For decades, Champaign-Urbana has inspired a long succession of independently-made media created by citizens, academics, and students wishing to enrich and inform their friends and neighbors in ways avoided by commercial outlets. This has encompassed print, radio, theater, music, the Internet, and the fine arts. However, the most ill-used form of modern communication to disseminate viewpoints and expression from a local perspective is arguably the one falsely believed to be the province of studio impresarios and celebrity egos―the cinema and its domestic offspring, television.
Consumer-priced technology improved and expanded so rapidly through the Nineties and into the new century that the videographer has found him- or herself with plenty of effective production tools and work flow options to aid in shooting and editing quality footage without the time and cost concerns associated with traditional film production. Should the videographer be in the right place at the right time with the competence to tape cleanly and confidence to stand their ground while doing so, she or he may come away with material that not only preserves our community’s history―warts and all―but shows by example how to improve its future as well.
A recent example, however inadvertent, is John O’Connor’s recording of Champaign mayor Jerry Schweighart’s “Barak Obama is not an American” comment made at the city’s West Side Park. We should also recall the “Citizens Watch” videos made by Patrick Thompson and Martel Miller, depicting suspect interaction between C-U police officers and African-American residents. Certainly, we’ll mention the progressive work of UI journalism professor Jay Rosenstein, including the upcoming documentary about the landmark Vashti McCollum court case, The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today. It’s unfortunate that the canon made autonomously in the area―excluding work produced expressly for commercial, institutional, or network television use―is often difficult to find save for collections at the IMC, That’s Rentertainment, public libraries, and so on.
By the same token, the flexibility allowed by today’s low-cost digital tools has ushered in a worldwide deluge of video material. How does one navigate through the noise to find worthwhile material regardless of where it was created, whom it was made by, or what it is about? Although one-off screenings of topical and ethnic material is presented on a regular basis by University of Illinois departments and local organizations like A.W.A.R.E., the Illinois Disciples Foundation, the University YMCA, and the IMC, it is rare to witness aggregate presentations of alternative cinema lasting two or more consecutive days. The most substantial of recent vintage, the Freaky Film Festival from 1997-2000, has finally been succeeded in spirit by two events which have taken place this year.
The IMC Film Festival, a three-day showcase held at the Independent Media Center in Urbana during the first weekend of...