Three famous filmmakers here covering NATO protests

Three famous Chicago native filmmakers, who established their reputations during the shocking turbulence surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, are returning this week as a team to document the many political, economic and environmental protests of the NATO Summit. 

Two-time Oscar winner cinematographer Haskell Wexler, director Andrew Davis and writer/director Mike Gray, with local activist/filmmaker producer Suree Towfighnia and a contingent of 15 to 20 filmmakers, will capture stories about the people in the various movements.

The filmmaking activists will be divided into five teams, said Towfighnia, “trying to get all over town, in a city that’s shut down, to film the characters behind the marches.” 

:  Haskell Wexler, filmmaker/activistAt a foreclosure protest on Wednesday, Towfighnia added, “We will connect with people whose homes have been foreclosed and then go with Haskell to film the militarization of downtown, the closing of streets, and how the city is putting pressure on the community to demonize the protesters.”

Wexler, Davis and Gray will be part of the teams of veteran filmmakers, including cameramen Peter Kuttner, Ronn Pitts and audio engineer John Mason, who worked with the L.A. trio on their earlier Chicago films, Kartemquin interns, and Columbia College instructors.

Ultimate film: Whatever does the most good

The three decided to return to Chicago over a recent lunch in L.A. “We were talking about the NATO Summit and said, ‘What if something happens and we miss it,’” said Mike Gray, a 1960s activist-filmmaker. He was a partner in The Film Group before he wrote “China Syndrome” in 1979 and moved to L.A.

Haskell Wexler, who had been shooting an “Occupy LA” doc, said he wanted to cover Chicago from the time he heard about the-then dual G8 and NATO Summit. “Combined, those are the two most horrific aspects of our planet screwing things up,” he said. “Peace is patriotic.  NATO is not.”

Director Andrew DavisAt present there is no specific project, like a documentary, per se, added Andrew Davis. His specific role in the shoot, he said, “is to find voices and images what can speak to the world about these issues.  And keeping Haskell and Mike safe.”

Said Wexler, “We’ll make whatever will do the most good.  We are approaching the event in different ways.  I usually find what the people are interested in and out of that you can get a dramatic story.”

During their early years in Chicago, the trio’s film lives were often intertwined by working on the others’ film projects. Davis had been an assistant cameraman in Wexler’s “Medium Cool” and he directed “Code of Silence” for Gray in 1985; Gray was a second unit director in Davis’ “The Fugitive” in 1993.

Filmmakers’ successes in Hollywood

Before “Bound for Glory,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and his more than the 100 films and TV shows, Haskell Wexler had written, directed, produced and shot “Medium Cool” as a narrative feature based on the 1968 anti-Viet Nam war protests and the eruption of violence of 10,000 people in Grant Park.

“Medium Cool” was hailed as remarkable for Wexler’s use of cinema vérité-style documentary filmmaking techniques, as well as for the way he combined fictional and non-fictional content.

“Medium Cool’s” influence was so great that in 2003 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

At the same time, in 1969, Mike Gray made “American Revolution 2,” about the complex politics of the 1960s. Called “a very raw and rough documentary,” it focused on an unlikely alliance with the Black Panthers and the “Young Patriots” a white, Southern group. 

Then in 1971, The Film Group produced and Gray directed and shot the shocking “Murder of Fred Hampton.”

It depicted the murder of the fast-rising Black Panther leader by an assault team of the Cook County and Chicago police, the outrageous “murder investigation” and Hampton’s last 18 months of good works organization.

Andrew Davis made his chops in 1978 as the writer/director of “Stony Island,” which was his ticket L.A., where he since has directed nearly 30 films and videos, including “Collateral Damage,” “A Perfect Murder and “Chain Reaction.” 

He is currently in development on “Pretty Boy Floyd,” a bio pic about the ‘20s and ‘30s gangster, bank robber and folk hero.