Loading Doc: Movie Palaces, Man-Aliens and Microcosms
March 15, 2017 by Todd Lillethun
Chicagoan April Wright is in post-production on her latest project about film exhibition, currently titled GOING ATTRACTIONS: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S MOVIE PALACES. After her previous film told the story of American drive-in venues, the new project covers the evolution of major cinemas (aka movie palaces) from the invention of the medium to the present day. Many of the theaters featured were built between 1915 until 1932, the year the Great Depression devastated the economy and began wiping out palaces across the country. Prominent interviews include Leonard Maltin discussing United Artists, a famous theater in the Ace Hotel in downtown LA, founded in part by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Charlie Chaplin, and DW Griffith. The film also features Radio City Music Hall in New York City which began as a movie palace with live shows, but was scheduled to be torn down in the late 1970’s until Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, Dance Captain from the Radio City Ballet Company, led the charge to save it. Although Wright currently lives in LA, Chicago is featured prominently as well: Jerry A Mickelson of Jam Productions shares his efforts to restore the Uptown Theatre, Richard Fosbrink and Craig Morrison from the Theatre Historical Society of America visit the Music Box Theatre and the Athenaeum Theatre, and Jerard Gary describes his efforts to bring back the (still closed) Avalon New Regal theatre on the south side. The film is scheduled to be finished later this year for both theatrical and video distribution.
Future Language: The Dimensions of VON LMO
Chicago-based filmmaker Lori Felker is finishing her feature doc FUTURE LANGUAGE: THE DIMENSIONS OF VON LMO, about an avant-garde artist and musician who believes he’s a man-alien hybrid with access to multiple dimensions. Felker became a fan of VON LMO in 2000 when she heard the re-release of his 1981 album “Future Language,” and once he left prison in 2011 she arranged to meet him. Initially he was skeptical of her interests, but, flattered by the attention, he eventually agreed to participate in a film project about himself, even though he was unsure of the purpose. He only said, “Whatever it is, this movie can’t be normal.” In the beginning they shot music videos, personal essays, and footage of his daily routine near his home in Brooklyn. Then during interviews he would often address her directly through the camera, and instead of telling him to stop, she decided to allow their developing friendship to enter the project. Her inclusion brought a more linear perspective to balance out his own elliptical mindset: when he dove into tales of alien connections and visions between different dimensions, she would ask how they influenced his life, music, writing and artwork. Still, Felker did not want a traditional linear structure for the film, so for the past two years she struggled through the edit to find an approach that respected both his ideas and material. Recently she handed it over to Agnes Starczewski (formerly of Scrappers Film Group) to help fill in the gaps. The final film is due out later this fall.
It’s been a busy year for Chicago-based filmmaking team Michael Caplan and Michelle Hoffman: last summer their scientific exploration project MICROCOSM explored microscopic life in the ocean, often at the furthest depths, with a team of scientists who want to find out how it impacts life on the planet. Beginning in June, Caplan, Hoffman and their DP followed a team of scientists, mostly from the University of Alaska, on an arctic icebreaker for 40 days with 4K cameras and gear from Zacuto and Kodak. Although global warming has been melting polar ice caps at alarming rates, it also allowed them to explore areas that had been previously inaccessible. Within these depths cameras descended 10,000 feet and captured footage of mysterious microscopic creatures as well as tiny breeds of jellyfish that were often no larger than a softball. New research has revealed how changes in these tiny creatures have an impact much further from their arctic, so this month Michelle and a DP will be visiting the coasts of Mexico to see how shifting plankton populations are impacting the lives of whales, who depend on them as a food source, and look to follow up more questions at perhaps 4 other locations. Given the wide range of material they’ve already shot, Caplan and Hoffman are currently considering how their feature might work better as a limited TV series.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.