National guests draw big crowds at IFP/Chicago Filmmakers Conference

Donius presided over her first IFP Filmmakers Conference Oct. 21-24, featuring an expanded four-day schedule, a higher-profile roster of national figures and attendees from across the Midwest.

The Conference springboarded off the Chicago International Film Festival, which closed the night the Conference opened, drawing filmmakers who were in town for the fest: Alexander Payne, whose “Sideways” advance screening presaged the Conference, and director Dylan Kidd and star Laura Linney, whose “P.S.” headlined Friday night.

New York filmmaker Robert Stone opened the Conference with his feature doc “Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst,” which looks at the oft-told tale of the heiress’ kidnapping from the less-seen perspective of other members of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army, and examines the birth of what Stone called “terrorism as mass entertainment.” Magnolia Pictures will release “Guerilla” in theaters this Thanksgiving.

Bob Hercules of Media Process Group and Cheri Pugh presented their moving in-progress hour documentary “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” about Indiana Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor and her controversial decision to forgive the Nazis for atrocities they committed against her, as an act of self-healing. Hercules and Pugh screened an already fairly polished full-length cut of the film, which is stalled in post as they seek finishing funds.

The Flyover Zone Short Film Festival Oct. 23 showcased a selection of Midwestern shorts, mostly local works save for the domestic abuse drama “Finding Grace” by Zak Kapela of Dayton, Ohio.

Anthony Collamati screened his 2003 Production Fund winner “The Apologies,” a 17-minute bittersweet drama about a recovering alcoholic trying awkwardly to make amends from his past crimes. Columbia College professor Paula Froehle picked up the 2004 Production Fund for her film “Up on a Rope,” which will premiere at the 2005 Flyover Zone fest.

Scott Smith won best comedy for his Commandment-breaking sin marathon “Ten,” his entry in Project Greenlight that landed him in the final three of the directing competition last summer.

Accepting his award, Smith said that after he made it to the top ten in PGL, “Ruth wrote an article in ReelChicago. I got calls from people who wanted to volunteer, just to see someone from Chicago make it. That shows what kind of a community we have here.”

The big winner of the night was Columbia grad student Ai Lene Chor, whose cross-cultural junior high drama “Mindy” picked up awards for best drama, best film, audience award, and best actress for 13-year-old star Yamei Sheida. Sheida had also previously been honored with a Special Consideration from the Chicago International Film Festival, where “Mindy” screened in the “Homegrown” shorts program.

Panels covered art and business topics from writing, directing, producing and distribution to digital innovations, no budget production and political docs. National panelists included Erin Heidenreich of Jon Sloss’s Cinetic Media and Tom Quinn of Magnolia on the distribution side, producers Billy Higgins (“High Fidelity”) and Lee Mayes (“Scary Movie,”) and local Hollywood screenwriters Steve Conrad (“The Weatherman”) and Tim Kazurinsky (“About Last Night.”)

Horror classic “Deathline” showed for only the third time in the U.S. in its original version. Director Gary Sherman has recently returned to Chicago after years in Hollywood and is beginning his first film directing project in a decade.

– by Ed M. Koziarski,