How Indie Films Series Elevated Films Chicago Got Off the Ground
By Donald Liebenson
“Right smack dab in the middle of town I found a paradise that’s trouble proof.”
-Up on the Roof
A sneak preview in Chicago of Alex Ross Perry’s “Queen of Earth” on Wed. Aug. 12 will not be screened in a traditional theatrical venue. It won’t even be screened indoors. The psychological thriller starring Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston will receive its city premiere on the rooftop of Whole Foods, 1550 N. Kingsbury St. in Lincoln Park, under the auspices of Elevated Films Chicago, a fledgling not-for-profit.
Elevated Films Chicago is the passion project of Eddie and Susie Linker, husband and wife finance professionals-turned-independent film producers who are parlaying their expertise into a proposed annual summer film series that will serve as a catalyst to raise the awareness and accessibility of independent films and support arts education in the city’s schools.
The proceeds from screenings will go toward such established programs as After School Matters, which was founded by the late Maggie Daley, and Scenarios USA, a national organization, with an initiative of a youth writing contest in which winning stories will be adapted into short films. An excerpt from one such film will be screened prior to “Queen of Earth.”
Elevated Films Chicago’s inaugural series is comprised of but two films. The series launched last week with a screening of “People, Places, Things,” starring Jemaine Clement and directed by James C. Strouse, who participated in an audience Q&A via Skype following the screening.
It was a glorious evening, from the weather (74 degrees) and a pre-screening performance by local band the Aunteaks to the off-center pleasures of the crowd-pleasing film itself (in theatres and On Demand on Aug. 14) and, depending on where you were situated on the roof, a bonus: Navy Pier’s firework’s display in the distance.
Tickets for “Queen of Earth” are $15. It will screen at 8:15 p.m., preceded at 7:30 with music by Lili K. Rooftop admittance begins at 7 p.m. Seating is provided but blankets are permitted. No outside food or beverages are allowed. Snacks and drinks will be offered (some free) by rooftop vendors or can be purchased in Whole Foods.
How did Elevated Films Chicago get off the ground? Susie Linker was an investment banker for more than two decades. She left about a year-and-a-half ago, “not with the sole objective of starting a not-for-profit, but with the objective or reinventing myself,” she said in a phone interview.
In 2014, Eddie, a film buff, co-founded Forager Films with Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg and Peter Gilbert, co-producer and director of cinematography on “Hoop Dreams,” to produce low budget independent films. Their impressive credits include Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas,” Kris Swanberg’s “Unexpected,” and the upcoming “Digging for Fire.”
“Queen of Earth” is a Forager Films project on which Eddie Linker, Gilbert and Joe Swanberg served as executive producers, but its inclusion on the Elevated Films Chicago slate was necessitated by the unavailability of other film choices. “We do not want to show our own movies,” Susie Linker said. “Our goal is not to promote ourselves. But because we’re a startup, some distributors weren’t as quick to say, ‘Take our film and show it in Chicago.’” We had a relationship with (“Queen of Earth” distributor) IFC, and the timing was right (the film, praised by “The New Yorker’s” Richard Brody as “a masterwork of tone and mood,” premieres On Demand and on iTunes on Aug. 26).
Linker credits Rooftop Films, a Brooklyn-based independent film series as the inspiration for Elevated Films Chicago. “A few of our films have been presented there,” Linker said. “Eddie kept saying that this type of community event would really thrive in Chicago.”
Beyond the charms of watching a movie outdoors, Elevated Films Chicago offers film-loving, city-enamored Chicagoans a win-win, Linker enthused. “We’re Chicagoans. We spend a good part of the year inside. Once summertime hits, I want to be outside. And people love going to the movies. Plus, you’ve got the backdrop of this beautiful city.”
The Linkers endeavor to broaden that breathtaking, but limited, perspective and make Elevated Films Chicago a moveable feast with rooftop screenings in an array ofdiverse neighborhoods. “Ideally, we’re going to take this show on the road,” she said
Once summer ends, the real work begins in growing the organization. It already boasts a distinguished board of directors, including Joe and Kris Swanberg, Gilbert, filmmakers Frank Ross and Spender Parsons, award-winning producer Jacqui Ingram, and Theresa Snyder, owner of CityWide SuperSlow.
“We’re going to look for grants and for sponsor funding,” Linker said. “We’re going to hit some film festivals and try to build relationships with film distributors so they know what we’re doing and how we’re giving back to the community. They may not be sure who we are just yet, but after this year, they will.”