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Action Heroes

26 people who make films happen in Chicago—plus three newcomers making their mark

(page 5 of 5)

THE NEWCOMERS

JOE SWANBERG
Director/actor, 27

With five features already under his belt—including the new IFC release Nights and Weekends, and three series of short Web films—Swanberg is among Chicago’s busiest filmmakers. He’s also a progenitor of “mumblecore,” a low-budget genre in which twentysomethings sit around, talking, texting, and taking off their clothes. “It seems like there’s a lot of sex in my movies,” says Swanberg, whose awkward sex scenes are as honest as any other part of his characters’ lives. “But really, I think there’s a right amount of sex.” Swanberg has been known to cut 20 hours of footage down to 80 minutes of his actors’ most telling moments. The West Town resident is now hitting the festivals with Alexander the Last, co-produced by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), and making another film with Baumbach starring Jennifer Jason Leigh—with no script, the same video camera he has always used, and a crew of two.

 

DEREK “PRETTY BOY” DOW
Director/producer/actor, 26

Growing up in Englewood and West Chatham, Dow saw his share of fights and gangs. His father was murdered; a few years later, gang violence put a friend in intensive care. One day in 2004, a Chicago State University professor assigned Dow to make a video. “The minute she put the camera in my hand, I got addicted,” he says. Dow raised $5,000 and filmed Family Values, based on his experiences. Then he rented a screen in Chatham and sold out three shows. The movie won the audience prize at the Gene Siskel Film Center’s 2007 Black Harvest International Film Festival. His next project is Drifting—“like Crash without the racism”—and in August, Dow and ten directors formed the Chicago Alliance of African-American Filmmakers. “It’s so hard to get acknowledgment,” he says. “If we band together, we can bring in all our fan base.”

 

DALIA TAPIA
Director, 36

Tapia, a Mexico native who grew up in Maywood, earned a master’s degree in film at Columbia College while teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. Her first film was Buscando a Leti (In Search of Leti), about a ten-year-old girl who lives with her grandparents in Mexico while her parents work in Chicago. “I did it with gut feeling more than anything,” Tapia says. The accomplished 2004 film, distributed on DVD by Unicine, makes it clear that Tapia has a gift for working with actors, especially children. She has just completed Silent Shame, in which a young Latino discovers the secrets behind his mother’s death from AIDS. (Look for the film at festivals soon.) At present, Tapia has returned to her school job, but is taking a different turn with a horror film called La Llorana. “I get only three to five hours of sleep—and no personal life,” she says.

 

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