After four successful years in Bloomington, Indiana, the fifth annual Middle Coast Film Festival will move to Lincoln Square’s Davis Theatre later this month. The event promises local movie fans “loads of films, awesome parties and endless possibilities” between Friday, September 21 and Sunday, September 23. We recently spoke to festival director Jess Levandoski about what attendees can expect.
What exactly is the Middle Coast Film Fest? How would you describe its identity and mission?
Middle Coast’s goal is to provide an inclusive, uplifting, and affirming community to filmmakers and audience members alike. In other words, we like to say we've created a jerk-free zone. We want this festival to be the event in Chicago where filmmakers can let their hair down and just show us films that elicit emotions. This isn't a fest where you'll get a distribution deal, it's a fest where you'll get to have real talk about your projects and where audiences feel empowered to really connect with you. We want to build a huge family! Send us your all your misfits and loners, you've got a spot here right here next to the rest of us.
You've had four successful years in Bloomington already. What necessitated the move to Chicago and did you find it daunting to put on a film festival in a city that already has so many?
As the founder and director of the festival, I moved, so it had to move with me! We built a great fest in Bloomington, and it really is a special town, but we hit a limit with what we could do there (and plus all the staff members moved away) so I'm so thrilled to have the new home base in Chicago! And as far as the saturation level of fests here in Chicago, that just means there are that many cool people in the area, you know? Plenty of room at the table, and if there's not, I know we can just add more seats.
You've said that you want to “take over Lincoln Square” for the weekend of the festival. What do you see as the relationship between the festival and the neighborhood?
When I was looking into venues, I searched high and low for the perfect neighborhood to place it in. I needed to find a venue that didn't already have a film fest every other weekend, I needed a spot that had a strong arts community and folks who enjoy doing stuff. The area of Lincoln Square, Ravenswood and North Center was perfect for it—you can find single family homes and apartment dwellers, young professionals and families, loads of diversity. It's not all completely gentrified, yet and there's room for growth. So finding the newly renovated Davis Theater with the gorgeous full service bar and restaurant, the Carbon Arc, attached to it was a real eureka moment for me. It felt like a home for the fest when I walked in. It's run by an awesome group of dudes who want to see a film fest be anchored there, so their support has been a key to our success, so far. We've partnered with both Wintrust Bank and the Dank Haus Cultural Center to expand the footprint of the festival, so our closing night party will be on the rooftop terrace that overlooks the city and it will just be this perfect ending to our first year in the neighborhood. I just have a great feeling about it!
Tell me about the lineup. I know you can't pick favorites but what are some of the highlights that you might recommend to a first-time Middle Coast attendee?
We open Friday September 21, at 2pm with our first block of shorts called “PEOPLE ARE AWESOME.Æ The first 100 badge holders through the door get a free swag bag. That's pretty cute, huh? Free stuff! We will also have live music on the sidewalk, mountains of Lacroix water and fun vendor booths, including an advice booth from our sponsor Hello Tushy, where you can get honest advice from a real asshole (Hello Tushy is a bidet company. See what we did there?). Friday night also hosts our anniversary screening of The Birdcage, presented in partnership with Wussy Mag. We'll have costume lewks contest hosted by Chicago's own Lucy Stoole and Kat Sass. Saturday we open the doors of the Davis to run programming in all three theaters, including a big surprise film. Our lounge in the Carbon Arc will be open all day, as well as our vendors and podcasting areas.
Our big headliner Saturday night is a Chicago premiere, The New Romantic, written and directed by Carly Stone and starring Jessica Barden (Netflix's It's the End of the F*cking World!). I've been describing it as “If Hunter S. Thompson wrote Pretty Woman.”
You've also scheduled some panel discussions. Who's going to be on them and what will the discussion topics be?
Friday we have a panel called “Script to Screen & Everything In Between!,” which is just our cute way of saying our panelists are going to spill the tea about productions they've worked on where shit has gone way wrong, but with style and grace and lots of Google docs and begging for help they made it work. It's gonna be spicy.
Saturday we have a panel called “Coastal Connections,” which is a discussion with the LA Women's Film Collective and Chicago's Women of the Now. Our panelists will discuss the challenges they face and the action steps for femme identifying filmmakers to think about and walk away with. We need more representation in the film world and they're going to ignite the audience to walk away with ways to achieve that goal.
For more information visit the Middle Coast Film Festival's website.