Grant funds half of post costs for Iraq doc; producer Alshaibi releases shorts DVD, readies final Z Fest

Fresh off receiving a major grant for his in-progress feature documentary “Nice Bombs,” Usama Alshaibi is releasing a DVD compilation of his short works Feb. 12 and preparing for what he said will be the final Z Film Festival this March.

In January the Creative Capital Arts Foundation awarded Alshaibi a grant covering “nearly half” of his projected $20-30,000 post-production budget for “Nice Bombs.”

“[The Foundation] encouraged me to apply for additional funding,” Alshaibi said. “They act as an executive producer of your project, following along and working closely with me. They’re aware of my budget and what my needs are for post-production.”

Filmmaker James Fotopoulos is another local recipient of the Foundation’s latest round of grants.

Alshaibi, and his wife and collaborator Kristie Alshaibi, shot “Nice Bombs” last winter, documenting Usama and his father’s return to Iraq after a 24-year exile. Alshaibi is beginning a rough cut and aims to complete post-production this fall.

“I’ve had some offers [for distribution] but I’m not getting caught up in that right now,” Alshaibi said. “My focus is on finishing the film.”

Alshaibi is in the process of incorporating Super 8 and video footage that his father, “an amateur filmmaker himself,” shot during Alshaibi’s childhood in Iraq and the U.S.

“People keep asking me about my own back story, so I’m bringing that more into the picture?it’s becoming more personal,” Alshaibi said. “My story is similar to many in the Iraqi diaspora, having to flee the Saddam Hussein regime during the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq War.”

Co-produced by Benzfilm Group and executive produced by Studs Terkel, “Nice Bombs” is Alshaibi’s first feature documentary after having established a reputation on the underground circuit for his transgressive narrative and experimental work.

“To me it’s not a departure, immigration and foreigners have always been a theme in my work,” Alshaibi insisted. “But ?Nice Bombs’ is my most accessible project ever. It’s something everyone could watch.”

On Feb. 12 Alshaibi hosts a screening and release party for his new DVD “Venereal Video,” a compilation of video works he directed over the past several years.

Katya Mustafa in Usama Alshaibi’s “Muffin”

“Veneral Video” includes the shorts “The Amateurs,” “Slaughtered Pigtails,” “Ass,” “The Greenroom,” “The Foreigner,” “Muffin,” and the video for local rocker Bobby Conn’s “Angels.”

“They have a common theme of sexuality and violence and race,” Alshaibi said about the works in “Venereal Video.” “It wasn’t something I was conscious of while I was making them, but you can see the connections looking back.”

Usama and Kristie Alshaibi are finalizing plans for a two-night sendoff in late March for their five-year-old Z Film Festival, a premiere local showcase for transgressive film.

“We’re both getting really busy with our own projects and it’s just too difficult to put this on every year,” Alshaibi said.

“It’s been good while it lasted. I don’t think there’s anything like this in Chicago. We challenge all the other underground and alternative festivals. We may still put on smaller shows. Maybe something else will pop up after us.”

The final Z Fest will feature one night of new material and one night of a “Best of Z Fest” retrospective. The submission deadline is technically past, “but people can still send work,” Alshaibi said.

The “Venereal Video” DVD screening and release party is Saturday, Feb. 12 at 10 p.m. at Odd Obsession Video, 1659 N. Halsted. For mature audiences. BYOB.

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