In early 2015, Revolt released the documentary Chicago Love. Chicago Love is a 90-minute documentary exploring the causes of the unprecedented violence happening in the windy city. Created by Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, the film looked at the role of education, politics, economics, art, music and dance in the current state of affairs in Chicago in an attempt to answer the question of why is this happening? Chicago Love started a conversation in film that two new films by black filmmakers will continue in 2016.
Award-winning filmmakers of the documentary Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, Christine Acham and Clifford Ward are currently raising funds for their next documentary, A Dream Dispersed, which follows the efforts of community groups as they work with youth to stem the violence in Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods.
The documentary, to be filmed over the course of a year, will follow YAP Chicago and the Near West Side Community Development Corporation, two community programs mentoring at-risk youth in some of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.
A Dream Dispersed seeks to tell a nuanced story of the people who live and work in Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods, in their own words. In recent years, Chicago has been plagued by violence on its city streets as the number of deaths by gun violence has increased.
While the government provided stimulus money to study the problem of violence in Chicago, much funding allocated to those working with at risk youth has dried up and now programs, even successful ones, are closing or downsizing. Yet people continue to die everyday in Chicago.
Clifford Ward, co-director of ‘A Dream Dispersed,’ grew up in Chicago. His family moved to the city during the Great Migration. Using this personal connection to Chicago as an entry point into the story, the filmmakers have begun to interview families and community workers who live and work in Chicago neighborhoods in order to understand the issues from a community perspective. This film will allow people who live in these neighborhoods the opportunity to tell their stories.
Through his connections to local families and community workers, Ward brings added authenticity to the project . “We are making sure that it is a very community based film, one that can be used for education and advocacy purposes within the Chicago communities,” Acham said.
Separating fact from fiction is the cornerstone of the filmmaking and real-life couple’s previous documentary, Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of The Spook Who Sat by the Door. The award-winning film, also set in Chicago, chronicles the obstacles behind making The Spook Who Sat by the Door, the landmark 1973 movie based on Sam Greenlee’s semi-autobiographical novel about a black CIA recruit.
While Ward and Acham are exploring the topic through a documentary lens, iconic filmmaker Spike Lee is currently filming a fictional film with the working title of ‘Chiraq.’ ‘Chiraq’ is a combination of ‘Chicago’ and ‘Iraq,’ — a name coined by local hip hop artists to refer to the violence of the city, likening it to the violence in Iraq. Using that term has created a firestorm of controversy and opposition in the city with some local residents and leaders protesting against Lee’s film in various ways.
According to the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago’s south side had asked for a permit to hold a block party to mark the end of the movie’s filming. The church’s pastor, Rev. Michael Pfleger (whose foster son Jarvis Franklin had been killed in gang crossfire), worked on the film with Lee. The party was to be held on the block on where the church is located. According to the Tribune, Alderman David Moore initially said no because he saw the block party as an attempt to buy the support of the community; he has since granted the permit. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel spoke out against the perpetuation of the use of the controversial term and Alderman Will Burns called for production tax credits to be withheld from Lee’s film.
Lee’s film will examine violence in the city’s Englewood neighborhood. The filmmaker had been pretty quiet about the plot of the film and the controversy but recently spoke with the Chicago Tribune. He has said the film will be a “culmination of his 30 year film career.”
In a Chicago Tribune article written by Nina Metz, the filmmaker stated:
“A lot of things have been said about this film by people who know nothing about the film,” Lee told assembled media.
“A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film,” he said. (Use of the phrase “so-called title” suggests it may be a working title, but Lee did not clarify, nor did he answer questions from reporters.)
“So we thought it was appropriate that we say what the narrative is — the filmmakers, the people doing this — not people who are judging from afar and, again, don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
The film will star Common, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel Jackson, Jeremy Piven, Wesley Snipes, and John Cusack. It is rumored that Kanye West will appear on the soundtrack.
While there is always room for different types of film, it is inspiring to see Acham and Ward tackle this subject in the form of film in spite of the presence of filmmaking heavyweight like Lee and entertainment moguls like Combs, whose resources are far and wide.
Acham and Ward’s film is currently in the fundraising stage, while Lee has wrapped filming. It will be interesting to see two very different takes on the topic of violence in Chicago from the perspectives of contemporary independent filmmakers Acham and Ward, and pioneering independent filmmaker turned mainstream filmmaker Spike Lee. Hopefully both films will help the audiences better understand the challenges facing the Windy City during this precarious time.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog, the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.