Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Raul Benitez’s role with the Millennial Movie Night. He handles film programming, not the programing of the space. The article has been corrected.
Not The Loop. Not Wicker Park’s six corners. Not even Lincoln Park. But Logan Square, that’s the epicenter of Chicago; at least it is to the burgeoning arts community not just thriving, but eager to share its creation with the city and the world.
Until the world catches on, the arts community of Logan Square is showcasing its talents at pop-up events promoted through social media. Events like the Millennial Movie Night at Comfort Station on Wednesday night, which provides a platform to filmmakers 16 to 25 years old that draws an audience who were not there just of the punch and popcorn and costs the filmmakers nothing more than their time.
“I think it’s important for any filmmaker to be able to have a space to show their film,” said Stephanie Graham, the brainchild behind the movie night. “You just worked really hard on what you do, and then you think you have to go to a bigger film festival to show it, but actually just showing in your community and to your peers is just as good as showing anywhere else.”
For two hours, Comfort Station teamed up with Collected Voices, a Chicago filmmaker-focused film festival, OpenTV, and Graham to showcase five short films created by, well, millennials.
“We all know the frustrations, you do these great projects and then you’re like, ‘Man, who’s going to see this?’ You don’t wanna feel like you’re putting all your work for naught,” said Danielle Echols of Collected Voices. “So I think when people give you the opportunity to use their spaces, it gives you the encouragement to keep on going.”
And that’s part of the goal for Comfort Station, which sees a responsibility to the community to provide such an arts-driven space.
“We’ve kinda become the central cultural hub of Logan Square,” said said Raul Benitez of Comfort Station, who is the primary film programmer. “Believe it or not there are a lot of filmmakers in Logan Square, enough to fill a lot of programming. We’re lucky here in the neighborhood to have that much programming that we can show.”
One part creative expression, two parts audience interaction with the directors and producers, and one part peek into the minds of millennials, the event layered in entertainment with understanding.
“It was a really interesting curated collection of films,” said Amanda Lichtenstein, a Logan Square resident. “The word ‘millennial’ really bristles me, but I was intrigued by title of event, and I feel like these young filmmakers gave me some insight into that term may mean.”
From what Lichtenstein, who has lived in the neighborhood since the early 1990s, gathered after being submerged into five very different shorts is that millennials aren’t so different and struggle with the same issues as she did at the their age, but with a twist. She declined to provide her age.
“I feel like there’s a lot of grappling with technology, sexuality, identity, and the tension between urban, rural and suburban traditions and just doing what you want to do [versus] what people are telling you to do,” she said. “Their films explore those relationships, and it was really interesting.”
After the screenings of Luis Mejico, Lukas Gondek, Hanna M. Owens, Layne Marie Williams and Free Spirit Media, two filmmakers were in attendance. They humbly accepted applause and answered questions from the audience.
“It means so much, it means so much,” said Layne Marie Williams, whose film, Dollface explored the institution of marriage through the eyes of a young interracial couple and deals with our perceptions of love both real and imagined. Layered with brilliant colors, in-depth cinematography, a pulsating editing style and heartbreaking poetry, Williams brought the film to Comfort Station for its second screening in Chicago.
“I’ve been living here a year and three months, and it’s been nothing short of a huge adventure,” she said. “I just went out there, put myself out there from the very beginning and go to know as many people as I could. I just kinda showed up and made a movie I wrote two years ago, and this means everything.”
Williams, a budding filmmaker with dreams to create a feature-length film and break into commercial directing, appreciates opportunities to share her work without the burden of coming up with funding for the space, or even bringing a crowd.
“Comfort Station is a really wonderful resource that shows a lot of different films, different musicians and brings a lot of different types of artists together,” she said. “It’s the epicenter of Chicago in a lot of ways. I think a lot of people like me live in this environment and work in this environment, and as long as we continue to do that and put ourselves out there, our work will thrive and be something really special.”
That’s just what Graham and Benitez intend to do.
“The neighborhood is changing, and our audience has been changing as well the last couple years, but we try to be broad with our programming and want to let the community know that we’re not going away despite what’s happening around us, cause we’re literally in the middle of everything, on our own little island,” said Benitez.
And that creative little island is ready for its next installment of artistic expression.
“Our mission here is to reach out arts wise to the community. We’re open, free and anyone can come,” he added. “And that’s the way we want to keep it.”
Although there are no specific plans for the next Millennial Movie Night, those who are interested can check the Comfort Station website’s calendar for updates.