” will play Oct. 21-27 at AMC theatre, in a partnership with AMC, which Harris hopes will lead to a bigger distribution deal.