Networking in Chicago, part two

by Joan Tortorici Ruppert

In the digital age, face-to-face networking has become even more important as we relegate much of our communication to silence and text.

Bethany Jorgensen, founder of FACT (Free and Cheap Theatre) says that although her group started out as an Email list, its in-person element continues to thrive as a much-needed way to “steer clear of just a dot-com presence, into a full community?a chance to make those connections real.”

Part One of Networking in Chicago focuses mainly on organizations designed to meet the needs of specific professional crafts, and can be found by clicking ARCHIVES. Now, in Part Two, discover groups that cater to Chicago’s thriving indie film and theater scene. We promise an action-packed calendar and plenty of inspiration.

CCC (Chicago Community Cinema)
Membership fee: None; admission is $8 ($5 for students w/ID)

On the first Tuesday night of every month, CCC brings together indie films, networking opportunities and sponsor showcases, a potent mix that commonly attracts 200+ devotees to Excalibur’s upper floor.

Since its inception in 2003, CCC has drawn over 4,000 attendees to such events. The goal, says event director Mike McNamara, is to “bring the best independent films in Chicago and the Midwest to CCC, and put CCC into the first Tuesday of every Chicagoan’s calendar.” Doors open at 6 p.m., screenings begin at 7:30.

While local filmmakers are encouraged to submit their works for possible screening, CCC evenings frequently include national and international selections as well. Shorts, student films and music videos round out the ever-changing roster, which can be browsed at their website.

Prominent corporate sponsors include Avid, Fletcher Chicago, Film Branch, Kodak, Panavision, Filmworker’s Club, Rent Com, and The Actors’ Center.

Chicago Filmmakers
5243 N. Clark Street, Chicago, 60640
Membership fee: $50/year for co-op services; $25/year for screening discounts

The array of services provided by this 30-year-old media arts organization ranges from aesthetic to ultra-practical. For example, their regular screenings feature “films outside the mainstream marketplace” appealing to diverse audiences, while their Community Screening Project tackles urgent issues for more targeted groups including the Apna Ghar Shelter for Battered Asian Women, The Cambodian Assn. Center, the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center and many others.

For those interested in making films as well as viewing them, Chicago Filmmakers offers a $50 membership that allows low-cost rental of equipment, labs, workshops and seminars. Executive director Brenda Webb reports that while most of the equipment available to approximately 100 co-op members is 16mm, the group has expanded its workshops and seminars to include Avid and other digital technologies.

Some of CF’s most prominent education programs include “Talking Pictures: Investigations in the Avant-Garde” and the “Young Independent Filmmakers Project,” an outreach program offering free classes at a variety of city locations. And, in its 20th year, “Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian and Gay international Film Festival” continues as the second oldest festival of its kind in the world.

CF manages to keep their focus both deep and wide. Check out their website or call 773/293- 1447.

CUFF (Chicago Underground Film Festival)
3109 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 60618

Okay, this isn’t something you join as much as it is something to submerse yourself in for one sleepless week each summer. The Chicago Underground Film Festival “promotes works that dissent radically in form, content and technique from both the tired conventions of Hollywood and the increasingly stagnant IndieWood mainstream.”

Former Columbia College film student Jay Bliznick and partner Bryan Wendorf established CUFF in 1993 out of frustration with the established film festival circuit. Attendance and press coverage have increased steadily ever since.

As in the past, this year’s screenings will be held at the Landmark’s Century Cinemas, Aug. 27- Sept. 3. Categories to be awarded include Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary, Experimental, Animation, “Made in Chicago,” and Audience Choice.

Along with daily screenings during the Festival, CUFF promises a wealth of evening parties, live concerts and events selected to further inspire the subculture beast.

Actually, CUFF has become more of a year-round operation since their inception. Postproduction grants and occasional screenings and events keep the buzz alive in the winter months. Their website is the best place for latest news.

FACT (Free and Cheap Theatre)
Membership fee: $12 for FACT Card (various discounts)

A true labor of love founded by Chicago actress Bethany Jorgensen, FACT became a way for her and her cash-strapped friends to see more theatrical productions for less money. Now in its third year, FACT has blossomed into a central repository for last minute theater discounts, a regular Monday Night Networking Bash, and a thriving Email list.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into,” laughs Bethany. She now spends about three days each week talking to PR people at local theaters for the very latest news on discounts and special events, which often aren’t announced in time for traditional print ads.

Membership has doubled since last year, and about 2,000 people have purchased “FACT Cards” which, for a measly $12, offer a year of “exclusive ticket deals, great sponsor discounts, and the admiration of your friends.”

The Monday Night Networking Bashes are held regularly at Goodbar “to fit into the off-night schedules of even the biggest theaters,” says Bethany. Larger scale events are held seasonally. “The idea is to bring people out of cyberspace,” she explains. “You can get face-to-face with an e- mail address.”

IFP (Independent Feature Project)
Membership fee: $85, $60 for students

Perhaps the most visible organization of its kind in town, IFP Chicago is one of six national chapters dedicated to providing resources for independent filmmakers. In Chicago alone, the number and variety of screenings, workshops and educational opportunities makes this group a vital part of an indie pro’s repertoire.

Among its high profile programs are its annual Film Conference (normally held on Columbia College facilities) and Production Fund Grant. But throughout the year they offer some of the most practical and hard-hitting seminars in town, paneled by top industry experts. For example, a five- part legal seminar held earlier this year featured entertainment lawyers Bob Labate and Timothy S. Kelley plus a full roster of guest speakers. Members can take advantage of significantly reduced attendance fees for these kinds of events, increasing an already excellent value.

IFP Chicago frequently partners with other local media groups including Facets, CUFF and WIDC, so be sure to check for reciprocal discounts.

Visions Blu LLC
Membership fee: None, but events require entrance fees

Founder Karon Hamlet defines Visions Blu as an “aggressive, urban event and entertainment marketing company, with a twist.” That twist usually takes the form of an entertainment or educational event with special appeal to those in (or hoping to become part of) the Chicago media biz. Their “Tales from the Production Side” was a jam-packed tell-all seminar featuring three television and film professionals who shared dialog, information, and connections at a well- attended Networking Mixer.

Visions Blu has a heart for kids, too, as evidenced by their recent “Teen Film & Video Conference.” Next on the agenda is early registration for their Second Annual Film Symposium Nov. 7- 8 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Their website is a bit sketchy at this point, but don’t let that deter you from their ambitious plans and positive approach.

Be sure to click on ReelChicago’s CALENDAR for the latest info on networking opportunities this week.