Category Archives: independent movies

Mike McNamara, Exec Director of The Midwest Independent Film Festival, Resigns

Mike McNamara

by Legendary Lew

Mike McNamara, Executive Director of The Midwest Independent Film Festival (MIFF), resigned today, less than a week before the organization’s upcoming fest in Chicago.

We reported here that MIFF had been at the center of sexual harassment allegations first expressed in a Facebook post by filmmaker Felix Piñeiro on October 22nd.

A few days ago, I had received an email with a statement signed by the festival regarding its investigation into this matter.

It’s important to note here that the post from MIFF, which is in its entirety below, does not mention those allegations.

I also want to note that, although I have personally heard from numerous sources implicating Mr. McNamara as the perpetrator, The Underground Multiplex has, as of yet, received no certifiable evidence tying Mr. McNamara to such allegations.

This is why we cannot and will not state unequivocally that he is directly connected to the sexual harassment charges.

That determination will have to be made by those more qualified to make any claims.

Today Mike McNamara stepped down as Executive Director of The Midwest Independent Film Festival. We wish him luck in his personal and professional endeavors. Effective immediately, The Midwest Independent Film Festival co-founder Mike Kwielford will serve as Interim Executive Director through the end of the 2017 season while we begin a formal search for a permanent successor.

“The Midwest Independent Film Festival’s mission has always been to celebrate and strengthen the Midwest filmmaking community,” Kwielford says. “Our patrons, supporters, and filmmakers can expect this mission to continue as we further grow the nation’s only film festival solely dedicated to the Midwest filmmaker.”

Since its inception in 2005, The Midwest Independent Film Festival has presented nearly 1,000 regionally produced independent full length and short films and served as a springboard for countless filmmakers and film industry professionals. We look forward to continuing this rich tradition under Mike Kwielford’s leadership.

You can view the original statement, posted on MIFF’s Facebook page, here.

 

 

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Rumblings in the Chicago Film Community Over The Midwest Independent Film Festival Story

by Legendary Lew

It’s been a few days since this blog posted the story of a possible impending sexual harassment scandal involving The Midwest Independent Film Festival.  From what I’m hearing via my contacts, many phone calls are being made. Responses apparently are ranging from no surprise to shock and surprise. If you are wondering whether people are paying attention to this or just shrugging it off, believe me, this issue is definitely dead center of the Chicago film community’s radar right now.

To those just learning about the scandal, filmmaker Felix Piñeiro posted about allegations of sexual harassment connected to someone involved in a monthly Tuesday independent film fest. The logical connection is The Midwest Independent Film Festival.

There’s a tendency by some to wish that resolutions to this problem occur at lightning speed.  Personally, I think the matter of ejecting whoever is committing these terrible acts against women could be resolved almost immediately.

I’m not posting about this as some sort of thrill. This is a very serious matter of people who have to endure shame, guilt and humiliation while trying to get careers off the ground in a job field they love. I, myself, was touched inappropriately by a woman who was my boss many years ago.  It sucks. Big time.

I have a media contact person who’s very interested in this issue. Anyone with further information regarding the charges can contact me at my email: lewojeda@gmail.com

A Few Updates on Midwest Independent Film Festival Sexual Harassment Story

by Legendary Lew

Yesterday, The Underground Multiplex reported on a damning post left on Facebook by film director Felix Piñeiro accusing an important person connected with a Chicago film festival of sexual harassment. The violations could have happened to as many as 20 different women.

Based on the detailed information given by Piñeiro about the festival, it was easy to determine that the fest in question is The Midwest Independent Film Festival.

After the post was published yesterday, our stats of viewership here boosted over tenfold, which tells me that many people out there are interested.

A few people had wondered about the veracity of my post. That’s a fair question. It’s why I followed up with a screenshot of the original post (Piñeiro’s original post was not set to “public” on FB, only to friends). You can find that pasted screenshot here.

I also want to let you know that I do have media contact and there’s at least one person very interested in doing a follow-up. This could happened if anyone directly involved in the sexual harassment allegations cares to step forward regarding the information brought forward in the post.

I’m also hearing that wheels are turning in regard to this explosive report.  People in the local Chicago film industry are paying attention to this and I’m hopeful that progress will be made.

As a peripheral part of the entertainment community, I know that these sort of reports spread like wildfire and that many here in Chicago do try to look out for each other. I imagine that if I were deeply involved in the community as an actor, performer or crew, the intensity of the discussion would deepen many times over.

