Onion City Film Festival

a production of Chicago Filmmakers

Thanks for joining us for 2016! It was a fantastic year. 


Onion City Awards:

First Place: Many Thousands Gone
Ephraim Asili

Second Place: Something Between Us
Jodie Mack

Third Place: Mad Ladders
Michael Robinson


Honorable Mentions:

Notes from the Interior
Ben Balcom

Aswirl Alight Aight
Tommy Heffron

KaSandra Skistad

Psychic Driving
William E. Jones

Prima Materia
Charlotte Pryce

Ana Vaz

Join us next year for the 28th Onion City Experimental Film Festival.


2018 Onion City Experimental film & Video Festival Programs

 Ouroboros, Basma Alsharif, courtesy of Momento! Films Ltd.

Ouroboros, Basma Alsharif, courtesy of Momento! Films Ltd.

Opening Night

Thursday March 8th, 8:30 pm

Opening Reception, 7:30-8:30 pm


Ouroboros (Basma Alsharif, 2017, 77 min, France/Palestine/Belgium/Qatar, Digital Projection) 

Ouroboros, a new feature by Basma Alsharif, is a beautifully captured homage to the constantly changing Gaza strip. The film turns in on itself, it repeats, is goes backwards and forwards and backwards again following one character through various landscapes and cultural climates. A poetic manifesto of the ouroboros, the snake eating itself, the film is a rejuvenating cycle where beginning meets ending.

 The Landing, Katya Yakubov

The Landing, Katya Yakubov

Friday, March 9th, 7:00 pm

Shorts Program 1: Growing

Who are you? Where are we going? These films challenge the viewer to consider the history of film as it moves into the future.

For All Audiences (Josh Weissbach, 2018, 3 min, US)

A trailer of an experiment searching for meaning in a moldy montage. The detritus of the movie industry bathed in organic material. Emulsion and its cracks, its crumbles, and its fades. It is ready for all the audiences.

The Landing (Katya Yakubov, 2017, 4 min, US)

As image-makers, we often photograph without purpose, out of compulsion, curiosity, or the sheer pleasure of seeing reality through a different prism. These personal archives of images begin to pile up and spill out of hard drives. The Landing was a way to ask these fragments, separated by time and intention, to dance with one another—a cannon ball’s messy trajectory from sky to earth, collapsing its subjects into a fortuitous whole, while holding each blinking frame as separate.

Like This/Like That (Tommy Heffron, 2017, 3 min, US)

"letnothingbechangedandallbedifferent" Robert Bresson via Public Access TV. 

Return to Forms (Zachary Epcar, 2016, 10 min, US)

A constellation of objects, each emerging into the soft peach-light void of an indeterminate condominium space.

Sky Room (Marianna Milhorat, 2017, 6 min, US)

Someone is missing. Plants grow, but at what cost? Technology threatens and seduces as humans attempt to solve a mystery through telepathy and mirrors. Stainless steel and broken glass strewn about an intergalactic discotheque. Commissioned by the Chicago Film Archives and made in collaboration with sound artist Brian Kirkbride, with footage and sound from the archive chopped, manipulated and arpeggiated into a fertile mix of anthem and narrative.

Sunset Song (Grace Mitchell, 2017, 5 min, US)

The sunset multiplies through the tourist's lens, capturing a keepsake. Here’s the sun for you, and you, and you; there’s enough for all of us. Sunset Song swells between the dissociation of observation and a tender heart.

Wherever You Go, There We Are (Jesse McLean, 2017, 12 min, US)

In this experimental travelogue, efforts to sound human and look natural instead become artificial. The scenery is provided through photo-chromed vintage postcards, displaying not only scenic North American landscapes but also the rise of infrastructure and industry. Aspiring to look more realistic by adding color to a black and white image, the postcards are instead documents of the fantastic. The road trip is narrated by an automated correspondent (all dialogue is taken from spam emails), his entreaties becoming increasingly foreboding and obtuse, in a relentless effort to capture our attentions.

