2014 Fall Festival of Independent Film

CELLULOID logoOn Sunday, September 14th, we begin the FOURTH ANNUAL Fall Festival of Independent Film at North Central College.  The college’s student film club CELLULOID hosts the event, a partnership with the Naperville Independent Film Festival (NIFF), now in its 7th year.

 Go here to view or download a full 2014 Schedule.

NIFF shows most of its foreign films at the college, films which come from Paris’ European Independent Film Festival (the ECU).  To get to Paris, films have to have won an award at another festival.  They’re judged again in Paris, and we show some of the winners there—making most of our foreign film showings double-winners to begin with.

A still from "iminy," one of the films in this year's festival.

A still from “Jiminy,” one of the films in this year’s festival.

This year features 18 films from the U.S. and eight other countries.  All shows start at 7:00 p.m. in Smith Hall, on the second floor of Old Main, 30 N. Brainard St., on the North Central College campus in Naperville.  We don’t want money to be a big obstacle, so the ticket prices are low:  $3 an evening and $12 for the whole week for North Central College students, faculty and staff, and $5 an evening and $16 for the week for the general public.

Best Animated Short Film, "Drag Me," from Greece.

Best Animated Short Film, “Drag Me,” from Greece.

Among the films in this year’s festival Jiminy follows Nathaniel, who works as a repair man fixing brain implants called “crickets” that allow people for a probably-not-so-distant-future to switch into “auto mode” any time they choose.  Jiminy, a French film, took home the Best Director prize from Paris.  Heritage explores the extraordinary place of guns in Swiss culture, Switzerland—that icon of neutrality—currently being the third most armedcountry on the planet.  The Best Animated Short Film went to Drag Me, from Greece.  And Best Non-European Documentary went to a U.S. film, Not Anymore, the story of the Syrian revolution told through the experiences of two young people, a rebel fighter and a journalist.

"Not Anymore," a film about the revolution in Syria is featured in the 2014 Festival.

“Not Anymore,” a film about the revolution in Syria is featured in the 2014 Festival.



Revisit past festivals:  2012 Schedule, 2013 Schedule.


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Remembering London – Part 5: Fear the “Urine”

Rochfort YoungEarly morning, August 17, 2014.  An email from Mr. Andrew Keen tells me of the passing of Rochfort Young.  He and Peter Knowles were my compatriots at Table 17 in the dining room of Vincent House, the Notting Hill residential hotel I stayed at in the Fall of 2000.  Pictured at left among the late-breakfast debris of our table, Rochfort—who always came down late—was initially standoffish to this stranger (me) invading the table he and Peter claimed as their special haven.  Rochfort had lived there since 1986.  That he soon let me into their circle and into his good graces stands as one my fondest memories of London…and of relationships generally.  Once past his sometimes thorny exterior, one came close to an extraordinary intelligence, even if one didn’t agree with all its particular opinions.  One also came close to a sensitive, vulnerable soul, which—I strongly sensed—that tough exterior and those strong, strong opinions had been erected to protect.  The following remembrance features Rochfort and Peter.

At Vincent House these are heady days for Rochfort Young.  A confirmed enemy of the Euro, he has taken to calling it the “Urine.”  Often he brushes past me at table #17 on his way to pick up his dinner entre, slapping the Financial Times in his left palm and announcing, “Good news!  The urine has fallen again!” as indeed it steadily has.  Rochfort expects it to sink to 80 or below which won’t wreck the European Union, but just might keep England from joining it.  Tony Blair is for joining, another reason he seems so widely despised, though his current majority in Parliament—he has at least 50 votes more than he needs for a majority, while the Conservatives have just half of what they would need—makes him untouchable for now.  A profoundly conservative Thatcherite, Rochfort is at least not as much a conspiritorialist thinker as Peter Knowles.


Rochfort, middle-left, at a Vincent House Celebration.

I invited Peter and Rochfort to attend a lecture on European business, making them promise not to interrupt, but asking them to respond afterwards.  Our lecturer was oddly brilliant.  He said that it made all the sense in the world for Europe to unite and adopt a single currency and for England to go along too.  Yet in the end during a straw poll he voted against the EU and the euro, saying, in essence, that culture weighed more heavily than sense, and there was just too much cultural separatism for a United States of Europe ever to come into being.  Rochfort, not wanting to miss the hot meal at Vincent House, didn’t show, but Peter did and was delighted.  Nearly two-thirds of our students stayed for Peter’s response which began: “I’m against the EU because you have to trust people you do business with and how can you trust the *@!&#$* French and Germans.”  About the fifth time he called them backstabbers, sonofabitches, and ruthless lying bastards, I jumped up claiming no responsibility for him or anything he said.  The students loved it.

