One major disadvantage is the lack of film schools; unlike Los Angeles and New York, which have UCLA, USC, Columbia University, New York University, American Film Institute, not to mention the numerous other film programs and workshops, Chicago has only one major film school, Columbia College.Then there's also the fact that some Chicago filmmakers may leave Chicago for either Hollywood or New York. That's where most of the business and competition are. Then some make the mistake of hiring friends or associates who don't have any experience in the process of making a film.
And there doesn’t seem to be evidence of significant Black participation within Columbia’s film department. During the four years that I taught in that film department, I can count on one hand, and perhaps a few on the other, the number of Black students that I’ve taught.
Unfortunately, the situation hasn¹t improved, according to filmmaker Francis Polo, a recent graduate of Columbia College: “I was the only Black Student in 95 percent of all my classes,” he says.
Polo adds that the lack of enough schools or workshops to study and gain experience in filmmaking begets the lack of competition among filmmakers in Chicago.
“The standards in Los Angeles and New York are so much higher than in Chicago,” he argues. “In those cities, everyone is trying to prove themselves, everyone wants to get their foot in the door, and in order to do that you have to stand out as one of the best, so this competition forces filmmakers to step up.”
To put Mr. Polo¹s words bluntly, if you¹re a filmmaker in Chicago, and you look around and notice that everyone else is making crap and getting away with it, what motivation do you have to do better? There’s no reason for this drought of Black film students, unless Black students feel as if they are not capable, talented or smart enough to study filmmaking.
“Chicago has an abundance of extremely talented people,” explains filmmaker Ytasha Womack. “But there is a fundamental resistance among too many local aspiring filmmakers to learn the art, craft and the business side of filmmaking. But this resistance is a manifestation of the fear to grow, learn new skills or work with experienced industry professionals who will force them to dig deeper and be better.”
I should mention one more thing. This coverstory began with a little black Chicago film history wanna lesson...
In the beginning, there was Chicago--the very location of The Railroad Porter, the first Black film ever made.Supposing those who want to be filmmakers can leave Chicago for their college and go to either film school or a mass media program around the nation. If you're interested go find one, there's gotta be a school you guys can go to some where and get a degree in filmmaking or to get some form of training.
The Railroad Porter, a comic chase movie, was produced in 1912 by the multitalented William Foster, (aka actor Juli Jones), who also worked as a press agent, sportswriter, writer and director of the Pekin Players, an early, Chicago-area all-Black theater company, and a salesman of Haitian coffee.
Sadly, not much is known about The Railroad Porter, as it is one of thousands of silent films that were not preserved and are now lost to history. However, the film ignited a spark in what was to become the Black film industry; other Black film companies began to spring up in Chicago, including the Royal Gardens Film Company. Shortly thereafter, the great Black filmmaking pioneer Oscar Micheaux opened his first film production company in Chicago on 538 S. Dearborn Ave.
Micheaux’s first feature film, The Homesteader, was shot in and around Chicago in 1919.