Focus on Facets: Summer fun, silent films, & some challenging docs

Get a deeper look into CitDoc Corps, Silent Sundays, Cinémathèque premieres and other programs in the fall edition of Focus on Facets.

The next gen of great documentarians, right now

Changing Devon Avenue, the meaning of being black in America, young people in museums, and how YouTube is failing youth are some of the topics selected by high school participants of our CitDoc Corps documentary program this summer. This program is part of our new initiative with After School Matters and was presented alongside STEM Scripts, where teens made fact-based video game narratives about topics in science, technology, engineering, and math.

This summer, CitDoc Corps was taught by screenwriter and filmmaker John Biggers, who worked on the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning show, Transparent. During the seven-week program, a group of super bright, ambitious teens created probing documentaries inspired by their experiences in Chicago.

In Devon Avenue, Sam and Gemma researched and interviewed business owners along Devon Ave. where Southeast Asian and Russian Jewish populations have created a unique multi-ethnic mix. Akili, Nia-Blessing, and Jalen approached a very personal and important topic in their film What is it like to be Black in America? by asking the titular question to a cross-section of men in Englewood. In The Audience of Now, Henry, Zahra, and Holden interviewed museum curators and educators to discover how they are trying to connect to young people.

In perhaps the most ambitious documentary, Like and Subscribe, Andres, Evelyn, and Rebekah interviewed YouTube vloggers about the increasing monetization and corporatization of YouTube, a platform that has long been considered an accessible and democratic medium for independent content creators. Like and Subscribe and other After School Matters films can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

Applications for our winter session of CitDoc Corps are being accepted now. Instructions and more details about how to apply can be found at

Silent Sundays are quietly making a scene

British film historian Kevin Brownlow – whose seminal book, The Parade’s Gone By, is a most wonderful read on the early days of cinema – once said that everything that was to be accomplished in film was already done in the silent era. Now, silent films are an endangered species, with too many current film students having never seen a silent film. Facets is changing all of this.

In June, we inaugurated a special monthly series, Facets Silent Sundays, with a screening of the just-restored and unjustly neglected French film, The Inhuman Woman, directed by Marcel L’Herbier. We had an amazing turnout and a lot of fun watching a true masterpiece.


The series continues on Sunday, September 25 at 4 p.m. with a screening of what some critics regard as the greatest American film ever made (funny enough, by a German filmmaker), Friedrich Murnau’s Sunrise. The film stars Janet Gaynor, who came to Facets years ago for a public presentation. The film is visually astonishing and tremendously emotionally moving. You can reserve advance tickets here.

Stranger than fiction: Brave filmmakers under fire

Documentary film is alive and well at Facets, though often in trouble elsewhere. Filmmaker Vitaly Manski had to go into exile after the North Korean government complained to the Russian government about a screening of his film Under the Sun .The film did not escape American censorship either when New York’s Museum of Modern Art decided not to screen it under fears of reprisal by the North Koreans.

However, Chicago audiences had the chance to see Under the Sun at Facets Cinémathèque in July. Mansky, who was invited to make a film in North Korea, let the camera roll after official filming stopped. When the film was edited, it revealed manipulation by the North Korean government rather than the idealized portrait of their society that officials wanted to “capture” on film, thus resulting in its ban.


Filmmaker Nanfu Wang braved totalitarianism of a different flavor when she decided to film super-activist Ye Haiyan, who risks arrest and imprisonment to protest the abuse of girls and women by Chinese authorities. After launching a campaign on behalf of six schoolgirls who were raped by their principal, Ye Haiyan was quickly labeled an enemy of the state and finds herself chased across China by government thugs.

The film, Hooligan Sparrow had its premiere at Facets Cinémathèque and documents every step of this astonishing journey, including increasingly dangerous encounters with camera-smashing government agents. The danger is palpable as Wang struggles to protect her subject and her footage, crafting a riveting portrait of a revolutionary activist and her seemingly impossible battle for human rights.

Summer by the numbers

  • 32 high school students participated in CitDoc Corps and STEM Scripts, presented in partnership with After School Matters
  • 45 kids served on the Children’s and Youth Juries for the upcoming 33rd Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, which runs October 28-November 6
  • 166 kids participated in Facets Kids Film Camps across 7 summer sessions
  • 276 films will screen as a part of the 33rd Chicago International Children’s Film Festival
  • 300 kids will participate in making Boo! Bash: The Movie at the upcoming Facets Family Boo! Bash, which raises funds for our educational programs – this spooky party is on Sunday, October 23, at Park West
  • 618 of the greatest animated and live-action films are now available to stream on our revolutionary platform, Facets Kids
  • 65,680 films are now available for you to watch at Facets Vidéothèque, these films span the entire history of cinema from 1895 to the present

None of these successes would have been possible without the extremely hard work of our staff and board, the huge support from our donors, sponsors, and partners. And last, but never least, our phenomenal patrons, program participants, and Members. Together, we keep independent film and ideas thriving.

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