Peter Knowles and Rochfort Young

Peter Knowles and Rochfort, deans of Table 17. Peter wears a Christmas crown!

The very next day when I came down to breakfast Peter said, “Richard, get your food and sit down.  I have something that will interest you.”  There on the front page of the Financial Times just below the fold was this story:  “Chirac repeats his call for France and Germany to lead two-tier EU.”  And on page 9, this: “Prodi fights back over EU reform call.”  France and Germany propose that those countries ready to join the EU and adopt the euro do so now under their leadership while those not ready simply join when and if they want.  But European Commission president Romano Prodi chides them, saying that “Too much direct co-operation between governments at the expense of an approach involving the Commission and parliament would undermine the democratic nature of the whole EU structure and would be a seriously retrograde step.”  For Peter it’s the same old story of the French and Germans grabbing power, and he believes, further, that Germany is only leading the French on until such time as it can flatten them economically and occupy the top of a European hierarchy alone.  He made me promise to copy the two articles and hand them out to our students, saying, “While I may be a lunatic, I’m not totally crazy.”

Even a bigger conspiratorialist is Torquil Dirk-Erickson.  An Englishman who has lived in Rome for 30 years, Torquil spends about a month a year at Vincent House.  His business is getting his Italian clients to good English language schools in London, and he visits to check on quality and get new leads.  He is one of Vincent House’s grandest eccentrics and occasionally comes to meals in suits so wrinkled I think the only way he could have rumpled them so was if he’d slept in them.  I have watched him night after night eat entire apples with a knife and fork, not once touching them fully by hand, and paring the skin away so thickly that only small portions of the inner flesh remain. An anti-papist, he says Italians, too, could care less about going to church, but everyone in Europe is in thrall to the Pope.  His Italian seems wonderfully energetic, though much too clipped, but the years in Italy have done crazy things to the accents of his native tongue.  Imagine the most exaggerated English accent you can, complete with squared-off face, mouth pulled tightly downward at the corners—bull-doggish, Churchill-style—and double it. “No one would dare offend the Pope,” he says.  The word “offend” lingers and glides down on the “n” until it suddenly swoops down to the “d” which bites off the glide so vigorously that it becomes another syllable: like, “No one would dare offennnnnnnnnn-da the Pope,” the last two words delivered lightly after a lyrical pause.  “It’s a kind of exaggerated actor’s English,” says Janet Macam, Vincent House’s resident Aussie, a crossword puzzled addict delighted that her name is a palindrome.  (That’s her in the large picture above directly across from Rochfort.)  But I was going to say before this excursion on Torquillian English that he fears most the proposal, already partly realized, of a European police force.  If England becomes too contrary, he feels it will just be invaded.

A September 30th London Times article by home affairs correspondent Philip Johnston, reports that,  “Protestors will accuse Tony Blair of treason today to highlight the perceived threat to British sovereignty posed by the forthcoming European Union summit in Nice…A ‘notice of treason’—naming Mr Blair, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Attorney-General—is to be handed in at courts across the country.”

And it’s not just Blair.  “If the Queen signs anything coming out of Nice,” Torquil says, “she should be brought up on sedition charges herself!”  And it’s not just the EU.  Many people here believe that at no other time in history has British sovereignty lain so much in the balance.  Or even the concept of Britishness itself.

My assertion in an earlier remembrance that the British needed to talk more about race caused some consternation here.  Yet on October 11th, while I was back in Chicagoland for a night before flying on to San Francisco, a 400-page report on multiculturalism in Britain was released under the auspices of Home Secretary Jack Straw.  “The word ‘British’ is racist–report” reads a headline in the Evening Standard, and in The Independent this headline: “Britishness is racially coded idea, Straw told.”  The headlines seem intemperate for a nation not used to thinking this way.  There are recommendations to revise and rewrite the histories used in schools to include both the contributions of minorities as well as the oppression visited upon them by “the British.”  There’s a quiet uproar over this in London, as you can imagine, the quietness due in part to how deeply this hits the British psyche, and in part because there’s so much else to be in an uproar about.  “We should not engage in flagellation over our glorious past,” said Gerald Howarth, a Conservative member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.  “I for one am proud of our imperial heritage.”  In Naperville one of the results of the diversity plan I helped put together for District 203 is that diversity is now one of the nine civic virtues at the center of the social studies curriculum.  [See brochure of this plan.]  Because people at Vincent House know a little of my work back home, there is often an uneasy silence when conversations begin touching these issues.  The silence just never lasts that long.

