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Social Documentaries from Local Filmmakers

Kartemquin Films, a Chicago documentary group, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this fall with a retrospective at its birthplace, the University of Chicago. Founded in 1966 by UofC grads Stan Karter, Jerry Temaner, and Gordon Quinn (note the portmanteau), the company aims to expose deep societal problems by focusing in on the lives of those affected by them. Giving particular attention to Chicago’s under-represented voices—children, factory workers, gang members, the poor—these films garner support for social change, establishing an intimate emotional connection with groups of people otherwise ignored. After almost half a century of filmmaking, Kartemquin has become a potent force in the documentary world, refusing to ever stray from their provocative content.

October 2 • 7:00 • 66m
Inquiring Nuns
Gordon Quinn, Gerald Temaner, 1968 • In one of the earliest Kartemquin films, the camera follows two young Chicago nuns as they explore the city and approach passers-by with the simple inquiry, “Are you happy?” The responses range from the stunningly thoughtful to completely insane, but perhaps the most compelling feature of this documentary is seeing how people open up to the nuns, a response that would not otherwise be generated. Showcasing some of Chicago’s iconic landscapes and scored by Philip Glass, Inquiring Nuns raises deep social questions with a moving aesthetic panache. 16mm
October 9 • 7:00 • 130m
Kartemquin Short Subjects
Various, 1968, 69, 70, 74 • These four short films chronicle social change of their time period from the perspective of the young people who were behind the wheel of it all. Parents addresses the question of parental authority, while Hum 255 tells the story of a group of UChicago students who occupied an administration building in 1968—42 were expelled, 81 were suspended, and Kartemquin, whose founders were classmates, came back a year later to get the scoop. WT- FATRS? follows students at the Art Institute, and Trick Bag voices the perspectives of young factory workers and gang members, all from Chicago. DVD
October 16 • 10:00 • 102m
Thumbs Down
Gordon Quinn, Gerald Temaner, 1968 • This early Kartemquin film tells the story of a teenage youth group called Thumbs Down. Conflicts arise when their beliefs lead them to social action, action which does not sit well with members of their traditional community—namely, to hold an anti-war Mass at their conservative parish. This documentary reveals an unexpected and different side of the youth movement. 16mm
October 23 • 7:00 • 56m & 12m
Golub & Viva la Causa
Jerry Blumenthal, Gordon Quinn, 1988 & 1974 • One of the first Kartemquin films to leave Chicago, Golub tells the story of a politically motivated artist whose work addresses issues like mass murder, political extermination, and torture. The film motivates a captivating discussion of these issues, using the art as a platform. Viva La Causa is a short film detailing mural art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The murals articulate the political causes of Mexican-American artists at the time. A series of short interviews provides perspective on the meaning of the art to the community. 16mm
October 30 • 7:00 • 80m
Gordon Quinn, Gerald Temaner, 1970 • French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze popularized the Pavlovian technique of unmedicated childbirth, and among the tenets of the Lamaze technique is the motivating principle that “Birth is normal, natural, and healthy.” This tale of a woman’s commitment to Lamaze, however, extends far beyond the issue of an unorthodox birth. The story stands in for a greater topic, namely, the rejection of societal norms and the problems it creates for those who choose to go against the grain, turning the film into a larger reflection on questions related to counter-culture. 16mm
November 6 • 7:00 • 170m
Hoop Dreams
Steve James, 1994 • Hailed as the most inspiring tale of urban life ever documented (qtd. Michel J. Sanddune) and winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s audience award for best documentary, Hoop Dreams is a meditation on inner-city culture centered around two teenagers and the hopes and aspirations they pin on the game of basketball. The critically-acclaimed documentary’s emotional content sets the tension high, making for one of the most gripping films of the late 20th century. The invaluable perspective on Chicago’s social problems makes this film all the more important. 16mm
November 12 • 7:00, 10:00 • 125m
The Interrupters
Steve James, 2010 • Around here, it seems like the only responses to violence are fortification and fear. From the director of Hoop Dreams and the writer of There Are No Children Here comes the story of an alternative. In some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago, men and women are rejecting violence and resolving conflicts peacefully with the help of a group of former convicts and gang members known as violence interrupters. This stellar and surprising documentary follows three interrupters as they struggle to revive the communities they once hurt. DVD The filmmakers will introduce, and answer questions
November 13 • 7:00• 80m
Home for Life
Gordon Quinn, Gerald Temaner, 1966 • Kartemquin’s very first film, Home for Life chronicles the emotional journey of two elderly individuals during their first months in an assisted living facility. Both parties are conflicted about their position—while they wish to remain independent, self-sustaining, and even useful, they have begun to realize that they can no longer care for themselves. Dramatic, brutally honest, and artfully composed, this documentary is both a touching film and an valuable exploration of the conflicts and transitions of old age. 35mm
November 20 • 7:00 • 76m & 16m
The Chicago Maternity Center Story & Women’s Voices: The Gender Gap
Jerry Blumenthal & Jenny Rohrer, 1976 & 1984 • Opening around the turn of the 20th century, the Chicago Maternity Center ensured that mothers who chose home delivery would have a safe resource to help them through the process. However, due to funding cuts from Northwestern University, it was forced to close in 1974. Women’s Voices explores the issues that informed women’s voting patterns in 1984 presidential election. Like many Kartemquin films, these two touch on greater social issues by looking closely at the details of a few individual stories.
November 27 • 7:00 • 96m
Taylor Chain I and II & Now We Life in Clifton
Jerry Blumenthal, et al., 1976-1984 • A two part feature about the 7 week strike and other union activities at an Indiana chain plant, Taylor Chain I & II explore a rare phenomenon in capitalism: the management and the laborers working together to brainstorm solutions to anti-union policies and cheap labor outside the United States. Now We Live On Clifton follows a pair of siblings, 10 and 12 years old, who fear for the future of their neighborhood, West Lincoln Park. Their prediction of the area’s gentrification is coupled with the fear that DePaul University will drive them out of their home. DVCAM
December 4 • 7:00 • 53m, 26m
The Last Pullman Car, Winnie Wright, Age 11
Jerry Blumenthal, et al., 1983, 1974 The closing of the Pullman Palace Car Company, more than a century after its inception, represented the collapse of an industrial empire that was intended to last forever. Pullman had built up an environs for employees, a little city-state on the outskirts of Chicago, with its own school, sewage system, the works. However, when the plants employees made their last car for Amtrak in 1982, they found themselves in a mess of governmental, corporate and political affairs. This compelling piece traces their story. Winnie Wright tells the story of a girl whose neighborhood is changing from white to black, and the social tensions she experiences during the transition. 16mm

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