Keep in mind that this update has to remain relatively vague, due to legal issues.  I will continue to keep you updated as much as I can with information that can be shared.

In the meantime, if you want to help. SHARE the original post. If the allegations brought up are true, it’s up to us to help the victims feel safe enough to come forward and tell their stories.

My contact is: lewojeda@gmail.com

Does The Midwest Independent Film Festival Have a Sexual Harassment Problem?

by Legendary Lew and Ty Pi

In an explosive Facebook post on Sunday, film director Felix Piñeiro (Cycles, I Am Not Broken) made public allegations of ongoing sexual harassment by a leading figure of the Chicago film scene.

Written with white heat, he could no longer contain himself knowing about a sexual predator targeting numerous women:

I’ve been aware of a certain someone in the Chicago film scene that has been sexually harassing (perhaps even assaulting — not exactly sure where the line is drawn) women for a while now. I was made aware of it over a year ago by one of the victims. It appears that in the end I know at least 3 of these women. He who shall remain nameless is the emcee of a particular first Tuesday “film festival” event that happens at a certain theatre that showcases independent film.

Just this week, it was brought to my attention by one of these women that a list of about 20 women with allegations has been made available and brought to this loser’s attention. When he found out about the list, he went into damage control mode and contacted this particular woman to explain that his “lack of sobriety” was to blame. This harassment continued for 5 years in this specific case.

Anyone involved in the Chicago film scene or who can do a simple Google search can figure out the film festival in question. The only Chicago film festival featuring independent films showcased on the first Tuesday every month is The Midwest Independent Film Festival (MIFF).

So now further questions must be asked:

To what extent does anyone at MIFF know these allegations exist?
Do the sponsors know there may be a very big problem brewing here? There are important corporate sponsors like Canon, United Airlines and also many Chicago film organizations connected to MIFF.
Then there’s the problem of public funding. The Illinois Arts Council helps fund the festival. Are they aware of potential public moneys given to a festival possibly harboring a predator?

We’re not journalists, nor do we pretend to be. However, it’s vitally important to start airing this discussion publicly if we want sexual harassment in the entertainment industry to stop. Local Chicago journalists have to pick up this story and investigate it.

And it’s vitally important for MEN to bring up these issues of women as targets of sexual harassment.

The entertainment industry has to clean up house. It’s our duty to help.

The following is Felix Piñeiro’s entire post as it appeared on Facebook on Oct. 22, 2017:

“Alright, I’m about to go all James Gunn right here. I agree with everything he says below for sure, but this in particular to the local scene in Chicago.

Since I’m not aware that anyone else has done this yet, I’m about to blow the lid on something I can’t hold back on anymore. It’s been eating away at me, and given the momentum of recent sexual assault allegations brought to light in Hollywood, now seems a good time as any. It’s always one of those things that’s tough to discuss because it becomes a he said/she said situation; not to mention unintended consequences in re-traumatizing victims and the unfortunate reality of a victim blaming society especially when it comes to women.

I’ve been aware of a certain someone in the Chicago film scene that has been sexually harassing (perhaps even assaulting — not exactly sure where the line is drawn) women for a while now. I was made aware of it over a year ago by one of the victims. It appears that in the end I know at least 3 of these women. He who shall remain nameless is the emcee of a particular first Tuesday “film festival” event that happens at a certain theatre that showcases independent film.

Just this week, it was brought to my attention by one of these women that a list of about 20 women with allegations has been made available and brought to this loser’s attention. When he found out about the list, he went into damage control mode and contacted this particular woman to explain that his “lack of sobriety” was to blame. This harassment continued for 5 years in this specific case. Right, because we all know that’s how this stuff happens. If only it wasn’t for this or that. That’s called gas lighting and people who use this tactic given allegations of such heinous acts are what we call sociopaths.

So you’re now sober for 18 months and that’s what made you all hands-y, huh? Ok, well explain this. I’ve been warning people about this guy ever since I heard about these allegations. Less than a month ago, on the set of my own film, one of the women working on my crew mentioned that she had worked the last film event thrown by this clown and that he, in her own words: “ …was all over me.” Really? FUCK YOU.

No tolerance for this bullshit. What angers me even more is that this hack literally has no say or power in the film scene. The whole “festival” is a circle jerk for a select group to aggrandize themselves that literally does zero for the artists. Not to mention the whole thing is a fraud (the “selections” are rigged) and the guy is a starfucker. It’s exploitation at the end of the day. We need counter-programming that is relevant to the scene.

