July 14, 2014 by Katie Prentiss
BROADCASTING BURRELL: Jonathan Ashley first worked with Tom Burrell, a hugely successful Chicago advertising executive, on a freelance project while he attended Howard University. Several years later, he applied to Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices In Docs program with the goal of creating a biographical documentary, now untitled, about Burrell.
“For Tom, he is a Chicago south side born and raised guy, went to school at Roosevelt University, started in Chicago at advertising agencies like Leo Burnett,” Ashley said. “When he started his agency, he stayed here on Michigan Avenue.”
Now Ashley’s film has gained fiscal sponsorship by Chicago Filmmakers. The film will focus mainly on the years of 1975-1995, starting with Burrell running the first big television commercials that featured African Americans for Coca Cola and McDonalds. The film aims to show how one person can overcome a multitude of stumbling blocks. Burrell grew up with a bad home life and was a bad student. He was the first black person to work at his first ad agency. Later in his life, he developed a physical disability, and yet he still kept working to produce quality, multicultural advertising.
“I’m trying to make it as cerebral as possible and I wanted it to be an inspirational film for people who want to do a creative or entrepreneurial venture, but run up against struggles,” Ashley said.
The film is slated to be an hour long and have a TV broadcast. He hopes to also coordinate with CPS and local organizations to screen the film for the widest possible audience.
MAIL ORDER MURAL: If you’ve ever visited the Uptown Post Office, you may have noticed the striking murals on the walls. Chicago filmmaker Gerard Jamroz and Mobilewave Films has started production on THE MURALS: HOW ART SAVED AMERICA’S SOUL to investigate where these murals come from, what they meant, and how they can survive today.
The murals have quite a bit of Chicago history. During the depression, President Roosevelt hired Americans for all kinds of jobs. This was how we have the Hoover Dam, and much of our modern infrastructure. He also hired artists to paint murals that depict the average American in order to lift spirits.
Henry Varnum Poor was the artist of these murals. He was hired because his work took several people together.
“There is a theme of: is public art worth funding? And you know, a lot of these murals were celebrating the common man and the common american and it was there to make people feel better about themselves,” Jamroz said. “They would see themselves represented in art, as opposed to a roman god. It seemed to do the job at the time, and now there’s a discussion about should we fund the arts publicly?”
Jamroz hopes to distribute the feature length film for historical purposes.
CROWDFUNDING LOVE: In the spring of 2005, Ben Steger got a call that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer while he had been finishing up at Columbia College. Steger returned to Kansas to be with his family, and shot a documentary for the following 6 years. STAGE FOUR: A LOVE STORY, is now in final stages of production and has launched an indiegogo campaign.
“A lost of people would look at this and think this is a heavy film, and if they aren’t directly affected they would think I might not want to watch when, when in fact my friend gave me feedback and said, it’s really beautiful uplifting film, it’s fun and it’s joyful,” Steger said.
He describes STAGE FOUR as “a documentary film about the resiliency of the human spirit as one couple learns that cancer isn’t a death sentence but a call to live life to the fullest.”
The film was shot almost entirely in Kansas. Ultimately, Steger says, the film is a love story.
KTQ KICKSTARTER: Kartemquin film ALMOST THERE has launched a kickstarter campaign in order to finish production. The film is about the discovery of a reclusive elderly outsider artist and a controversial first public exhibition. The film will have a special sneak preview screening in Whiting, Indiana on July 26 as part of the crowdfunding campaign.
Katie Prentiss is a journalist and documentary filmmaker in Chicago working with Kartemquin Films as the Associate Producer of Mormon Movie (Working Title). Follow Katie at @prentkat