When Laura Madalinski submimtted her film to LA’s Outfest, she did not have high expectations. It had been shot in Chicago with a fully local cast and crew and a tiny budget.
“I had given up. That was the last festival I had submitted to,” Madalinski said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then, months later, there I am, standing at the podium of the Director’s Guild of America, introducing my movie for the first time. We didn’t follow most of the rules that exist when you’re making a movie. We were totally plucked from the slush pile of blind submissions, which is pretty dang rare.”
Her film, Two in the Bush: A Love Story, will screen in Chicago this Tuesday, October 2, at Landmark Century Centre Cinema as part of the Midwest Independent Film Festival. On the first Tuesday of each month, Midwest Independent hosts screenings of shorts, feature films, documentaries, music videos, and other projects, all with a connection to the Midwest.
The events begin with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m., an educational panel at 6:30 p.m., then the screening, followed by a Q&A session. The structure allows new filmmakers to ask questions and learn about the craft. A supportive culture, one where it’s okay to be learning, is important to new Festival Director Amy Guth.
Guth selected Madalinski’s film for screening after it was suggested by a friend in common.
“The role of a film festival is that of community organizer,” Guth said. “I think it’s really important to care for the filmmaking community. Are we making room for everyone at the table and giving every filmmaker the things they need to be successful?”
Two in the Bush, described by Madalinski as “the little movie that could,” needed Chicago to succeed. Shot over 10 days for less than $50,000 with no big names and a cast/crew that was over 75% women, queer, and/or people of color, it probably couldn’t have been made elsewhere. They shot in her house, her producer’s apartment, and a friend’s apartment to keep costs low. Logan Theatre worked with them to make filming affordable and Reed’s Local, Madalinski’s favorite bar, gave them an entire day to film. They even rented a dungeon at a discount.
Yes, a dungeon.
The film begins as protagonist Emily’s life crumbles. Her girlfriend cheats on her with her best friend, so she has to live on another friend’s couch. She gets fired. Then she becomes the assistant to a dominatrix and things start to look up.
Emily falls in love with the dominatrix, then also falls for the dominatrix’s boyfriend, not knowing they are a couple.
“We touch on a lot of different topics, specifically bisexuality, polyamory/ethical non-monogamy, kinks,” Madalinski said. “We wanted to present a lot of these things in a way that felt authentic but also felt as though we were talking about our friends, ourselves. It’s not sensationalized or exoticized. We’re not really making judgements or apologies for any of it.”
The characters, Emily in particular, are what drew Guth to the film. You really care about them over the course of the movie, she said.
“We get really cool experimental stuff across the Midwest,” Guth said. “You used to have to have millions of dollars to make a film and that’s changing — and that’s really exciting. A lot of young filmmakers are involved in the documentary scene. Everybody has a camera in their pocket and that’s changed the role of the bystander significantly…It’s been cool the last couple years to see anger come out through art in meaningful ways.”
To keep the submissions rolling in, Midwest Independent Film Festival does not require premiere events. Even if the film has been screened at other festivals, they will accept it.
“We want everyone to succeed, so we don’t fight with people about having to make us their premiere,” Guth said. “As a filmmaker, you want to get your work into festivals so people will see it and offer you distribution.”
At September’s event, the documentary Hesburgh had its Midwest premiere after a June world premiere at AFI Docs Film Festival in Washington, DC. The team behind it, Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley, are both Chicago natives and Midwest Independent previously screened their 2006 documentary Wordplay, which premiered at Sundance, sold for $1 million, and became the year’s second highest-grossing documentary behind Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
Hesburgh’s subject is Father Theodore Hesburgh, the civil rights champion and president of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987. Creadon is a Notre Dame alumnus.
“At Midwest, it sold-out and got a standing ovation at the end of the film,” Creadon said. “I’ve never had a standing ovation before.”
Though they live in Los Angeles with their three daughters now, Creadon said both he and O’Malley began their careers in Chicago.
“Pretty much everything I learned about documentary making, I learned in Chicago,” he said. “I will always be a Midwest boy. Always. I’ve been in LA for 25 years now and I’m still a Chicagoan, still love the Cubs…We both had this crazy notion as kids growing up in the Midwest that we could be storytellers. It’s so special for us to go back for the Midwest Independent Film Festival; it’s where we’re from and it’s who we are.”
That’s an idea Guth has become very familiar with in her time with Midwest Independent Film Festival.
“We have so many talented people in the Midwest and I cringe when a person is so good and gets poached by LA or New York,” Guth said. “And I don’t begrudge anyone success; but I do feel a responsibility to help artists’ build career sustainability here in the Midwest.
“The place where you make your art feeds you creatively,” she continued. “So while yes, there may be more opportunity for some in LA, if you love where you are, that shouldn’t be dismissed because that feeds your creativity.”
Luckily, the Midwest is always there, waiting for you. When Madalinski wrapped filming of Two in the Bush: A Love Story and moved to Philadelphia for her partner’s career, she learned that.
“I feel like I’ll always go back to Chicago to film any of my projects,” Madalinski said. “It’s hard to make a movie in LA or New York; you need a lot of money. In Chicago, everyone works so hard to help us out. I don’t think you see that in other cities, how willing everyone is to do their best to help you. Overall, Chicago is a pretty damn good city to film in and I would film all my movies there.”
Tickets and future event info is available at https://www.midwestfilm.com