TRT: 44 minutes; All Digital Projection

 Sky High and the Color of Money, Sally Lawton

Sky High and the Color of Money, Sally Lawton

Friday, March 9th, 8:30 pm

Shorts Program 2: Moving

The works in this program are deeply moving testaments to current political atmospheres in the United States and elsewhere. Each film considers the role of media in radical political movements, protest, and war.

There (Jesse Malmed, 2016, 1 min, US)

Shot November 9, 2016.

Sky High and the Color of Money (Sally Lawton, 2017, 6 min, US)

This film looks at the exchange of patterns between protests and parades. The filming took place at various parades and protests in Illinois from 2013-2017, and at a Trump rally in St. Louis, before he was the Republican nominee.

Decoy (Alee Peoples, 2017, 10 min, US, 16mm)

Decoy sees bridges and walls as binary opposites and relates them to impostors in this world. Humans strive for accuracy. You don't always get what you wish for.

Dislocation Blues (Sky Hopinka, 2017, 17 min, US)

An incomplete and imperfect portrait of reflections from Standing Rock. Cleo Keahna recounts his experiences entering, being at, and leaving the camp and the difficulties and the reluctance in looking back with a clear and critical eye. Terry Running Wild describes what his camp is like, and what he hopes it will become.

Homewrecker (Orr Menirom, 2016, 14 min, US)

Homewrecker is a short video which follows a bride who lost all memories and documentation of her wedding. Her story is told through a juxtaposition of protest and wedding footage, downloaded from different social media accounts and merged into a  single narrative. Using editing techniques borrowed from social media-dubbing and supercuts, the war and wedding images appear to be continuous, though they were captured by strangers and have no spatial or temporal connection. The viewer is aware of the illusion created by the edits, yet the viewer’s eyes connect the fragmented scenes into a single story. In this story, the bride goes out on a journey to trace back her lost photos and memories.

TRT: 48 minutes; All Digital Projection, except where noted

 Dragons & Seraphim, Sasha Waters Freyer

Dragons & Seraphim, Sasha Waters Freyer

Saturday, March 10th, 3:30 pm

Shorts Program 3: Touching

Intimacy is explored both in personal relationships and through the camera in these six works. How does sexuality affect our bodies, our spaces, and our philosophies?

Your Teeth, My Time (Linnea Nugent, 2017,  3 min, US)

Through the manipulation of super 8 and digital, Your Teeth, My Time is a short exploration of a small daily experience based in reality.  It is a playfully poetic encounter that moves through and reveals the harsh and intimate motions of brushing one's teeth. 

Dyke In Sight (Carleen Maur, 2018, 4 min, US)

A Dyke-femme’s love letter to regional landscapes, language boundaries and f***ing.

Sit, Stay (Cameron Gibson, 2017, 12 min, Japan/US)

Sit, Stay is an experimental documentary in which, for lovers and tourists alike, the means of connection are more alienating than effective. The characters submit to various forms of mediation: tour guides, cell phones, nostalgia, fantasy... Comforting narratives quickly fall apart under the weight of it all.

Fever Freaks (Frédéric Moffet, 2017, 8 min, Canada/US)

A detective is hired to find the original copy of a lost ancient book. The book recounts the tale of a plague. A form of radiation, unknown at the present time, activates a virus. The virus affects the sexual and fear centers in the brain and nervous system; fear is converted into sexual frenzies which are reconverted back into fear, the feedback leading in many cases to a fatal conclusion. Fever Freaks manipulates and re-edits individual frames from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1974 film Arabian Nights to illustrate a passage of William S. Burroughs’ 1981 book Cities of the Red Night.