What bugs me further is that there is NO WAY that I was the only person outside of the victims that knew about this, which leads me to believe that in many of these scenarios there are multiple abusers protecting each other. Now, I can’t prove that part for sure, but I do believe the women I have heard from.

It seems people are way easier at doing this when the bandwagon and momentum is already heading that way. Myself included. Point is — we can do better. This film community here is too small. A list of over 20 women gives me hope in the sense that this guy’s days are over. He definitely won’t be the last as our culture glorifies certain aspects of entitlement and ownership over women in the model we live in and until we address that we may continuously end up in this vicious cycle trying to find justice as opposed to preventing such things.

I have cringed to have to make appearances at these events knowing that people I know and have worked with sponsor this now toxic event. I would suggest those involved pull their resources because it’s a sinking ship and those who deserve it shall receive their comeuppance. I recently received notice that a project I worked on is being featured at the next event. I contacted the filmmakers with all his information to let them know that I will not be attending and will be boycotting the event for these reasons. I think you should too.

I have zero fucks to give in this department. I don’t care who is connected to who. That’s not an excuse. At the end of the day, we’re human beings and how I strive to be a better human is by calling these assholes out. I don’t care if you’re my family or friend. I’m calling you out and everyone else should too.

Seeing the hashtag #metoo was eye opening for many men including myself. I’ve got a new one for ya — #nomore 

BTW, this is not the first time The Underground Multiplex has been exposing actions against sexual harassment in the entertainment community. We’ve covered activism directed against The Profiles Theatre last year, just before that venue closed. You can find out about that action here.

Legendary Rochester Video Store, and Major Influence on TUGM, Shutting Down After 41 Years

Hyatt’s Classic Video (3rd location) (Courtesy: Rochester City Newspaper)

by Legendary Lew

In 1976 when Kodak was booming, and Rochester NY was, as a local newspaper crowed, “The Oz of the East,” Bob Hyatt expanded his 10 year-old stereo business into the brand new market of home video. He began acquiring Beta tapes of popular feature films and renting them to folks in the community and surrounding area. Soon, Hyatt’s Classic Video became a mecca for those who searched for a wide variety of titles from all over the world. Known for his tendency to “pack rat” videos and formats, he kept Betas, VHS, VideoDiscs, DVDs and even 8mm video features (used in the 1980s primarily on airlines) for as long as he could possibly keep them.

Hyatt’s Classic Video, located in East Rochester, New York, was more than a video store for me. I worked there for a few years in the late 1990s, but was a steady customer for a long time before that.

While I worked at Hyatt’s, I took the opportunity to check out and view the most mind-blowing collection of odd movies and TV shows I could have ever seen before the advent of the internet. Only the tragically short-lived Buffalo video store, Mondo Video, could come close to the strangeness of his collection.

But Bob didn’t really set out to gather the weirdest movies ever. He wanted the largest, so as to appeal to as much of the community as possible. From family features to art house obscurities, Bob had them all. He also, out of necessity for any indie video store to remain alive, had porn ranging all the way back to the 1970s. In fact, his insistence on stocking adult films from the very dawn of video ensured a devoted audience who shied away from the “plastic figures” of later DTV smut.

During the time I worked there, Hyatt’s had monthly rental specials for titles beginning with randomly selected letters of the alphabet. Looking through the lists, I began to wonder what certain mysterious titles were. This was before I had internet access, so looking up titles on IMDB was yet to be a convenience.

I searched through the VHS titles and decided to watch all the titles I did not recognize, especially those that were distributed by second line distributors. No MGMs nor Paramounts for me. I was watching titles from Sinister Cinema, Paragon, Gorgon and Vestron Video.

And boy, did that change my movie viewing life! Titles like Sweet Sugar, The Jar, The Cars That Ate Paris, W (from the Philippines), One-Armed Executioner, Circle of Power, The Killing of Satan, Beyond the Doors, The Loved One and many more astounded me. With the blessing of Bob, I created a photocopied newsletter of sorts, reviewing those and other selected strange titles. Once unknown neglected cult movies, sitting on the shelves literally collecting dust, began moving, and encouraged some lively chat with astounded customers.

