March Film “Mini-Fest” Roundup: Juggernaut in Review; Looking Ahead to Peace on Earth and DOC10

Joel Wicklund | March 7, 2017

On the city’s busy film festival calendar, March is pretty much owned by the massive Chicago European Union Film Festival, running throughout the month at the Gene Siskel Film Center. (You can read my star-focused preview for that event over at Chicagoist.) But there are some smaller specialty fests that also help make it an interesting month for cinephiles.

Saturday, March 4 at the Music Box, I attended the Juggernaut Sci-Fi/Fantasy Short Film Festival for the first time in its five-year history. Advance screenings of the films shown weren’t available for review, but I was able to catch three of the four blocks of programming during the 11 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. schedule. The festival is organized by Otherworld Theatre, a local sci-fi/fantasy stage production company.

Based on my sampling, and not knowing what previous years’ lineups were like, I would say Juggernaut has a bit of a split identity. Some works screened were professionally mounted and artistically distinctive, while others seemed more like cosplay fan films suited for YouTube exposure at best.

Still, warts and all, it’s nice to have another big screen showcase for short films. And while there were entries that seemed like Comic Con hobbyists at play, there were also a few really fine films. I was particularly impressed by David Gaddie’s Beautiful Dreamer, which kind of uses the parent-child time travel dynamic of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar to more succinct and emotional effect, and Tristan Ofield’s White Lily, which uses the familiar device of human and synthetic passengers isolated in space to explore ideas of memory and identity. Also memorable were Kübler-Ross, a blunt parable on the boundaries of compassion (played out as plague horror) from Spain’s Xavier Pijuan, and Kyle Higgins’ The Shadow Hours, a sleek noir spin on the evil twin trope.

If Juggernaut’s programmers can become a little more selective, weeding out purely “fan boy” (or girl) exercises from the more accomplished selections, it has the potential to be a vital ongoing genre film fest.

Issues are prioritized over aesthetics at the Peace on Earth Film Festival, which holds its 2017 edition this weekend (March 10-12, also at the Music Box). That’s not meant to be a slam. At a time when journalism is under attack from the White House and its defenders, a spotlight on filmmakers digging deep into human rights, underreported geopolitical topics, environmental subjects and other social matters is more than welcome.

My samplings of the POEFF schedule are too limited to give a fair assessment of the lineup, but I think it’s fair to say the programming aims to spark dialogue on civic action more than artistic appraisal. The festival’s stated mission is “raising awareness of peace, nonviolence, social justice and an eco-balanced world.”

Documentary works dominate POEFF, though there are several narrative shorts and two narrative features, including a revival of writer-director John Hancock’s 1987 prison drama Weeds, starring Nick Nolte. (Hancock is a trustee with the festival’s parent company, Transcendence Global Media.)

Many filmmakers and subjects will attend POEFF, which includes panel discussions and student film programming blocks. Single tickets are just $7 (cheaper than the Music Box’s usual full-price admission) and a festival pass is $75 (with discounts for seniors, students and attendees with Music Box memberships). More details here.

Presented by the Chicago Media Project, the DOC10 Festival made an auspicious debut last year, with a superb schedule of documentaries that included works from giants in the field like Werner Herzog, Albert Maysles and Barbara Kopple, as well as discoveries like the moving and unsettling Missing People.

This year’s second edition (March 30–April 2) may lack name-value directors, but if the programming comes close to the quality of its inaugural year, non-fiction film devotees would be well advised to check it out.

Among the potential highlights is Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, a portrait of the jazz giant from the director of Who Is Harry Nilsson? As someone who is a bit of a sucker for movie nostalgia, I’m also anxious to catch The Cinema Travelers, a look at the declining occupation of traveling film projectionists who have brought movies to rural Indian communities for decades, showing them in tents serving as makeshift theaters.

Except for an opening night benefit showing of Sweet Dillard at the Music Box, DOC10 moves this year from the city’s most revered theater to the recently remodeled Davis Theater in Lincoln Square. The full schedule and ticket and festival pass information are available here.

Paula Froehle