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Celebrity Beat: Heather Graham at the Gen Art Chicago Film Festival

Film festivals usually mean open bars and swag bags-and true to form, this inaugural fest had both. Tuesday was the opening night of the first-ever Gen Art Chicago Film Festival. “Five premieres. Five parties,” the invite read. New York has been hosting the fest for 12 years now, but Chicago scored a stop this year as well. “We are the first Gen Art office to carry on the festival,” says Amanda Nosal, director of Gen Art Chicago. “We’re proud that we were chosen over L.A., San Fran, and Miami [where Gen Art also has offices]. It makes sense, though; Chicago is really making its mark in the film world, and, well, we also love a great party.”

For those not familiar with Chicago’s Gen Art chapter, the group showcases emerging talent in film, fashion, art, and music, and boasts a membership of nearly 400-most of whom fall within the coveted 21- to 40-year-old taste-making set: fashionistas, culture hounds, media-savvy types. Even doe-eyed actress Heather Graham came to town to kick off the fest’s opening-night screening at the Music Box, a premiere of her new film, Broken.

Heather Graham at the premiere of her new film, Broken, screened at the Music Box as the opening-night selection of the Gen Art Chicago Film Festival.

Despite Cubs traffic and the aftereffects of Tuesday’s torrential downpour, I managed to show up when Graham was putting in her red-carpet time, while her boyfriend, Charles Ferri of the Hamptons club Star Room, waited in the wings. Graham is a stunning, svelte beauty who, at 36, doesn’t look a day over 25-probably because she also looks like she hasn’t seen a hint of sun over the years. I didn’t spot a single wrinkle on her face when I interviewed her. And she couldn’t have been nicer-which left me somewhere between loving her and loathing her.

In a crocheted blue dress by L.A. designer-friend Michelle Jonas and tan leather boots by Versace, the Milwaukee-born actress told me the only memories she has of living in the Midwest are those of cold weather: “My dad was in the FBI, so we moved around a lot; I didn’t spend much time there.”

Graham’s been busy lately, not only with her independent film work in movies such as Broken and Adrift in Manhattan, which comes out later this year, but she’s entering the producing arena as well. “I’m developing a sex comedy called The Accidental Virgin,” she told me. “I optioned the book; it’s about women and dating and sex, a project I’ve been working on for five years.” Also in the works-and 10 years in the making-is a movie tentatively titled Triangle, about the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York.

So what was it about dark, twisted Broken that drew Graham to the script? “I identified with the character,” she said. “The script was very smart.” In the movie, which took only three weeks to film and had a crew of just 22, Graham plays Hope, a drug-addled musician-in-the-making who relocates from Cleveland to L.A. Right away, Hope hooks up with Will (Jeremy Sisto)-and it all goes downhill from there. The movie leaves a lot up to interpretation; even director Alan White called it “trippy” in his taped introduction. It also includes a girl-on-girl kissing scene involving Hope and another character at the diner, where most of the movie is set. That scene reminded me of another movie Graham starred in recently, Grey Matters, in which she falls for Bridget Moynahan’s character; the two share a passionate makeout session. “It was fun,” Graham said of filming the kissing scene with Moynahan, “but I was nervous. There was a lot of giggling while filming that scene.”

Broken producer Jerry Wayne with  Graham at the Gen Art Chicago Film Festival opening-night afterparty, at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

The Broken screening and follow-up Q&A with Graham and producer Jerry Wayne drew about 650 film buffs, but many Graham-gawkers skipped the film entirely and headed straight to the afterparty at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. There, about 900 revelers enjoyed an open bar and apps by Blue Plate Catering, including cheese quesadillas and mini-corndogs. The biggest standouts-aside from Graham, of course-were the silver disco balls that transformed the museum’s upstairs area into a glistening lounge. (“Who doesn’t love butterflies and disco balls?” asks Nosal.) The décor must have set the mood, as partygoers seemed to enjoy themselves-especially the couple I spotted making out.

“I can’t believe I’ve never been to a party here,” said one attendee, Craig, 39. “The space is great. And now I’m going to try to get laid.” His odds were pretty decent, as about 75 percent of the afterpartiers were good-looking women, including Graham herself, who hung out in one of the curtained-off VIP booths with her boyfriend most of the night.

Three days of Gen Art Chicago Film Festival premieres and parties remain, including a screening of Alan Cumming’s directorial debut, A Suffering Man’s Charity, tomorrow at Pipers Alley (1608 N. Wells St.); Cumming is slated to attend. Check out the entire fest schedule and buy tickets here.

This just in: Eric and Kathy of 101.9 FM “The Mix” will give away tickets to an intimate, last-minute John Mayer concert on their morning show tomorrow, Friday the 29th. Mayer is slated to play The Underground at 5 p.m. tomorrow in advance of his concert with Ben Folds later that night at Northerly Island’s Charter One Pavilion. Tune in to the broadcast for details.

Also tomorrow: Mingle with Chicago’s most desirable singles from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. tomorrow, Friday the 29th, at the magazine’s annual mixer, Summer Lovin’, co-sponsored by the Auxiliary Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The event takes place at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E. Chicago Ave.); tickets run $75 to $85 and are available at the door and at summerlovin.net. Proceeds benefit the Prostate Cancer Gene Therapy Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. 

Last Girl Standing will be on the out-of-town wedding circuit next week. Tune in Monday, July 9th to hear about her escapades at the singles tables.


Photography: (Image 1) Brian Choi; (Image 2) Matt Kaplinger


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