Loading Doc: We Want Harold!
June 23, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
WE WANT HAROLD! Director Anton Seals and producer Nicole Bernardi-Reis are in preproduction on a documentary about Harold Washington, Chicago’s first and only African-American mayor. In 1983, after a long career in state politics, Washington ran against incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley and won with 37% of the popular vote. As a Chicago native, Seals remembers growing up during the campaign – his father was a field organizer for the election – and how revolutionary the moment felt. Especially in the early 1980’s, as the Republican Party swept into power across the country, conversations and policies around education, housing, and the war on drugs would have enormous impact on communities of color. Once in office, Washington himself struggled with a contentious City Council who blocked every move he made while trying to address a surge in violent crime, public school crises and a chronic population decline, all while trying to build coalitions that would build on his progressive agenda. Seals’ directorial debut springs from his background in community organizing, advocacy and outreach, where he served as impact producer on documentaries such as The Interrupters and Freedom Summer. Brenardi-Reis’ recent credits include producer on Radical Grace, and she was appointed Executive Director of IFP-Chicago earlier this spring. Right now they are working to find people who were involved in Washington’s 1983 campaign and outreach efforts to collect visual elements for the film.
THE INSIDE SINGERS
Director Daniel Kolen is moving into post-production on THE INSIDE SINGERS, a feature documentary about a prison choir in Coralville, Iowa, half of whom are inmates, and half of whom are volunteers from the community. Kolen’s mother is among the volunteers, and he was inspired to make the film after attending a concert in December 2012. “The music had an incredible humanizing effect,” he said. “Both in terms of how the audience saw them, but also in how they saw themselves.” Choir director Mary Cohen started the project in 2009 with the belief in the transformative power of art for those behind bars, and wanted to give the inmates an opportunity to see themselves as someone other than a criminal. Like many of the other inmates, the prison singers came from impoverished backgrounds and with little or no musical experience. The film follows the choir over several months as they prepare for the spring concert, and focuses on four inmates in particular who are struggling to move forward from their dark pasts. Although MSNBC, National Geographic, and what would become an HBO production had previously all failed to obtain access to film at the prison, Daniel was allowed, partly because he could shoot as a one-man band. Production took place between January and May of 2015, and he is about to launch a $30,000 fundraising campaign for post-production. Having worked on several TV documentaries that focused on sensational criminality and hard justice stories, Kolen sees this project as somewhat of a repost on his previous work, one where prison could be seen as an unlikely place for healing and growth.
KARTEMQUIN CELEBRATES 50 YEARS
Documentary powerhouse Kartemquin Films is celebrating its 50th birthday throughout 2016, with events, retrospectives, and screenings of all their films. On Friday, June 24, they will be hosting a (now sold-out) birthday bash on the rooftop of the Harris Theater, with hundreds of collaborators and supporters expected to be in attendance. For those who cannot make it, there will be plenty more opportunities to celebrate: you can find their entire catalogue scheduled for broadcast on PBS as well as streaming on the Kartemquin website. Also, Movies in the Park will host a Kartemquin Night at Millennium Park on July 26, when they show the classic INQUIRING NUNS at 6:30 PM.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.