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Animated About Chicago: Jeremy Bessoff

December 19, 2010 | By | 5 Comments

“Best of Chicago DIY Film” series. Originally published on the site 10/06/2010

Matt Blake

Filmmaker and animator Jeremy Bessoff has spent all but one year of his adult life in the Midwest. In 1996 he received a bachelor of arts from Marycrest International in Davenport, Iowa, a college that has since converted to a retirement home. Bessoff then spent four years in Davenport and a decade in Milwaukee working as a freelance video designer and producer while also creating animated shorts and music videos on his own time.

Jeremy Bessoff miniature Red Rider

He moved to Chicago last year and his background gives him a unique perspective on the city’s DIY film scene: It’s huge and almost overwhelmingly good! A far cry from filmmakers who lament they’re not in New York or Los Angeles, Bessoff views Chicago as saturated with artistic and cultural possibilities. “It is a very rich DIY filmmaking community and it will definitely make me stay here for a while.” Bessoff said he and his wife, Kate Raney – also a filmmaker, immediately tapped into DIY film venues like the Nightingale Theater and Chicago Filmmakers.

Bessoff’s enthusiasm can also be attributed to earning an artist’s residency at High Concept Laboratories shortly after moving to Chicago in July 2009. He has the space and some of the resources needed to complete his latest animated short “Red Rider’s Lament,” a story that partly borrows from John Ford westerns — including “The Searchers” – to show a cowboy directionless in the wilderness. The film is the latest of Bessoff’s that he says look at problems in modern masculinity, namely men’s futile pursuit of male role models as well as anxieties that new technology will make workers irrelevant.

Red Rider with Horse

The short that Bessoff has so far received the most attention for, especially among film festival audiences, is 2007’s “Ghost Conversations.” Ghost Conversations uses a marinet puppet to explore modern day interpretations of World War Two heroism – and also the ties between World War Two and Wisconsin.

The inspiration for Ghost Conversations was the infamous “Bong Recreation Area,” a Wisconsin state park familiar to anyone who has driven from Chicago to Milwaukee and possesses a sense of humor. “It is a big joke,” Bessoff says, “But one day I looked it up figuring it was somebody’s name and it was the name of a World War Two flying ace named Richard Bong.”

Bong, Bessoff discovered, used fighter plane engines manufactured in West Allis, Wisconsin – the same metropolitan Milwaukee town where Bessoff was doing production and graphics for a public access TV show. “All of this was coming together and so I thought to combine two elements – a marionette that represented safeness and domesticity and Major Richard Bong who represented chaos and war.” The ensuing film shows domestic-such scenes of a Marionette at home, caressing a war-plane like a child and ironing Bong’s fighter pilot suit.

Red Rider with Pistol

A fifteen-year DIY film veteran Bessoff is ambivalent about the convergence to digital, bemoaning that movies are now viewed on five-inch computer screens. But he says digital has made it less of a hurdle to get films noticed. “It has democratized the process — it makes it much easier to submit to a festival,” he says. “It’s as simple as clicking two buttons and mailing the DVD to wherever the festival is.”

Bessoff says he struggles financially, despite his artist residency, freelance gigs and a position at Chicago After School Matters. But in terms of his filmmaking, he is content to be part of the Chicago film community and to have his films viewed by small rooms of movie aficionados.

“To me ‘making it’ in movies is finding the right life-work balance, “ he says. “My movies are playing in festivals and people seem to enjoy them so I don’t know what else you can really ask for.”

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  1. Jeremy Bessoff Project Log » DIY-Film Interview | October 12, 2010
  1. Welcome to Chicago Jeremy & Kate! You are both a welcome addition to the Chicago filmmaking community. Keep up the great work.

  2. Boni

    Yippee-ky-aye. I can’t wait to see Red Ryder’s Lament. Hurry up, Bessoff.

  3. Marilyn Sickler

    As always, your writing ability along with your amazing creativity make you a very special and unique person. Never stop daring to dream, and you will soon have it all.

  4. Bram

    I want to see the movie!

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