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Pushing the Envelope: Recap of the 6th Annual Mofest

June 3, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Jordan Poast

If you’ve ever been to a small, local film festival you probably know what to expect.  They feel cheap, are replete with subpar films, and, more than anything, fail to inspire any hope that the Chicago art scene will ever compete with the big boys in larger markets.

"Butterflies," Director: Sandro Miller

While that may be the consensus, there is an exception to the rule.  Nestled in the Northwest corner of the city, the sixth annual Mofest has quietly become one of the most important grassroots film festivals in Chicago, featuring the cream of the crop in visual art, film (both short and feature length) and music videos from the Windy City art community.

In the unassuming and historic Portage Theater (which alone is worth the price of admission), last month’s festivities marked founder Mo Wagdy’s latest effort towards bringing his pet project from infancy to adulthood, which the fearless frontman says went off without a hitch. All you can consume food and drink were provided with your ticket, as patrons dined and conversed while basking in an impressive array of photographs, paintings, and sculptures prior to the exhibition of the films.

The diverse selection of works was overall successful, the atmosphere was social and the audience was extremely supportive.  To cap off the first of the two-day event, the finalists of a 48-Hour Filmmaking Challenge were presented.  The participants were given the span of two days to write, shoot and edit a short film, which proved to be a joy for the audience.

While the festivities boasted a playful slate of content and a varying collection of styles, founder Wagdy is quick to remind Mofest attendants that his festival’s purpose extends beyond mere fun and games.  Wagdy’s chief aim is to showcase what he believes to be a dormant creative juggernaut, Chicago’s gifted populace.

By giving local artists a venue for their works to be shown, Mo hopes to slowly legitimize Chicago’s status in the art world.  “We need to establish and promote our local born-and-bred talent so the rest of the world sees the amazing things we’re capable of right here in this gigantic city.  So oft are we lumped into a third, ‘less attractive’ national market of talent (whereas LA and NY have enjoyed exalted status for decades). This mindset has to change so that the people all over the world can enjoy our collaboration of work.”

In order to foster the growth of emerging local talents, support must first be gained at home.  Impressively, the Chicago art society was well-represented at Mofest, as they and casual patrons flocked in droves.  Along with the high level of participation and attendance (which doubled from last year), Wagdy notes a consensus among regulars that the selection of films was of the highest quality over the festival’s history.

To give the filmmakers their dues, here are a few of the most notable works:

Butterflies (Director: Sandro Miller)

Sandro Miller, a Chicago-area artist known mostly for his influential portrait photography, caused the biggest stir at this year’s festival with his horrifyingly sublime Butterflies, which simultaneously incorporated elements of still photography and motion arts.  Arresting and hypnotic, the film focuses on what Miller refers to as a damaged and alienated older man (played by frequent Miller subject, John Malkovich) deteriorating into madness after the loss of his job and family.  Miller chose to exhibit Butterflies at Mofest because he appreciated the audience’s disturbed sensibilities.  “Pushing the envelope too far would be almost impossible for this group.”

"Bear Attack," Director: Tom Ciciura

Bear Attack (Director: Tom Ciciura)

As a departure from the darkly mesmerizing Butterflies, Ciciura’s work is decidedly whimsical and touching.  Made with his two children, Odessa and Oakley, Ciciura incorporated a family game, wrestle the bear, into a short that took only 20 minutes to produce.  Bear Attack features two unsuspecting children who are abruptly “attacked” by a stuffed bear flying in from off-screen.  The film ends with one of the youngsters fighting back against the wanton acts of cuddly violence.

Hearts of Love (Director: Sam Macon)

Along with the shorts that comprised the majority of Mofest, the festival featured some exemplary music videos, including Macon’s atmospheric “living and dying postcard of California.”  To the melodious dirge of The Crocodiles, Macon’s video follows two leather-clad greasers journeying through the sun-bleached west coast, “complete with beaches, bikinis, palm trees, cults, mutilation, and senseless murder.”

"Hearts of Love," Director: Sam Macon

Real Parents and others (Director: Jonah Ravine)

One of the most unique contributions to Mofest was a series of four very short films produced by the Red Denim Moustache comedy troupe. Interspersed throughout the entirety of the festival, the bite-size samplings of comedy lasting a minute each consisted of self-contained small scenes that yielded big laughter.  In Real Parents, for example, an older gentleman takes his son to a run-down home and informs him that this is where his “real parents” live before abruptly driving off.  Featuring dead-pan deliveries, Red Denim Mouchstache’s vignettes added refreshing bursts of humor that proved to be one of the real crowd pleasers of Mofest.

In a few short years, Mofest has become a festival to be reckoned with in the Chicago area.  Newcomers will be witness to a dizzying range of styles and forms, a positive atmosphere and lot of fun.  With a growing core of contributors and volunteers, Mo Wagdy has been able to take the non-profit festival to new heights, which will surely only continue at next year’s event.  “People should come to Mofest to support the local talent here in Chicago and give our filmmakers and artists the confidence and poise they need to take their creativity to the next level.”

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