New IFP/Chicago executive director Donius aims for more connected organization

Elizabeth Donius is two months into her job as IFP/ Chicago executive director, the first full-time director in at least 10 years, and she’s excited about enlarging the 400-member organization and making it a more important and useful resource for Chicago’s large and growing indie film community.

“I’ve done film projects and I’m doing film projects, and I know how hard it is to get independent work made,” said Donius.

Earlier this month she and her regular collaborator Amy Elliot were in Jamestown, N.D. shooting the world’s largest buffalo ? it’s 50 feet long and 30 feet high ? for “World’s Largest,” the documentary she’s directing that showcases nearly 40 “world’s largest” statues in small towns across America. They plan to complete the film in the coming year.

While Donius is IFP’s sole paid employee, she has a helpful staff of five interns who come from the Art Institute, the University of Chicago’s Fire Escape Group and Columbia College — IFP’s office is now located in the school’s main production building at 1104 S. Wabash.

A native of Westchester, New York, Donius is a 1994 University of Chicago graduate, who is married to Ken McGill, a U of C doctoral candidate in anthropology. She was a segment producer with Elliot on IFC’s “Split Screen” series from 1998 to 2000, and a communication coordinator for PBS’ “P.O.V.” in 2001 and 2002 . Donius and Elliot directed the 1997 narrative feature “Headless.”

Donius and the 20-person IFP board are planning a number of program expansions in the coming months, including more year-round business seminars, “bringing in people like cable decision-makers and distributors,” and also working on innovative plans to provide outlets for locally-made films.

IFP has an annual operating budget of $130,000 derived from the annual conference, membership fees and grants for various programs, such as the $10,000 Academy Foundation grant used for the six-week summer production program with Curie High School students, an expansion of IFP’s ongoing mentorship program there.

Two big back-to-back events are planned for August.

  • Late August at the Chicago Cultural Center: The premiere of the two PSAs for Chicago theater created by Curie High School students under the guidance of IFP board member Nicole Bernardi-Reis of Eightball Films.
  • Aug. 28 at the Gene Siskel Film Center: IFP co- hosts Chicago’s first Best of Slamdance screening. Kevin Asher Green’s Grand Jury Prize winner “Homework” screens at 5:30, followed at 7:45 by Hurt McDermott’s local “Nightingale in a Music Box,” produced by IFP board member Leigh Jones and winner of the Jury Prize for Excellence in Writing. Green and McDermott will attend.

IFP holds its monthly membership meeting 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Old State of Illinois Building, 160 N. LaSalle, 5th floor. The monthly IFP/Facets screening series continues at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14.

IFP/Chicago is located at 1104 S. Wabash; phone, 312/235-0161; see

– by Ed M. Koziarski,

IFP/Chicago board members. Bob Hudgins, president; Noel Olken, VP; Kit Woods, treasurer; Tim Kelley, secretary; Dan Moore, chair, annual conference; Michael Caplan, Sharon Zurek, Kevin O’Connor, Nicole Bernardi-Reis, Erica Frederick, Leigh Jones, Manuela Hung, Karon Hamlet, Claire Connelly, Jill Wigal, Melinda Roenisch and John Haderlein.