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COVID & the Arts: NW Illinois Film Festival

The first Northwest Illinois Film Festival will be held this Wednesday, August 26th, starting at 8 p.m. at the Midway Drive-In Theatre in Sterling. 

The free event, with registration required, is billed as “Shorts-A-Palooza,” and is a celebration of Illinois independent filmmakers, featuring several short films -- including a few from Quad-Cities producers. Gary Camarano, Executive Director of the Northwest Illinois Film Office, says Covid-19 changed plans from what was supposed to be a larger two-day event.

“We had planned a film festival for May 15th and 16th, that was going to be held at three venues – one in Rockford, one in the Quad-Cities, and one at Sauk Valley Community College, running concurrently with the same programming if you would.”

The Q-C theater was to be the Regal Cinemas in Moline.

Credit NW Illinois Film Office
Gary Camarano

“We were gonna do a lot of feature films from the region in Illinois, shorts, documentaries, what have you, over two days. We were gonna have panel discussions, let people who have an interest in film, young people, hear from people who are already involved – what the challenges were, how they got into it and so on.”

“I thought maybe something could be done that would allow people to get out and actually be someplace, and see some films. So the Midway Drive-In, which is in Sterling, Ill., built in 1950, kind of an iconic drive-in, they’re one of the five drive-ins in Illinois still up and operating. I thought maybe we could utilize that as a way of providing social distancing and Covid-19 type protocols, we actually could get people out so they’re enjoying something and actually seeing films at a drive-in.”

It’s free this year because the festival is abridged. The lineup includes two Hero Street documentaries from Moline-based Fourth Wall Films; a pilot for a spooky, comedic adventure series from Rock Island-based Fresh Films; a sci-fi dark comedy, and several others. Camarano is impressed with their quality.

“Some of them are really good. I’ve previewed them and they’re very entertaining. It’s a very diverse group – different genres, different types of filmmakers, so it’s going to be a very interesting evening. We do want to celebrate Illinois independent filmmakers.”

Camarano works to promote northwest Illinois for film projects, saying it has over 5,000 square miles of potential locations, five film liaisons, dozens of film-friendly communities, access to a talented workforce, and the ability to offer some significant state incentives to filmmakers. And during the last two years, three feature films have been completed in northwest Illinois -- “Hunter’s Creed,” “Blacklight,” and “Without Grace,” as well as episodes for Quibi’s “The Now,” and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” 

He plans to make the festival an annual event, with multiple locations next year, including the Sterling drive-in.

“Next year, as the program grows a little bit, it’ll be a two-day event with panel discussions and social networking, there will be a charge to it. For now, it’s letting people know that the film office is here, we’re gonna keep going. We might be doing it a bit differently. But we’re here, we’re working and there’s still a lot of activity that people can do, in spite of Covid-19.”

At the Sterling theater, parking will be limited, with cars spaced apart, no concessions sold on site, and masks required for people outside their cars. Filmgoers are encouraged to bring their own food and beverages, and pre-registration is required at eventbrite.com. One ticket per vehicle with a maximum of four occupants per vehicle. 

For additional information about the Northwest Illinois Film Office, the film festival or how to get festival tickets, contact econdev@whiteside.org, or visit filmnwillinois.com.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.