Robert Weil

Robert Wyle, the oft-embattled head of Vincent House.

“What are you people up to at Table 17?!” demanded Robert Wyle, Vincent House’s manager.  He slapped down the paper containing Johnston’s article, which specifically identifies Torquill not only as one of those bringing treason charges—but also as a resident of Vincent House!  As he strode away indignantly I thought I heard him mumbling under his breath what he’d said to me many times: “Richard, I don’t run Vincent House.  Vincent House runs me.”


♦ Go to the Lead Post in my Remembering London series.

Go to the Teaching Diversity main page.

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Margaret Danner: Ethereal Strength

Margaret DannerMargaret Danner (1915-1984) began winning poetry awards in the eighth grade.  In 1945 she won second prize in the Poetry Workshop Award at Northwestern, and went on to win such awards as a John Hay Whitney Fellowship (1951), the Harriet Tubman Award (1956), and the Native Chicago Literary Prize (1960).  In 1953 Poetry published a series of her poems, and in 1956 she became the first Black to become assistant editor of the prestigious magazine.  She was also Wayne State’s Poet in Residence, a post she acquired after moving to Detroit in 1959 to be part of the “Detroit Group” of artists and writers.  There she got a local pastor to lend her an empty parish house and founded Boone House, a cultural center for writers, artists, and musicians.

Danner claimed close personal and working relationships with the likes of Margaret Burroughs, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Langston Hughes, to whom she wrote in 1945: “My life as a poet looks very bleak to me now…Only last night I read one of mine and was told it was elusive, ethereal, etc.  Not much help for my people in that sort of verse.”  But her style—certainly elusive and ethereal—caught on as she learned to tune it to carry strong messages—albeit “quirky,” as I say below—about social justice and pride in African American and African culture.  She became one of the beloved figures of the Negro Renaissance, and even in the midst of the Black Arts Movement she was revered for her support of that younger generation of writers whose expressions were more direct and blunt than hers, and certainly not as ethereal.

Poem Counterpoem by Margaret Danner and Dudley RandallOne of her biggest supporters was the great poet Dudley Randall, one of the central figures of the Detroit Group.  Together they published Poem Counterpoem (1966), wherein she and Randall wrote alternating pairs of poems on similar themes.  The wonderful “Beautiful? You Are the Most,” for Josephine Baker, comes from this collection, and I included it in my book Black Writing from Chicago, one of several works referencing Josephine Baker throughout the volume.  For Baker was a liminal, in-between figure, both lionized and desired for her obvious beauty and talent, yet also held at a distance because she was also obviously black.  Did our desire humanize her or animalize us, or was it animal of us to dehumanize her?  Or is what we think of as animal really more human, and humanizing, than we are?  The cat imagery in her Josephine Baker poem explores this wonderfully—and dangerously:

This sweet little kitten’s soft purr
nearly matches your cheek
in its grain, its contour, but this meek
little kitten, when its mittens unsheathe, cannot match
your lightning-like scratch.
if this cat had the vision
would the ice in its blood
let it probe to the sore,
slit an incision,
and pour in this balm
that you pour?

She “dedicated” this poem “To Josephine Baker’s stage appearance and her all nations adoptions.”

Danner wrote from odd angles about our dehumanization of Blackness and especially of African culture in general.  Her dedication to that culture brought her a grant from the American Society of African Culture, and the Whitney Fellowship mentioned above allowed her to travel there.  African images filled many of her later poems.  “The Bells of Benin,” “The Christmas Soiree and the Missing Object of African Art,” and “To A Nigerian Student of Metallurgy” are among the best of these poems, as is “These Beasts and the Benin Bronze,” which comes from the oddly titled Impressions of African Art Forms in the Poetry of Margaret Danner (1961).   I also included this poem in Black Writing from Chicago, a poem which opens with an allusion to Chicagoan Dave Garaway’s monkey:

Dave Garroway’s Mr. J. Fred Muggs often thumps
quite a rhythmical thump with his feet,
doesn’t he?  Sometimes he seems pretty clever.

But irrespective of his Fauntleroy and other neat
and obviously dear apparel, have you ever
wondered whether he, if his very life

depended on it, could take a stave from a barrel
and curve a small, smooth, round stick?

It then proceeds to ask tongue-in-cheek questions about whether animals can produce art.  They can’t.  So why do we dehumanize the Africans of Benin, whose artists have produced something so obviously artful as the Benin Bronzes.  Danner’s poetry is noted for a quirkiness and conversational style that suddenly gives way—with beautiful complexity, and often delicately—to insights into the nature of art and our human, humanizing, need for it.

Go to a list of Black Writers written about on this site.


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