Latino Film Festival’s lone Chicago feature has encore screening June 28

Antonio Franceschi (left) directs “Urban Poet.”

Among films from across the Americas that screened at the 19th Chicago Latino Film Festival was one feature film made in Chicago: TV producer Antonio Franceschi’s “Urban Poet.”

Franceschi made the picture in Humboldt Park last fall for a budget that puts “El Mariachi” to shame: “less than $5,000,” by Franceschi’s estimate.

Franceschi’s wife and business partner, Gloricelly Martinez-Franceschi, stars as the titular poet. Martinez-Franceschi wrote and produced the film with her husband, through their company New Film Productions.

Martinez-Franceschi plays a young woman, confronting the gradual loss of her community to gentrification, who finds a vehicle for her angst in the poetry slam circuit.

The Franceschis were inspired to make the film by the redeeming social messages they saw in poetry slams. “When we were out there hearing young Latinos, a lot of their poetry was really powerful,” Franceschi said. “It expresses the way that they deal with their struggles in a more positive light.”

Slam veterans including Michael Reyes perform their own poetry in the film, which culminates in a climactic poetry slam. The soundtrack is by Xavier Nogueras of Boca Music, who also performed in the film.

“Urban Poet” was lensed on Cannon XL-1 DV cameras by Felix Mendez and Derek Grace.

New Film already owned most of the production gear they needed to make the film, and supplemented the shoot with equipment donated by X-Ray Films. Franceschi further credits completing the film on such a tiny budget to widespread community support from Humboldt Park businesses, which provided locations and food at no cost.

The Franceschis turned to “Urban Legend” after shopping a more elaborate film, a baseball epic called “Westside Legends.” “Investors that we talked to wanted to change the story, have more sex and car explosions,” Franceschi said. “We decided it was better to produce it ourselves.” Banking on the exposure they anticipate from “Urban Poet’s” run on the Latino festival circuit, the Franceschis plan to return to “Westside Legends” as their next feature project in 2004.

Franceschi cut his teeth in the rental department at Helix as a high school student in the early ’80s. He briefly attended Columbia College until he ran out of money and was forced to withdraw.

Among other TV projects, New Film produced the cultural series “Siempre Caliente” for Telemundo from 1998 to 2000, with Martinez-Franceschi as host. They’re developing a series about Latino entrepreneurs, “Latinos on the Move,” for PBS.

“Urban Poet” premiered at the Chicago Latino Film Festival in April, and had a sold out benefit screening later that month at Roberto Clemente High School. ” The 800-seat theater was filled to capacity and hundreds were turned away, creating a strong demand for additional screenings,” Martinez-Franceschi said.

“Urban Poet” screens Saturday, June 28 at 6 p.m. at Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western.

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-by Ed M. Koziarski,