A Gust of Chicago Tradition

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I teach video production to young people on the west side of Chicago for a non-profit called Community TV Network. CTVN has been around for over 30 years and they’ve gone through many transitions. Many filmmakers and educators have begun their career doing what I do, including my film history and analysis professor from Southern Illinois, Jyotsna Kapur. Photo from CTVNShe visited one of my classrooms two years ago and introduced herself as my student’s grandparent. It made me feel part of a larger film educator tradition.

This year my students got to experience a bunch of film fun including a private screening of The Interrupters at The Siskel Film Center, making a mockumentary and one of them went to The Peace Summit to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It’s a rewarding job that offers a lot of perks and it’s fun to pass them along to kids that don’t normally have access to the film world. The best part about it is that the West Town Video Production Team won Best Screenplay at the Chicago Youth Community Film Festival last week.

We also brought some major change to CTVN this year by revising our brand, retooling our website and retrofitting our on-site classroom. As a youth media organization that focuses on low-income students, we’ve been through a rough patch but we were still able to pull together an amazing effort to give the organization a shove into the 21st Century. Last week, thanks to Craftsman Experience, we celebrated the culmination of all our hard work on The Down and Dirty with Frank Fontana.

I make an appearance at around 7:35, followed by an interview with Gordon Quinn, who put the work we do into the larger context of Chicago film history. It was an honor to have him come out and give our new studio his blessing. After the show ended and the dust settled, I was able to take part in an even deeper Chicago tradition that will stay with me for a long time to come. I got to give Gordon Quinn a ride to his car.The Down and Dirty

My love for Kartemquin Films is well-documented in that my first serious blog post was about The New Americans, so I offered my services when Gordon needed a ride to the CTA. (Onlookers may describe this differently as I vaguely recall knocking over chairs and trampling small children on my way across the room.) My limited driving experience in The Gold Coast paid off because I got lost on our way to the blue line and found out that we were going the same way. This resulted in a longer ride than either of us expected but that was fine with me and it made things easier for him too. Win, Win.

The word Sage is probably under-used because it gets giggles from audiences but, being in the presence of someone that’s seen and done many of the things that you wish to see and do in your lifetime is truly a great thing. Through our conversation, I had a glimpse through a lens that sees things as part of a larger cycle that will ebb and flow like everything else that is crucial to our common growth. The stories he told me are mine to keep and all I had to pay was a drive across town. Great bargain.

His parting words hammered in the gravity of the tradition that I was part of in that car ride. He told me that Studs Terkel never learned to drive and he’d frequently hitch rides with people to get around. After some nights, when all the pretty girls were gone, it would fall to Gordon to take him home. In that moment, sitting in the place that my hero sat when he was in the presence of the imminent sage of his time, I felt the wind of Chicago tradition at my back.


5 thoughts on “A Gust of Chicago Tradition

    ivan said:
    June 8, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    man mr c thats dope bro for real

      The Contreras-Gabriel Project responded:
      June 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Ivan! You were one of the students that was in the class that my SIU teacher came to visit. Watching you complete Art Without Boundaries and graduate as Salutatorian were some of my favorite moments of 2011.

    A Few of My Favorite Films | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    November 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    […] Stand and Deliver (1988) My life’s recently evolved from that of Angel Guzman (Lou Diamond Phillips,) rebel student that can’t find a way to sit at his desk without creasing his pants to Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos,) a teacher that pushes his students to learn material that others think they can’t learn… I have a long way to go in this journey but I’m on the path. […]

    […] the installation video for Diana’s Under the Table, with original music by Matthew King and A Gust of Chicago Tradition is something Mario wrote about his job and his car ride with an idol, Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin […]

    Gatekeepers of Truth | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    May 25, 2013 at 11:41 am

    […] I wrote this post about my job and a car ride I took last year with Gordon Quinn, founder of Kartemq… It was about my early career in Chicago and how it connects with Chicago tradition. This year, I’m taking part in the development of a new tradition that will change the face of Chicago documentary. I have the honor of building a new rung on the ladder to success as a member of the inaugural Diverse Voices in Docs class. […]

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