Lights! Camera! Chicago!

Director Nat Dykeman - Lake County Film Festival

Patrick McDonald

A man born exactly at the time he was supposed to be here.

It was Saturday, March 6th, and I was embarking on a journey to the unknown hinterlands. The Lake County Film Festival was in full swing, and I was about to get a tour of the Chicago area independent scene from the grass roots. Filmmakers who submit to the Lake County Festival are bringing in polished feature projects, guerilla efforts, established short films and documentaries at all levels. Festival Director Nat Dykeman rolls through all of these submissions and offers the filmmaker entries wonderful screening venues at the College of Lake County campus.

Dykeman has been doing the festival for seven years now, and has established an outlet for the collar Chicago suburbs (and elsewhere) to show their feature and shorts efforts. Nat took me around the various screening rooms, some with stadium seating - they double as classrooms - and I peeked into some presentations in progress (more on that in a later blog).

"The festival actually pre-dates YouTube," Nat Dykeman said in a recent interview. "Our first year was only on 35mm. As the festival progressed there was actually a natural shift into low-budget filmmaking. Those were the screenings that were better attended. Those were the filmmakers that were eager to show their work."

Executive Director Nat Dykeman of the Lake County Film Festival

In conjunction with the film festival, Nat is producing a film that was going in front of the lens at the same time. The project, aptly titled "Qwerty," is from a screenplay by his wife, Juliet McDaniel, and directed by Bill Sebastian. Sebastian actually showed one of his films at the festival three years ago, and now is taking on directing chores for Qwerty.

Over the next couple weeks I will publish the various interviews I had while at the festival, which includes the screenwriter, art director and more from Qwerty. Nat has also promised me a full report from the nine day shoot that followed the festival (he put it in conjunction with the festival to use the attendees in some scenes - creative filmmaking at its best).

The Lake County Film Festival and the production of Qwerty are perfect examples of the vital Chicago film scene which thrives in tandem with the mainstream film industry.

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Chicago is Ready for Its Close-up

Patrick McDonald

A man born exactly at the time he was supposed to be here.

Welcome to the new Chicago Now Blog...Lights! Camera! Chicago!

My name is Patrick McDonald, and you may recognize me from the myriad of film events I have both covered and participated in. I am a senior staff film reviewer and writer for I am a member in good standing in the Chicago Film Critic's Association, one of the greatest honors of my lifetime. I have been a critic-in-residence and Awards Committee Member of the Midwest Independent Film Festival for over two years.

As far as knowledge regarding Chicago film, I also spent last spring, summer and fall as a tour guide for the Chicago Film Tour. I gained an appreciation for this great city as a film set, and also I've explored the visionary aspects that the various great directors have forged from this city. From the grand opera of "The Dark Knight" to the intimate neighborhood views of "About Last Night," Chicago is a personality, an expression and a vital link to the film goer.


Patrick McDonald talks to Armand Assante of the film 'Chicago Overcoat' at the Best of the Midwest Awards last December.

What I hope to accomplish here is two fold. To introduce Chicago as a setting for film, both now and in the past. And to also introduce the producers, directors and film events that continue to define Chicago as a center for film production in the United States. I have indulged in this movie marketplace, it inspires and excites me on a daily basis. What I want to communicate to you is that excitement and inspiration.

Put on the lights, turn on the camera. Chicago, you are ready for your close-up.

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