Loading Doc: Food, Love and Cocktails
November 30, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
After making two feature comedies set in trendy restaurants and coffee shops, it may have seemed inevitable for Chicago-based director Jack Newell to dive further into the restaurant business, but he says his new documentary, COURSES, happened almost by accident. In 2013 he and his wife won silent auction tickets to an “underground dining” experience at Sous Rising, which was basically the home of chef Jake Bickelhaupt and his wife Alexa Welsh. Jack said that dinner blew him away, and was some of the best food he’d ever ate in his life. Between entrees he asked Jake if he wouldn’t mind being filmed as he worked in the kitchen. Jack had been working on a documentary for a few years (HOW TO BUILD A SCHOOL IN HAITI, still in progress) and wanted to improve his ability for vérité filmmaking. Moreover, Jake’s meticulous, unconventional approach to food had more in common with an artistic process than any cooking techniques he had ever seen. Jake agreed. Although Jake had worked at some of the biggest names in Chicago restaurants, including Charlie Trotter, Alinea and Schwa, he always wanted to move out onto his own and make a name for himself, and Alexa’s partnership and the success of Sous Rising helped put him on the map. So Jack began creating what became an artist profile, almost as an exercise, as he captured Jake chopping and frying and discussing how he used cooking as a mode for personal expression. It wasn’t until a year later, when Jake and Alexa opened up a restaurant nearby (42 Grams) and started pursuing the coveted Michelin star rating, that Jack knew he had material for a feature documentary. Post-production began in November 2015. When he showed an early cut to the couple this past spring, they liked it, but told him, “The film isn’t done yet.” They knew there were aspects that he hadn’t seen, and allowed him to shoot what became the last 20 minutes of the film, where they revealed how their ambition and hidden costs for success had impacted their relationship. The film was finished earlier this fall and has been submitted to festivals.
Blink Once For Yes
Chicago-based filmmaker John Fecile is finishing his audio doc BLINK ONCE FOR YES for the podcast Love + Radio, which is scheduled for release in January 2017. The project chronicles a personal family tragedy that began when his younger brother jumped off a fourth floor balcony at age 20, and sustained traumatic brain injuries that left him almost completely paralyzed. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, John was the oldest of 4 siblings, and Michael, the second oldest, seemed to enjoy a normal life until his sophomore year of college, when a sudden burst of delusional episodes lead him to jump. After 7 months in the hospital, his parents brought him home and tried to slowly nurse him back to health, but the attempts at rehabilitation seemed to make the whole family unravel. In April 2015, John began recording interviews with family members and his brother’s nursing aides as a means to start tough conversations about warning signs they might have missed, and fears about Michael’s survival. He says, “Using a microphone allowed for a more intimate discussions with people than using a camera, and it became a way for us to talk about issues that we would not have otherwise addressed.” Initially he intended the doc to work as an advocacy piece around mental illness issues, but early feedback on the material made him change the direction entirely. He began collaborating with DNAinfo editor Lizzie Schiffman Tufano, Love + Radio producer Steven Jackson, and staff at NPR station WBEZ in order to convert the piece into a full-length documentary. A few interviews will be recorded later this month, and the final version will be finished in December.
Chicago Media Project – Pitch + Cocktails
On Thursday, November 17 the Chicago Media Project held an event at SoHo House in Chicago’s West Loop for approximately 50 donors to hear pitches from three filmmakers and contribute toward their documentaries. Over $10,000 was raised, both in person and on CMP’s new crowdfunding app “imPact,” and votes determined the awards for each film: $5,000 for SHOWGIRLS OF PAKISTAN by Saad Khan, $3,000 for THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED by Assia Boundaoui, and $2,000 MOTHERS FOR JUSTICE by Milwaukee-based filmmaker Erik Ljung.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.