Dragons & Seraphim (Sasha Waters Freyer, 2017, 14 min, US)

A lyrical experimental inquiry into ancient flowers and animal desire on the brink of adolescence. dragons & seraphim fuses original film footage of three generations of family shot on a hand-cranked Bolex camera, with 16mm nature films and the home movies of strangers. The past rises up–a mirage, but I can't bury it deep enough. Fever season of magic and madness: it's their turn now, our willing sacrifice. Sound design by Stephen Vitiello; poem "Childless" by Michael Morse.

Strangely Ordinary This Devotion (Dani Restack and Sheilah Restack, 2017, 26 min, US)

Strangely Ordinary This Devotion is a visceral exploration of feral domesticity, queer desire, and fantasy in a world under the threat of climate change. Utilizing and exploding archetypes, the film offers a radical approach to collaboration and the conception of family. The filmmakers collect and arrange images and moments that are at once peculiar and banal, precious and disturbing, creating resonance and contrast through experimental modes of storytelling.

TRT: 68 minutes; All Digital Projection

 Speculations, Ben Balcom

Speculations, Ben Balcom

Saturday, March 10th, 5:30 pm
Shorts Program 4: Thinking

How do we consider our personal thoughts and feelings as part of a larger contemporary collective consciousness? The  artists in this program strive to make connections which put forth a greater truth.

This is a Portrait of Me as a Child (Craig Neeson, 2017, 3 min, US)

Can you avoid the Gorgon stare of weaponized fatherhood? Will you survive the phosphorescent flash-burn of tradition? Do you over-identify with the apex predator in your home? Will you let the jaws of mimesis devour you?

Waypoint, Follow, Orbit, Focus, Track, Pan (eteam, 2017, 14 min, Croatia/US)

Every country employs specific techniques for disguising its soldiers, every army has developed its own camouflage uniforms. Croatia is one of the few countries in the world that uses a digitized shape of its own territory in its camouflage military design. Why? The question is not meant to be answered by human reason. It does not relate to the perception of human eyes. Night vision cameras, binoculars, heat detectors and drones have their own ways of seeing the world.

Empty Nightclub (Ben Edelberg, 2017, 8 min, Canada/US)

Empty Nightclub is a maze of urban streets, dark corridors and dance floors. The video weaves scenes from Orlando, New York, Chicago and Toronto to take the viewer on a mysterious journey. Are we looking for the party or are we desperately searching for the exit?

Onward Lossless Follows (Michael Robinson, 2017, 17 min, US)

A password-protected love affair, a little vapor on Venus, and a horse with no name ride out in search of a better world. Against the mounting darkness, a willing abduction offers a stab at tomorrow.

Missing In-Between the Physical Proper (Olivia Ciummo, 2016, 6 min, US)

Missing In-Between the Physical Proper is a collage of sound and video that speaks to relations between the planet, death, and transformation. Re-photographed landscapes and text suggest ideas of commodification.

Speculations (Ben Balcom, 2016, 18 min, US)

A portrait of Bellona, somewhere in the middle west. Catastrophe lingers in the periphery. Shadows crossing shadows, standing side by side. Some of these people we used to meet at random while out working or walking. They talk about feeling their way through this precarious place. Most of them are gone now. The city soaks them up.

TRT: 65 minutes; All Digital Projection

 Incense, Sweaters & Ice, Martine Syms, courtesy of Video Data Bank, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Incense, Sweaters & Ice, Martine Syms, courtesy of Video Data Bank, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, March 10th, 8:00 pm

Reception, 7:00-8:00 pm

Incense, Sweaters & Ice

Incense, Sweaters & Ice (Martine Syms, 2017, 69 min, US, Digital Projection)

Incense, Sweaters & Ice follows a woman through a series of events and interactions in her daily life, sparking a conversation on the surveillance of black people throughout history and on the internet. The main characters Girl, Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White, and WB (white boy), are shown in different modes of public, private, and online performance. This work examines being looked, being unseen, and the murky area in between.

 Filter, Jaako Pallasvuo, courtesy of AV-arkki Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art

Filter, Jaako Pallasvuo, courtesy of AV-arkki Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art

Sunday, March 11th, 3:30 pm
Shorts Program 5: Sensing

Discussing the relationship between objects, people, and theory, these films examine several problems in an artists relationship with their work. They reflect an artists reaction to their surroundings personally and culturally.

Trigger Warning (Scott Fitzpatrick, 2017, 5 min, Canada)

An examination of everyday household objects based on a list published in the December, 2016 issue of Harper's Magazine, shot on a camera shaped like a gun.

Murmur (Inaya Graciana Yusuf, 2017, 3 min, US)

An experimental manipulation of memories, unraveling one's mental health and behavior shaped by a childhood past.

Sounding (Carl Elsaesser, 2017, 5 min, US)

A film inspired by a period of time the filmmaker was spending in various doctors' offices. Using one person's account of Anesthesia Awareness, Sounding is an exercise in examining the boundaries of a body through mapping out its landscape the way an oceanographer would the sea floor.

Rumble Bumble™ (Zachary Hutchinson, 2016, 6 min, US)

Rumble Bumble™ has become very fashionable, making them a necessity for youngsters, as well as adults. Animal lovers across the nation have developed a fondness for these adorable critters. Each design is uniquely poseable, bringing endless enjoyment to both young and old. We dominate in categories including collectables, craft, dolls, games and youth electronics and are consistently recognized as the most creative company in the industry.

Mahogany Too (Akosua Adoma Owusu, 2018, 4 min, US)

Mahogany Too takes the 1975 cult classic Mahogany–a fashion-infused romantic drama–as its base. The film examines and revives Diana Ross's iconic portrayal of Tracy Chambers. Analogue film provides vintage tones, which emphasizes the essence of the character, re-creating Tracy’s qualities through fashion, modeling, and styling.

Welcome to David Wojnarowicz Week (Steve Reinke, 2016, 14 min, Canada/US)

Welcome to David Wojnarowicz Week is the follow up to A Boy Needs a Friend. Reinke proposes a new holiday with the motto MORE RAGE LESS DISGUST: David Wojnarowicz Week and takes us through his seven days of celebration. Plankton, Kafka, Bette Davis, Wednesday afternoon visits with friends, more plankton, burning villages, Hollis Frampton, Sammy Davis Jr. as a libidinal machine producing sadness, opera, disembowelment, and poetry.

Filter (Jaakko Pallasvuo, 2017, 25 min, Finland/Canada/Germany/US)

“Mixing crude animation, 3D modeling, and faux filmic textures in a self-reflexive essay on digitally abetted nostalgia, this playful work of fair use pastiche refracts all manner of postmodern touchstones (David Foster Wallace, Talking Heads, Reality Bites) into an aesthetic interrogation of its own methodology, resulting in, to paraphrase one onscreen subject, a critique of a critique of a critique.” - Projections NYFF

TRT: 62 minutes; All Digital Projection

 CPS Closing & Delays, Kristin Reeves

CPS Closing & Delays, Kristin Reeves

Sunday, March 11th, 5:30 pm

Shorts Program 6: Listening

The four films in Listening have specific stories to tell us. They are simultaneously teaching tools and alluring feats of cinematic prowess, giving us the space and time to hear them clearly.

Kingsway (Jeffrey Chong, 2017, 6 min, Canada)

Kingsway’s design dates to the golden age of the automobile when the route was once the only highway into Vancouver, but now its monumental scale contrasts with the human scale of family neighbourhoods and storefronts. Architectural signs and symbols overpower the foreground evoking the automotive scale, but present-day buildings and spaces reflect a changing vernacular as portrayed by the street’s soundscape and the road's new sense of place.

CPS Closings & Delays (Kristin Reeves, 2017, 7 min, US)

The Chicago Board of Education made history in 2013 approving the closure of 50 schools, the largest public school closing to date in the United States. I shot all 50 schools on a 100’ roll of 16mm film while my DSLR caught vignettes of their communities.

El Manguito (Laurentia Genske, 2017, 19 min, Cuba/Germany)

El Manguito is a small village in the inaccessible woodlands of Sierra Maestra in Cuba. Twelve people live there, cut off from the outside world, without electricity supply and drivable roads. Idael, the head of the familiy, his wife Nelcis, his children, friends and brothers. The film accompanies the family in their everyday life. It takes the audience to an unknown world and shows how deeply rooted the socialist system still is in Cuba. A teacher comes to El Manguito five days a week to teach Idaels youngest son. Even in a remote place like this, education is provided for. But many other things seem to be neglected.

Fluid Frontiers (Ephraim Asili, 2017, 23 min, Canada/US)

Fluid Frontiers is the fifth and final film in the ongoing series entitled The Diaspora Suite exploring Asili’s personal relationship to the African Diaspora. Shot along the Detroit River, Fluid Frontiers explores the relationship between concepts of resistance and liberation, exemplified by the Underground Railroad, Broadside Press, and artworks of local Detroit Artists. All of the poems are read from original copies of Broadside Press publications by natives of the Detroit Windsor region, and were shot without rehearsal.

TRT: 55 minutes; All Digital Projection

 Amarillo Ramp, Bill Brown and Sabine Gruffat

Amarillo Ramp, Bill Brown and Sabine Gruffat

Sunday, March 11th, 7:30 pm
Shorts Program 7: Looking

Five works that allow the viewer to loose themselves in a calm space of looking. The artists in this program are listening to their influencers, and making a comment on what it is to think, look, and make.

Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor (Lynne Sachs, 2018, 8 min, US/Sweden)

From 2015 to 2017, filmmaker Lynne Sachs visited with Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer and Gunvor Nelson, three multi-faceted artists who have embraced the moving image throughout their lives. From Carolee’s 18th Century house in the woods of Upstate New York to Barbara’s West Village studio to Gunvor’s childhood village in Sweden, Sachs shoots film with each woman in the place where she finds grounding and spark.

Anche in Paradiso Non è Bello Essere Soli (Even in Paradise it’s Not Good to be Alone) (Lorenzo Gattorna, 2017, 8 min, Italy/US)

In memory of Nonno Pierino.

Pancoran (Richard Tuohy, 2017, 9 min, Australia/Indonesia, 16mm)

Jakarta traffic moves with the harmonious chaos of complex self organising entities everywhere. Through contact printer matteing techniques this mass transport becomes denser and denser until only the fluid futility of motion/motionlessness remains. Jakarta traffic stands as proof of the paradox of motion.

The Open Window (Lynne Siefert, 2017, 7 min, US)

Like restless waiting missiles, pillars of industrial machinery send us to desolate lunar surfaces. 

Amarillo Ramp (Bill Brown and Sabine Gruffat, 2017, 24 min, US)

Perhaps best known for his monumental Utah earthwork ‘Spiral Jetty,’ American sculptor Robert Smithson profoundly shaped how we understand landscape and land use. This experimental Super-16mm film documents Smithson’s final earthwork, ‘Amarillo Ramp,’ located in the Panhandle of northwest Texas. Employing filmmaking strategies that are both responsive to the artwork’s environmental context and informed by Smithson’s own art-making strategies, Gruffat and Brown encounter Smithson’s Ramp as an index of the Capitalocene, T.J. Demos’ critical term for our current geological epoch, marked by the unprecedented degree to which capitalist interventions have altered the earth’s ecosystem. Surrounded by the infrastructure of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), adjacent to a significant wind power transmission corridor, and set atop the rapidly depleting Ogallala Aquifer, Amarillo Ramp is an observatory where human interventions and land uses and human scales of space and time are set against geological and cosmic scales.

TRT: 56 minutes; All Digital Projection, except where noted


Individual film/video descriptions provided by the artists, except where noted.