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Film News: ‘Uncle John’ is Top Film at 2015 ‘Best of the Midwest’ Awards Night

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CHICAGO – On Tuesday, December 1st, the Midwest Independent Film Festival gave out their 2015 “Best of the Midwest” Awards with a ceremony at Rockit Bar & Grill in Chicago. Best Film honors went to “Uncle John,” directed by Steven Piet. Best Female Actor was Carisa Barreca of “Doomsdate,” Best Male Actor was Charles Whitcomb of “Full Frame,” and Best Director was Sonny Mallhi of “Anguish,” among other categories.

Mike McNamara, Rich Moskal, Charles Whitcomb
Best Male Actor Charles Whitcomb (‘Full Frame’) With Presenter Rich Moskal and BMA Host Mike McNamara
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

The evening was hosted by Festival Director Mike McNamara, and included presenters Betsy Steinberg – the new Executive Director of Kartemquin Films, Christine Dudley – the Director of the Illinois Film Office, Rich Moskal – Director of the Chicago Film Office, Billy Dec – Rockit Entertaiment & “Windy City Live,’ and a video appearance from the director of the Best Music Video, Nick Offerman. The event took place in the upstairs nightclub area of Rockit Bar & Grill in Chicago.

The Midwest Independent Film Festival is a year-round movie event in Chicago that takes place the first Tuesday of every month, at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. The festival has been recognized by Chicago Magazine in their “Best of Chicago” issue, and has become one of the top places for local filmmakers, producers and actors to network in the city, as evidenced by the heavy hitters in attendance.

HollywoodChicago.com was there at the “BMAs,” and talked to a few of the honorees, with their interviews underneath the award category.

StarBest Music Video
LOW KEY, directed by Nick Offerman for Tweedy

The hilarious and celebrity cameo filled music video for Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and his son Spencer for their new duo, “Tweedy,” was directed by actor Nick Offerman. Producer Alec Pinkston accepted the award.

HollywoodChicago.com: How did you become the producer for this particular video, with Nick Offerman and Jeff Tweedy?

Alec Pinkston: Jeff Tweedy and the founder of our production company [Odd Machine] Seth Henrikson had worked together years ago on one of Seth’s very first films. Nick had directed an episode of ‘Parks and Recreation’ that Jeff was in. So Jeff wanted Nick to direct the video, and connected the dots back to Seth and the company, because Nick had been working with us. It just all came together.

HollywoodChicago.com: What’s the first thing you talk about when you talk about your love for being a filmmaker?

Pinkston: Honestly, it’s about having and working with a crew that is equally passionate on getting things done. When you’ve been with such a crew, that has weathered many storms, you get to the point where there is nothing that can’t be conquered. I’m at that point with our crew, and nobody is intimidated by a challenge. It’s an amazing safety net to have on set.

StarBest Short Film
BABY MARY, directed by Kris Swanberg

Kris Swanberg, whose first feature “Unexpected” made the festival circuit in 2015, accepted the Best Short Film honor at the BMAs. She is in a filmmaker family, along with her husband Joe. 

StarBest Editing
Aaron Wickenden, ALMOST THERE

The poignant documentary featured some crafty filmmaking and storytelling.

StarBest Cinematography


The eventual BEST FEATURE honoree also featured a dreamy and mysterious atmosphere.

StarBest Artistic Specialization
Merje Veski, Art Direction, DIG TWO GRAVES

“Dig Two Graves” featured some vintage flashbacks, with period detail.

StarBest Screenplay
Jim Thompson and Martin Rodahl, HAPPY HOUR

Expressive and beautifully realized short film was expertly drawn. 

StarBest Female Actor
Carisa Barreca, DOOMSDATE

HollywoodChicago.com: What was your most triumphant moment as an actor on this film set?

Carisa Barreca: It was probably when we were filming the flashback series, and because it was a zombie romantic comedy I got to kill my roommate. It was the bloodiest scene I’ve ever done, and I’ve ever seen. [laughs] We were dripping in blood and gore, and a cannon actually shot the blood substance at me was I was doing the ‘killing.’ To make matters that much more triumphant, it was below freezing when we shot the scene, and the blood froze in my hair.

HollywoodChicago.com: What’s the first thing you talk about when you talk about your love for acting and films?

Barreca: The way it transports people, that’s what got me into it. Anything from a film, a web series or even live theater can do that, and you can be part of someone’s joy. They get to be with me through the work, and that might make their day.

Uncle John
John Aston in ‘Uncle John,’ the Honoree for Best Feature Film at the ‘Best of the Midwest’ Awards
Photo credit: FilmBuff

StarBest Male Actor

Charles Whitcomb, FULL FRAME

HollywoodChicago.com: Since this was the first time you’ve ever acted in film, and you hadn’t acted since high school, how did you collaborate with director Christopher Kelley to reach the depths that you did?

Charles Whitcomb: There are two factors. First, Chris is a phenomenal director. He tells you what he wants precisely, and when he gets it, he’s done. Secondly, I had a stepson who passed away less than a month ago, and we had a relationship that I could drawn upon. My experiences with him were accessed for my character.

HollywoodChicago.com: What type of previous film role in the history of the movies do you think would fit you as a character type?

Whitcomb I guess something like a western, where a sheriff has run out of time and has to defend himself. Or a really, really bad guy, much worse than my character in ‘Full Frame.’ [laughs]

StarBest Director
Sonny Mallhi, ANGUISH

HollywoodChicago.com: Your film had a specific vision, with an atmosphere that was both poignant and murky. What was the origin of the idea, and how did that vision evolve from that origin?

Sonny Mallhi: It’s a true story that I found, set in Illinois, and what I loved about it was the exorcist possession angle, and this one was more spiritual. That’s what interested me, the story itself and then creating a different feeling regarding that possession.

HollywoodChicago.com: When you yell ‘Cut’ on a set, does that mean you’re done, or are you interested in seeing what happens next?

Mallhi Before I start on a set, I always tell my Director of Photography to always keep rolling for a bit after they hear ‘cut,’ because you never know. This was my directorial debut, and we were on set for the first shot, and when it was done I was happy, and just started walking away. My assistant director came over and said, you have to yell ‘cut.’ I said, ‘oh shit’ and then said, ‘cut.’ I had never even thought about it.

StarBest Feature
UNCLE JOHN, directed by Steven Piet

Accepting the award for “Uncle John,” was lead actor Alex Moffat…

HollywoodChicago.com: What type of atmosphere is on a set that is directed by Steven Piet?

Alex Moffat: The atmosphere was focused. Steven knows what he is looking for, and has a vision. I’m from an improv background, and was still able to be loose in that way, because it the direction was efficient and clear. The moments happened organically and were able to be improvised sometimes.

HollywoodChicago.com: What type of role in movie history do you think is the same type of character you’d play?

Moffat This was my first feature film, so just to do this role was a huge honor. Whenever I see someone do a good psychopath, like Edward Norton in ‘Primal Fear,’ I see a lot of myself in them. [laughs]]

The Midwest Independent Film Festival kicks off again on the first Tuesday of the new year, February 2nd, 2016. Click here for details about the festival and how you can participate in what Chicago Magazine called “the place to be and be seen for veteran pros and up-and-comers.”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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