For years, students and faculty at Governors State University have dreamed of hosting a film festival.
This year, their dream is coming true with the inaugural Chicago Southland International Film Festival.
Governors State will welcome high school and college students to the University Park campus Sept. 15 and 16 to showcase their short films as a part of the festival, the first event there of its kind.
The festival will showcase 19 short films from students from the United States, Germany, Russia, Canada and China, and will culminate in a Sept. 16 awards show that will recognize filmmakers for narrative and documentary short films and feature an audience choice award. Admission is free, but organizers request people reserve tickets on the Center for Performing Arts website.
Suzanne Patterson, external program manager for GSU’s School of Extended Learning, held a small festival last summer that acted as a kick start for this year’s international competition. She held three showings over three months, culminating in a showcase of student films from the Chicago area, and said she saw a lot of enthusiasm.
“It was just to show we had a community that was interested in it,” Patterson said. “It was a very small deal — we did it all under the radar, but we did it, and it was Josh (Young) who came up to me afterward and said, ‘I’ve been dreaming for years to have a film festival here, let’s do it.’”
Young, an independent filmmaker and program developer of digital learning and media design at GSU, indeed said he had been hoping to host a film festival at the university since his first year as a graduate student in 2010. Patterson and Young are now co-chairs fof this year’s event, and said they were proud to finally be able to bring a full-fledged international lineup to fruition with the help of a multitude of university partners.
“The festival really would not have happened if we didn’t have the support of a lot of people on campus,” Young said. “We wanted to use this as an opportunity to raise awareness for GSU’s already rich cultural community.”
Last month, the festival screened director Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” and director Seth McClellan’s “Little Wound’s Warriors” for its feature film showcase. McClellan became the first graduate of GSU’s master of fine arts in independent film and digital imaging program in 2007, and said he was happy to come back to his alma mater.
“It was really nice and gratifying to be a part of this unique program,” McClellan said. “That’s a big part of why I’m so proud to be a GSU graduate and also so proud to take part in the film festival, is that there’s a really rich cultural tradition and a really amazing group of people who live in the south suburbs.”
McClellan said he credits GSU for giving him the tools to understand filmmaking. During his time at GSU, McClellan worked closely with professor Daniel Nearing and other faculty, doing filming and production work.
“It was really hands-on, and very much gaining experience by doing and actually creating,” McClellan said. “I got to film a lot and use some great equipment, and also get guided through my projects by very supportive and engaged teaching staff.”
Nearing acted as an advisor to the festival committee, and said the quality of the setting and the curation is what sets the event apart.
“They’re starting this thing at a very high professional standard,” Nearing said. “We’ve got this beautiful center for the performing arts, a fantastic projection system, super comfortable … beautifully curated selection; Anybody that pops in at any time over the course of those two days will not be disappointed.”
Nearing has written and directed two feature films, “Chicago Heights” and “Hogtown,” that have involved GSU students and staff and won critical acclaim. Nearing said the students at GSU are unique because, with an average age of 35, his graduate students work with a special passion and drive.
“The students I have at GSU by and large are remarkably dedicated,” Nearing said. “They’re looking for a second chance in their lives, and so they’re taking this very seriously. They want to grow creatively and professionally.”
The festival is part of a larger focus on the arts at the university, supported by president Elaine Maimon, who has championed the concept “living in the midst of art” during her 12 year tenure.
“As the only public university south of the Chicago city limits and north of Bloomington-Normal, we’re really creating something for our larger community,” Maimon said. “To have things like this international film festival… it creates an artistic hub for the community which makes this whole area a healthier area.”
Lana Rogachevskaya, executive director of the Center for Performing Arts, said that the venue is one of many at GSU that make it a hub for arts in the Southland.
“There’s a lot of exciting arts on campus right now,” Rogachevskaya said. “There’s renowned visual arts, student engagements, outreach; I think we’re on the cusp of the explosion.”
Going forward, organizers said they hope to turn the film festival into an annual event, bringing in more filmmakers from around the world. A new Bachelor of Fine Arts program rolling out this year will allow younger students to get involved with filmmaking at a higher level, Nearing said, and Patterson and Young echoed the desire to reach younger students through more outreach to local high schools.
“Our goal is certainly to expand the programming of the Chicago Southland International Film Festival,” Young said. “So we want to add different screening events, and expand not only what types of films we’re showing but also what kind of media we’re showing.”