Dedicated to presenting locally produced independent films and documentaries on the first Tuesday of every month, the Midwest Independent Film Festival served up another great film this month with Steve James' new documentary "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson."
James, an Oak Park-based filmmaker, is best known for the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Hoop Dreams," and has made a career of producing provocative films that challenge viewers to confront their own attitudes and beliefs. His latest work is no exception. Produced by Chicago's Kartemquin Films for ESPN's "30 for 30" series, the film explores the race issues that surrounded the rise of basketball great Allen Iverson.
"No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson," examines the events that followed the 1993 bowling alley brawl that landed famed basketball great Allen Iverson, then the nation's top high-school basketball player, in jail and divided his small-town community along racial lines. Iverson, who was 17 at the time, was convicted as an adult on the felony charge of "maiming by mob," an obscure Virginia statute that was originally intended to prosecute the crime of lynching.
The ensuing community reaction to the conviction revealed a racial chasm that remains to this day and the film illuminates the competing perceptions and realities that still exist not only in this one small southern town, but also in cities and suburban neighborhoods across the country. It is into that chasm that James escorts the audience, not to stimulate division but to spark a long overdue dialogue.
"Whites and blacks are not having the same conversation," James told HuffPost Chicago before last Tuesday's screening. "In this case neither side wanted to hear what the other side had to say. I wanted to understand how we can actually talk about this, and each come away with some understanding. What is missing when we talk about race is people respectfully listening to both sides."
With the current political climate in America--a series of shouting matches and standoffs--this film resonates on many levels.
At Tuesday's screening, the Midwest Independent Film Festival's executive director, Mike McNamara, led the audience in a discussion with the filmmaker. McNamara takes pride in bringing the indie festival experience to Chicago audiences once a month all year-round and packs each month's Tuesday screening at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema with audience participation opportunities such as panel discussions, filmmaker Q&As, as well as before and after parties.
His goal of providing a platform for dialogue and community makes his choice to partner with Kartemquin Films and Steve James a natural one. "Our goal is to celebrate and strengthen the Midwest filmmaking community because so many of these films fly under the radar," McNamara told HuffPost Chicago. "We pack the house every single month for these films and that's a huge victory for Chicago and for films from the Midwest."
Kartemquin's executive director, Justine Nagan, agrees. "You can make a work of art, but if you can't get an audience around it to really engage--good or bad--then what difference does it really make? To witness a group of people react to something you've made is very rewarding. As an artist and as someone interested in social change, to have an emotionally charged discussion afterwards lets you know you're on the right track."
Learn more about the Midwest Independent Film Festival here.
Check out the trailer here: