Kartemquin celebrates 50 years in the film industry

Fifty years ago, three students at the University of Chicago (U. of C.), started making documentary films. Their efforts have grown to what is now known as Kartemquin Films and they have made over 50 documentaries while simultaneously helping to make the next generation of filmmakers.

Stan Karter, Jerry Temaner and the current artistic director, Gordon Quinn, founded Kartemquin Films in 1966. Kartemquin just celebrated its 50th anniversary at a June 24 event that showcased past productions and producers as well as the future of its films.

In 50 years, the topics of the films and the programs offered have changed, but the mission has remained intact.

“We are making a certain kind of documentary that can really play a role in a democratic society,” Quinn said.

Karter, Temaner and Quinn (hence the name, Kartemquin) came together, joined later by Jeremy Blumenthal, as university students who just had a burning passion for film, specifically, documentaries that delve into real life stories.

“One of our early visions for Kartemquin was that we would make films in conjunction with the university. So one of our first offices was right there in Hyde Park inside of the [Hyde Park] bank building on the seventh floor,” Quinn said.

Their first film was “Home for Life” in 1966, which was shown by U. of C.’s Doc Films last week on Thursday, June 30. Quinn said that he participated in Doc Films during his entire U. of C. career.

“In those early years, we were very much University of Chicago students, we were very intellectual,” Quinn said. “I went off for a couple of years before we started Kartemquin to learn the craft because there were no film courses. Everything we were learning we learned by doing it ourselves and making our own mistakes.”

Once they relocated to the North Side in the late ‘60s, film projects blossomed at Kartemquin, but they always kept their South Side roots in mind.

In 1968, Kartemquin produced “Inquiring Nuns,” a film about two young nuns exploring Chicago and asking people on the streets if they were happy in their lives. Much of the film was shot in Hyde Park. “Inquiring Nuns” will be showing as part of the Millennium Park Summer Film Series on Tuesday, July 26.

Aside from the thoughtful films that have come out of the minds at Kartemquin, Quinn said that they have always stressed not only producing quality films, but producing quality filmmakers as well.

“We weren’t just making films, we were making filmmakers and that’s an important part of our mission that we took on,” he said.

One of the ways they do that is through their professional development program called Diverse Voices in Docs, which is housed inside Harris Park Center, 6200 S. Drexel Ave. The six-month program is focused on minority filmmakers and providing training that will help them get to the next level of experience.

Quinn said the program is specifically intended for local filmmakers, people who live within an hour of the workshop site, to promote filmmakers in Chicago communities.

From the beginning, the Kartemquin team made a conscious decision to be located in Chicago and tell the stories of the people who live here, instead of moving to film hubs like Los Angeles or New York City.

“Midwestern stories are important and regionalism is important. We are able to bring Midwestern stories to an international audience,” Quinn said.

An example is one of Kartemquin’s most recent films, “In the Game” which was filmed at Kelly High School in the Brighton Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side. The film will show on Aug. 31 at Kelly Park and on Sept. 1 at Margate Park as part of the Chicago Park District’s Chicago Onscreen Local Film Showcase.

“In the Game,” which follows a girl’s soccer team and their experiences and lessons of teamwork, ended up having a deeper universal meaning to the director, Maria Finitzo.

“’In the Game’ was a film that, like a lot of films, started out as one thing and ended up as something else. What emerged was a story about race, class and gender…and the budget crisis from the point of a public school,” Finitzo said.

Layers of meaning seem to be a theme in Kartemquin’s documentary films.

“That’s what I love about documentaries: you start a film and you don’t know where it’s going,” Quinn said. “Many of our films have wound up being different than what our original version was.”

“Films succeed or fail in the editing and at Kartemquin, we spend a lot of time on editing,” Finitzo said. “The finished products are thoughtful films that create conversations about other things.”

After 50 years, Quinn describes Kartemquin as not only a film company but also a media arts organization. He said the ability to change with the times is part of why they have succeeded over the years.


[Via: Hyde Park Herald]

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