A scene from A Sip from a Certain Fountain
A scene from A Sip from a Certain Fountain, a 19-minute black-and-white comedy about a mysterious elixir, playing at the Backyard Film Festival on July 24th at the Pullman State Historic Site. For more stills from movies playing at the fest, launch the gallery »



1. Eternally in Desperate Dreams (2010) Josh Heineman, an Iowan who lives in Berlin, visualizes music by the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

2. Ghost Clock (2009) Jeff Kolar, an Urbana-based artist, mixes stop-motion animation with beach scenes and electronic rock by Lymbyc Systym.

3. A Sip from a Certain Fountain (2010) The Chicago filmmakers Christian Gridelli and Hunter Norris pay homage to The Twilight Zone with this 19-minute black-and-white comedy about a mysterious elixir.

4. Motor Safari (2010) Another film by Kolar, who this time surreally manipulates footage of animals.

For the last two summers, the aspiring filmmaker Fred Koschmann has invited 100 or so people over to his Old Irving Park home, set up a projector, and shown movies in his backyard. The first year, in 2008, he screened a couple of his own short documentaries. In 2009, he invited other young directors—many of whom were from Chicago—and organized the films into a set list, programming the evening like a rock concert. “There’s a pretty large gap between hobbyists and those who can get their films into Sundance,” Koschmann says. With the hobbyists, he adds, “I think there’s a lot of value to seeing their work.”

This summer, Koschmann is taking the idea beyond his yard, adding more movies (and a few bands) to the lineup and inviting the public. On July 24th, he will host the Backyard Film & Music Festival at the Pullman State Historic Site. That’s not exactly a yard, but Koschmann plans to create a casual outdoor feeling by setting the event on the historic railcar factory’s 12-acre grounds. “There’s something alluring and welcoming about backyards,” he says.

Koschmann’s new fest comes at a good time: The city canceled the popular Chicago Outdoor Film Festival in Grant Park this summer for budgetary reasons. The Chicago Park District is still screening movies in parks around the city, but fans of alfresco film watching may be looking for new options. At Pullman, the festival will be half outdoors, half indoors. The screen is inside, but a big set of garage doors will be open, making it possible to watch from outside. “If it rains, we can still do it,” Koschmann says.

With bands such as the local dream-pop quartet Panda Riot, Backyard will offer a grass-roots, anything-goes spirit similar to the Chicago Short Film Brigade, which screens an eclectic mix of short cinema at The Hideout and other venues. Koschmann hopes to show an excerpt from his own documentary in progress, Wild Solitude, about California’s unconventional Deep Springs College.

Last year, he was fascinated to see how the audience reacted to the films he had selected, sometimes confounding his expectations. Something special happens when you watch a movie with a crowd, he says—something you can’t duplicate with a click on YouTube. “It produces a stronger effect in you.”

GO: THE BACKYARD FILM & MUSIC FESTIVAL is July 24th at the Pullman State Historic Site, 11111 S. Forrestville Ave.; bfften.blogspot.com. $10 in advance, $15 at door.


Photography: still courtesy of filmmakers