Onion City is one of the world’s longest-running and most prestigious festivals dedicated exclusively to screening experimental film and video works. The Experimental Film Coalition founded the event in the 1980s and it was taken over by Chicago Filmmakers in 2001. This year’s edition, which runs from March 8–11, was programmed by Emily Eddy, a digital media artist from Portland who has been curating at the Nightingale Cinema since 2013. Taking into account the brief running times of many of the films and videos being exhibited at the fest—most of which are bundled together in loose, thematically related programs—there's a surplus of exciting works for local cinephiles to check out. Chicagoans, however, should be especially interested in two wonderful shorts with local connections: Marianna Milhorat’s Sky Room and Kristin Reeves’ CPS Closings & Delays.
Sky Room is a collaboration between filmmaker Marianna Milhorat and sound artist Brian Kirkbride that was commissioned by the Chicago Film Archives. Consisting entirely of pre-existing footage that has been extensively reworked—Milhorat credits herself only with “Picture Edit” in the brief closing credits—and married to a soundtrack of retro-sci-fi sound effects and pounding electronic music, Milhorat and Kirkbride weave a beguiling tapestry that contrasts archival images of organic life (plants rapidly growing via time-lapse cinematography) with images of “futuristic” technology (a woman strapped to a hospital bed being fed juice through a straw by a robot arm). The results are at once humorous, disturbing, dreamlike and poetic.
CPS Closings & Delays is based around the controversial decision by the Chicago Board of Education, under the auspices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to close 50 of the city's public schools in 2013. Kristin Reeves shot all 50 schools with a 16mm camera a year after their doors were shut and then distressed the footage of the buildings in post-production using laser animation and bleach. These degraded images, each appearing onscreen for only a few seconds, visually articulate the socio-economic tragedy, and are juxtaposed with audio interviews with members of the communities, one of whom wryly notes: “If anything, (Emanuel) should be opening up more schools because that’s what these kids need.” The film’s final minutes contain footage of children playing in the same neighborhoods as the schools, including an exceedingly poignant moment where some of them help Reeves load filmmaking equipment into her car.
Sky Room screens as part of "Shorts Program 1: Growing" on Friday, March 9. CPS Closings & Delays screens as part of "Shorts Program 6: Listening" on Sunday, March 11. For more information, including the complete Onion City schedule, visit www.onioncity.org.