C-U film not yet over the hill

Sometimes, your humble editor wishes we had more foresight to prepare C-U Blogfidential material for in advance, particularly to avoid grinding out material during the heavy-duty stretches in our calendar year such as, oh, the weeks leading up to the New Art Film Festival and “Ebertfest.” It always seems a date of historic significance is threatening to blow right by us when we’re swamped. A portion of these milestones escape our editorial clutches much to our consternation, but occasions like this when we manage to nab one on the fly – even if barely so – allow us to at least make note of it.

In C-U Confidential #2 and elsewhere, we’ve referenced a period in the early Seventies when film activity was surprisingly vibrant in Champaign-Urbana, primarily at the University of Illinois. Two particular events marking student contributions to that equation happened to take place on the same day 40 years ago today. On Wednesday, March 28, 1973, future film history author and movie producer Barry Sabath premiered the first issue of the student-published film journal MacGuffin at the Illini Union with his peers. Later that night the student-produced, feature-length “Best Picture of 1973,” SHOT, unspooled at Foellinger Auditorium for the very first time after four months of breakneck filming and editing.

While the graduate students behind the movie, director Mitch Brown and producer/future Ebertfest festival director Nate Kohn, would burn through their 15 minutes of SHOT fame by the fall, MacGuffin lasted another four semesters and five issues under the watch of recent faculty hires Edwin Jahiel and Richard Leskosky. As we’ve discovered, it’s quite difficult to find evidence that either endeavor existed yet these key campus moments illustrate the healthy synergy that can occur in our twin cities, cultural or otherwise, if the right mix of students, teachers, professionals, residents, and visitors make it so.

Film-related activity has again taken a foothold in the C-U thanks to a core contingent of passionate media producers, academics, and promoters harnessing 21st century tools and distribution methods. Yet, we also need to develop consistent and accessible opportunities for our children, tweens, teenagers, and college students to enhance their media creation skills without feeling the need to move elsewhere for the privilege. Can we do better than simply providing token in-class projects, isolated courses in various departments, or limited editing labs tucked away in the most obscure corners? Is it a sin to stress the narrative and experimental alongside the journalistic, UIUC?

Recent developments provide evidence the adults du C-U finally recognize this educational deficiency. Champaign-Urbana Film Society members are producing short films from scripts written by area K-12 students for their inaugural “Pens to Lens” program. The UI Undergraduate Library opened a “Media Commons” earlier this semester, featuring work stations and a small production studio that students can utilize. UI Media and Cinema Studies underclassmen will take public their spring collaboration, the Illini Independent Film Festival, on Saturday, April 27, a week after they intern at Ebertfest. These join existent opportunities for students to flex their filmmaking best, such as by participating in the decade-old Illini Film & Video and brand-new Chinese Independent Film Society and submitting to the UI Women’s Resources Center’s Feminist Film Festival.

There will always be self-starting young people like the Sabaths, Browns, and Kohns who throw caution to the wind and allow their media-making desires to manifest through ambition, imagination, and hard work. However, the majority require learned encouragement to guide them at the outset. By helping develop their skills, we sharpen our own as well as expand on our collective body of work, possibly impressing good things upon the world through the moving image Champaign-Urbana style.

Don’t wait to get started, dearest C-U. We’ll catch up with your accomplishments when we can.

~ Jason Pankoke

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