“Urbana filmmaker” wins Sundance

From February 3, 2008:

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Article in Champaign daily The News-Gazette about Carl Deal, who won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary filmmaking at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for the feature, TROUBLE THE WATER, along with Tia Lessin. Apparently, Deal is a native of Urbana. (Remember that the direct link to this article will expire after Saturday, February 9.)


Editor’s note: The piece, entitled “Urbana filmmaker, partner return from Sundance with top doc prize,” covers the big win in Park City, Utah, by Deal and Lessin, whose earlier credits include several Michael Moore productions. Yet, the opening paragraph clarifies ever so slightly that Deal is an “Urbana native and filmmaker” who actually lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. And, that’s it. No more. Fin.

For all I knew from the headline, Melissa Merli had written about Jay Rosenstein. Problem is, he’s still in production on his current projects and lives in Champaign, not Urbana, so that theory didn’t wash. (Although, Rosenstein did go to Sundance as an Urbana, Illinois, filmmaker in 2001 to support his short film, ERASED.) The article itself posed no other clarification. Mr. and Mrs. Deal could have given birth to bouncing baby Carl in a Champaign County hospital forty-some years ago and then moved away, making their son an Urbana native by sheer coincidence. Or, they’ve lived here this entire time while Carl has trotted the globe for his art. Either way, I’m grasping at straws.

We all understand the practice by press outlets in non-major markets of generating editorial about successful people who once had a relationship with their market, no matter how tenuous. It happens all the time, whether an in-house reporter angles their copy accordingly or an editor slips a one-liner into a wire story that solidifies the local connection. It’s certainly a scheme to draw readers and advertisers, but it can be done well in the right hands. 

I don’t understand how Merli’s superiors totally missed that her article in no way tells us what capacity Deal is related to the “U” in C-U. Without establishing that fundamental basis, the News-Gazette had no reason to run the story. “Urbana filmmaker…” smacks of a rush job intended to fill a Sunday section during a slow news week, padded with third party quotations. Just as well, TROUBLE THE WATER – a critically acclaimed film that follows low-income New Orleans residents as they make positive strides in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – had been covered extensively (and much better) in other outlets the month prior, such as in this Q&A posted by indieWIRE.

I only dote on the sloppy work in this News-Gazette article because, given what I try to accomplish on C-U Blogfidential regarding cinema at the local level, it pains me to see paid professionals a few blocks down the road with way more budget and resource than I’ll ever have simply blow it. I’ve a hunch this one got away from Merli as the deadline loomed near while her editors obviously didn’t give the piece a few proper tweaks before it went to press. Please be more careful next time, y’all.

I must qualify one other thing. Merli is a bona fide friend of the arts and one of the few staff journalists in the house that Marajen Stevick Chinigo built who writes well about interesting subjects on a regular basis. More than once, she has worked MICRO-FILM and C-U Confidential into columns and news briefs with little more than a press release and a friendly greeting from yours truly, for which I’ve always been grateful. I’m just frustrated that the article in question failed to effectively remind a readership much larger than mine that the cinema and Champaign-Urbana are inextricably linked.

~ Jason Pankoke

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