Loading Doc: Dickens' New Doc, Guth's Web Series and the Boy from War
October 13, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
Filmmaker Usama Alshaibi is turning toward animation for his latest project, THE BOY FROM WAR, which recounts living through the Iran-Iraq war during his childhood. Growing up in Busra, Iraq in 1980, he and his family would take shelter in the bathroom when nightly bombing raids shook the neighborhood. The raids terrified him so much that he would remain in the bathroom long after his family had left, and imagined scenarios of his own death, scenes of separation from his family and his dog, and happier fantasies inspired by cartoons he had seen on television. These fantasies helped him survive, and eventually inspired him to become a filmmaker. Rather than recreate history through live action or provide archival evidence (which he had none of his own, since no family photos or footage exist from this time period), he felt animation would be the best medium to visit the emotional truth he was looking for, especially since it enabled the story to move in and out of the internal space that he inhabited in the bathroom. Today, as a father, he enjoys watching cartoons with his 5 year-old daughter, and hopes that the film will communicate his experience to her in a medium that she can understand. In August he raised $2,500 through IndieGoGo, and began applying for grants to raise funds for a 3-5 minute demo. A small sample already exists in his crowdfunding trailer, where his childhood dog makes an appearance, and the boy featured appears as a composite between his daughter and himself when he was ten.
Women and Online Harassment Series (Untitled)
WGN Radio talk show host and former Tribune journalist Amy Guth is working on a documentary series, currently untitled, about women confronting harassment online. During her long career in media, Guth has withstood extensive online verbal abuse from people, mostly men, who turn platforms for virtual conversation into gruesome shooting galleries for cruel, sexist rhetoric. Even though much of it is dismissed or ignored, regardless of how constant, vicious or scary, Guth chooses to regularly address the issue by calling out the perpetrators in order to take a stand for civility in online space. Others have not been as brave. Over the years she has met public figures that have sacrificed their careers in order to stop being targets, even if it meant relinquishing important national conversations and spotlights where they belonged, because the haters were too relentless or the threats became too real. In 2015 she decided to turn the subject into a documentary series that would discuss the perils of free speech in the online world. She raised over $54,000 on Kickstarter, and began production across the country in early March; her current list of interviewees include prominent politicians, actors, activists, athletes, journalists, parents, business leaders and educators, all of whose names are currently under wraps to avoid further harassment. Currently, Guth is planning for 2 seasons of 10 episodes each, and the first episode will launch in winter 2017.
The City That Sold America
Director Ky Dickens has entered the homestretch for the historical documentary about Chicago’s legendary advertising industry titled THE CITY THAT SOLD AMERICA. After ART & COPY became a Sundance hit in 2009, executive producer Mary Warlick began a follow up project titled “The Real Mad Men of Madison Avenue” to touch upon the real-life inspiration behind the Mad Men TV series, and as the project developed she realized what a prominent role Chicago played in advertising’s evolution. Innovations such as focus groups, soap operas as vehicles for product placement, and brand sponsorships for early radio and TV programs all started in Chicago, and as the cultural capital of the Midwest it could easily take the pulse of middle America in order to set trends that would resonate with millions of consumers. Warlick met Dickens in 2013, and given Dickens’ experience as a commercial and documentary director, she seemed like a natural fit for the topic. The film follows the industry from the late 1800’s to today through interviews with executives from Energy BBDO, FCP and Leo Burnett (among others), and heaps of archival material that was incredibly challenging to compile. “We had several people working full-time at the Chicago Historical Society to find archival material, as well as assistance from The Chicago Defender,” said Dickens. Editor Michael Barry is aiming for picture lock in December and starting a festival strategy in early 2017.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.