Seven peacebuilders travel to an African country grappling with a history of genocide. A man sets up a 26-foot, 200-pound chessboard in downtown Chicago, inviting all comers to compete. A stunning piece of cinema verité highlights the raw and heartening act of childbirth.
Finally, a fable highlights a boy in rural Haiti who is stuck between the mundane and the mysterious as a critical presidential election threatens to impact his homeland.
These are just a few of the works that comprise the two-day Collective Voices Film Festival in Chicago. A dynamic and kaleidoscopic gathering that spotlights documentary, feature, fiction, observational cinema verité, and experimental works.
“I wanted to shine a light on films representative on the entirety of humanity,” said Ife Olatunji, founder of the Collected Voices festival.
The event opened Friday, October 12 with a short film program featuring festival semi-finalists at the Reunion Gallery in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood on the West Side.
The festival concludes Friday, October 18 at the University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the city’s Southside. The final night will include a screening of the winning feature film “Hegel’s Angel,” along with an awards ceremony.
The idea behind this year’s festival was sparked by Olatunji’s trip to Nigeria to do film work earlier this year. Hence the theme of the Collected Voices Festival, “Eye on Africa.”
In fact, Olatunji has made it her mission to spotlight diverse filmmakers and stories, particularly those that place women at the center.
Olatunji, a filmmaker, ethnographer, and distributor based in Los Angeles, launched the festival in 2015 thanks to a grant from the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE).
In its brief history, Collected Voices has featured filmmakers who have gone on to gain prominence. Former participant Bing Liu, a 2015 Collected Voices honoree, saw his feature-length film receive an Oscar nomination in the “Best Documentary” category during the 2019 Academy Awards.
Olatunji remembers his first film, which was about Vietnamese immigrants growing up in America.
“That was an amazing story that was not heard,” she said, “That’s what we’re here for.”
In addition to spotlighting diverse voices, Olatunji wants to produce and promote independent films that are realistic, ethnographic, and observational.
This passion for real and meaningful films about humanity comes from her father, pioneering filmmaker Iverson White, who is also a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
White, himself, was part of a collective of African and African American filmmakers from the UCLA Film School who endeavored to produce meaningful black films. Influential filmmakers from this collective included Billy Woodberry, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, and Charles Burnett.
So, Olatunji has literally been around film her entire life. She started taking pictures at eight or nine. While she was an anthropology major in college, Olatunji immediately began doing photography and art. She always knew she would take up film, just like her father.
“Film has always been something I have wanted to do. Period,” she said.
As for the future of the Collected Voices Film Festival, Olatunji says she hopes for more support and that the University of Chicago becomes a permanent home. She believes the university can be a good place for the film festival, which students could eventually run.
Personally, she aspires to have a career like another influential filmmaker.
“I love Ava DuVernay,” Olatunji said. “I do get frustrated, I do get tired, I do go broke because I pay for everything myself. I just remember this is how she started too.”
“She was marketing people’s films and selling people’s films, and helping filmmakers get their projects out there.”
“I want to make TV. I want to make film. I want to help uplift and promote and hire and employ filmmakers of color and women. People of all genders and all ethnicities and all religions,” she said. “I want to share their films and their stories and continue to make my own.”
While she admits to being a bundle of nerves leading up to the festival, seeing a room full of people at her event laughing or crying or reacting to a story makes it all worth it.
There is another equally important benefit.
“It’s an honor to work with so many people and see their dreams reach an audience. That’s my favorite thing.”
The Collected Voices Film Festival
The University of Chicago, Logan Center for the Arts.
October 18th, 2019
For more information about the 2019 Collected Voices Film Festival, please visit this link: https://www.collectedvoicesfilmfestival.com/
The 2019 Collected Voices Film Festival Works:
“A Sisterhood of Signatures” by Seven Gunn
“The Peace Exchange in Rwanda” by Free Spirit Media
“Let This be Therapy” by Anthony Casanova
“Periphery” by Lonnie Edwards
“Dear Inner City” by Jazmin Bryant
“Corduroy Velvet” by Emmitt James
“The Good Work” by Savannah Cannistraro
“Touch and Go Chess Party” by Paul Restivo
“Roano Moreno’s Colorful Canvases” by Chad Davis