Kartemquin Films puts a human face on social issues through film

Chicago based filmmakers have busy August with premieres

By: Steve Mathie
Staff Writer
Filming Locations

August 6, 2009

When Justine Nagan volunteered at the Wisconsin Film Festival during college, she saw two Kartemquin Films that she knew would make a lasting impression on her. What she didn’t know is that one day she would become the Executive Director at Kartemquin.

Kartemquin Films is a home for independent filmmakers looking to provide us with a better understanding of our society through human interaction. Nagan always knew she was interested in social change, and her current role as a director and producer is quite fulfilling.

“For us it’s really about passion,” says Nagan. “We really try to put a human face on social issues without being didactic about it.”

Located in Chicago, Kartemquin has been making films for over 40 years, and has recently done filming in Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, Kansas, California and abroad. Filming locations for Kartemquin are usually tied to the subject matter.

This year they are celebrating the 15th anniversary of what is probably their best known film, Hoop Dreams a film that studies the role of basketball in the lives of inner-city African American kids William Gates and Arthur Agee.

Kartemquin certainly has an engaging hybrid of films, and is currently working on films about Abraham Lincoln's life through dance, the lasting effect the Holocaust has on its survivors, the trial of NBA star Allen Iverson, and a redefinition of human beauty.

“We are giving people an emotional way into an issue, with enough background so that they can decide how they feel about it, instead of us telling them how to feel.” says Nagan.

This month is an exciting one for Kartemquin as their 2004 7-part miniseries The New Americans will be rebroadcast on PBS’ Global Voices. Then on August 9th a film that they have been working on for four years will screen in Texas at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Typeface is a film that represents where our culture is technologically as well as the plight of rural America and the struggle to stay viable.

Kartemquin offers a great opportunity for aspiring filmmakers and students to learn how the industry works. Nagan herself started as a volunteer at Kartemquin 6 years ago, and continued taking on increased levels of responsibility. Students can become part of the internship program that gives them hands on experience.

Kartemquin Films gives back to the community in more ways than through the screen, with community outreach events that will help to raise money for funding. They are also launching a diversity fellowship in the fall that is giving a mid-career filmmaker of color a home base for a documentary work in progress, an opportunity that Nagan describes as the first of its kind.

“We have a very supportive media community here for independent filmmakers,” says Nagan. “We feel very privileged to be based in Chicago.”

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