This reaction fed a passion and obsession for unusual and strange cult movies that lives to this day. I carried it forward to Chicago, my new home, where brick and mortar video stores like Facets and Odd Obsession became my new searching grounds. With the explosion of digital sources, some of the finds became easier and with better visual quality. The marketability of cult movies, thanks to the success of directors like Quentin Tarantino, increased the likelihood of finding strange movies finally released on DVD.

Even so, some titles in Hyatt’s collection still haven’t seen a digital release. Finding them is the glory of browsing brick and mortar video stores.

Which makes the impending closure of Hyatt’s Classic Video a shame. However, I don’t take this as something that’s necessarily sad.

Hyatt’s Classic Video was an astounding success. It remained in business as a video store for 41 years!  I don’t know of any video store, independent or otherwise, that has lasted as long as Hyatt’s.  If so, it certainly has not been within the area.

It fought off other competing indies as well as Blockbuster Videos–4 of them surrounded Hyatt’s within a 3 mile radius at one point. Blockbuster actually was born and collapsed while Hyatt’s survived. Bob made the decision not to sell to Blockbuster at a crucial time during the 1990s and I’m so glad he saved the store.

Bob’s decision, in no small way, changed my life. It generated the interest and excitement for weird movies that I eventually carried to Night School (some of the movies I presented, I had first seen when I rented them from Hyatt’s) and will definitely be one of the acorn seeds that develops into Vital Media later this year and into 2018. I know for a fact that the store has influenced other media makers and film lovers.

So Hyatt’s Classic Video will soon be no more. But the spirit of indie will carry on with this site, Thrillo Pad Productions and all my future work.

Thanks to The Hyatt Family.

 

Flashback: Director Joseph Lewis Discusses His Film “Tyler B Nice”

Cast of

Cast of “Tyler B Nice” (l. to r.) Tyler Jenich, Director Joseph Lewis, Emilia Richeson

by Legendary Lew

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the production of the Joseph Lewis feature, Tyler B Nice, the strange film about a party gone wrong. It’s gotten the critical acclaim of people like Andrew Bujalski and is really due for a discovery.

We present here comments by the director and TUGM co-founder Joseph R. Lewis. His statements from ten years ago still hold truth for those who want to get the best results in independent media.

Oscar-Nominated Director Lexi Alexander Supports File-Sharing & Copyright Reform in One of the Best Damn Posts Ever Written on the Subject

lexialexander

by Legendary Lew

Oscar-nominated director Lexi Alexander came out swinging in a pro-file sharing post on her blog a couple of days ago, and man oh man, is it a doozy.

Alexander does a brilliant job calling out Hollywood for its faults, while also venting her frustration with pirates who belittle the art of filmmaking. I urge you to read her entire post on file-sharing, but I want to share with you this great passage from her post:

“We’re at the point where a studio consciously makes a shitty sequel, about which the filmmaker publicly states that he knows it’s shit (I don’t have to mention his name, you all know him) but that he couldn’t give two fucks…because all those stupid people out there will go buy a ticket anyway (and they did, as we now know)…File-sharers on the other hand don’t have a dog in this fight. They just care about good entertainment. That’s what I love about torrent sites, their illegal status has one huge advantage: No studio manipulation or propaganda. Go on any legal site and you’re instantly bombarded with “a-five-star-adventure” slogan pulled from reviews published in outlets whose main income is…you guessed it: Movie Studio advertisements. You know what it takes for an indie movie, which doesn’t get the reviews or the marketing budget, to stand out from all that crap? Word of mouth. Guess who can give you the strongest word of mouth campaign ever? That’s right, file sharers. Don’t believe me? Google UNTHINKABLE, MAN FROM EARTH, INK, etc.

Oh, Lexi, I love you!

Alexander points out that she’s one of the few vocal proponents of file-sharing (thank you, Lexi, for not calling it “piracy,” a term I thought was dumb to use from the beginning). The file-sharing fight will become a major irony in a few years, because 1) some Hollywood people support her views and are closeted about them so they already exist and share files, and 2) Hollywood will have to eventually deal with the existence of a fully-functioning torrent system that can evade all attempts to shut them all down. As I’ve mentioned in the past here on TUGM, most of Hollywood doesn’t understand they are missing out on PR opportunities supporting free torrent sites instead of their “cloud”streaming ripoffs. Alexander touches on this topic as well.

The Hollywood system of production and distribution sucks and is a reason to stop watching Hollywood movies.

Here’s a clip of director Lexi Alexander speaking to MSU students: