Two diverse film festivals kicked off spring in Chicago over the weekend of April 20.
On April 20-22, the Define American Film Festival retuned for a third year of programming at Venue SIX10. Since its beginnings, the festival has taken place in a new city every year and sold out all the screenings. Define American was launched by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas. It is a leading organization that fights anti-immigrant hate through storytelling.
Short films this year focused on topics such as social injustice and immigration.
A panel called "Immigrants in Entertainment" ( which Melissa Harris-Perry led ) discussed the stereotypes in Hollywood and the struggles the artists have faced in the past. Panelists included Marvel's Black Panther's Bambadjin Bamba, NBC show Superstore's Nico Santos, CW show Jane the Virgin's Rafael Agustin and USA series Royal Pains' Reshma Shetty. Some of the panel mentioned their difficult previous auditions, with Santos describing his role as Mateo, originally being written as a Latin thug. By being himself while reading for the part, the executives and writers changed his character to become a gay Filipino.
Agustin spoke of changing the way television reflects Latinx characters and thanked writers like Tanya Saracho, whose ideas are slowly moving forward.
Vargas followed the panel with his own personal story about coming out twice, as gay and also as undocumented. He said the festival will continue in the future and he debuts a new book in the fall.
Another three-day film festival called CineYouth was hosted by the Chicago International Film Festival the same weekend and focused on filmmakers ages six through 22.
A special program was screened at the Music Box on Southport at 2 p.m. on April 22 that spotlighted LGBTQ themes. Four short films were shown including They Exist, with stories about LGBTQ rights; Embrace, a coming-out story set in the Philippines; Hot Boys. Gun Boys. Dead Boys., with a title that said it all; and Silvia in the Wave, depicting a 40-year-old trans person's suicide and the family aftermath.
A 17-year-old non-binary filmmaker named Anabelle Martinez talked to the audience after the screening of their film We Exist. They talked about casting the documentary and the challenges of making it.
The weekend closed with a segment titled "Midwest's Best" that spotlighted movies that Illinois and Michigan filmmakers created. CineYouth was created in 2005 to encourage young filmmakers to pursue their passion for making movies.
For more information, visit DefineAmerican.com/FilmFest and ChicagoFilmFestival.com, respectively.