Gilbert’s film wins big at UK fest, wows the audience

Gail Gilbert of Cerise Films

Gail Gilbert’s Chicago-made short film made a big splash across the pond at the inaugural Oxford International Film Festival held in the historic city of Oxford, UK in late May by winning two top prizes.

Gilbert of Cerise Films came home from England with Best International Film and Best Screenplay awards for her timely 8-minute short, “Democracy in the Driver’s Seat,” which she calls “a timely political thriller.”

“The audience’s reception was incredibly warm and you could feel their excitement as they showered me with questions after the screening,” says Gilbert, primarily a spot editor who wrote and directed the short.

“They asked a lot of production questions because many of the people were filmmakers. They asked about our democracy and a lot of questions about Chicago. The film kind of plays like a postcard from Chicago and no one in the audience had been to Chicago.”

“Democracy” was based on a story written by Gilbert’s father years earlier that comments on “how easy it is to sway public opinion and how devastating that can be in a democracy,” she says. “So think before you get on that bus because there can be unexpected consequences.”

The story unfolds on a Chicago bus on a downtown street. Everyday riders fill its seats. A woman (Julie Greenberg) climbs aboard and pleads with the bus driver to catch up with the bus speeding ahead of them because her husband is on that bus. Hearing her plea, the passengers urge the driver to do it.

While Gilbert had pondered the film idea for several years, it wasn’t until her friend, producer Barbara Steiglitz, said she would take on the project.

“I was grateful to her because the film had so many moving parts and I couldn’t take the time it needed away from my on-going commercial editorial work,” Gilbert says.

The production was a labor of love, as actors and crew either waived their fees or worked for substantially reduced rates; camera use was donated.

The crew shot between April and September of 2015. Because of the difficulty in renting a city bus from the CTA, they rented a vehicle from Free Enterprise bus rental. They converted it into their own fictitious bus, “The Peoples Bus Company” and created what appeared to be very urban and true, Gilbert notes.  The driver randomly came from with the bus rental.

Some of the key players who donated their services include Barbara Steiglitz, line producer; Christine Saldanha, creative consultant; Ryan Berena, DP; Marcel Morin and Bill Youmans, camera; Amanda Marien, editor and graphics / on-line; Noise Floor, production audio/post audio mixing; Sal Cordova, composer; Nate Brown, art director; Gaby Kuhn, production design, wardrobe and props and Chelo, Hair and Make-up Department.