Interview: Mike McNamara of the Midwest Independent Film Festival Talks About 2009

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CHICAGO – Every month, on the first Tuesday, one of the most unique ongoing film festivals in the country takes place right here in Chicago. The Midwest Independent Film Festival, now in its fifth year, showcases feature films and shorts with an angle exclusively celebrating the Midwestern filmmaker.

Mike McNamara, co-founder and Executive Director of the festival, is the energetic leader of the proceedings, creating a full plate experience for each of the first Tuesdays. Audience members not only get the Midwest-oriented feature presentation, but also can participate in the film panel discussions before the show. Filmmakers – often associated with the evening’s film – share their experiences in producing, financing and even distributing their independent works.

Mike McNamara, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Midwest Independent Film Festival.
Mike McNamara, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Midwest Independent Film Festival.
Photo credit: Midwest Independent Film Festival

Tuesday, February 3rd, the 2009 Midwest Independent Film Festival kicks off with the a special advance screening of “The Poker House,” the directorial debut of actress and Iowa native Lori Petty. recently interviewed Mike McNamara about the recent triumphs of the popular festival – including December’s Best of the Midwest Awards – and what future expectations the “Midwest Indy” will reveal in 2009.

“The Best of the Midwest Awards were a unbelievable success for the Midwest Independent Film Festival and will launch us into a very successful 2009,” McNamara said. “I felt it was a superlative celebration for the Chicago independent film industry.”

The coming together of film industry professionals, actors and film buffs every month is a point of pride for McNamara.

“It’s very difficult to combine a serious film event with a vibrant social atmosphere and we worked really hard to get to that point and we have managed to balance and bring those two elements together,” McNamara said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to gain access to other filmmakers and meet some of your peers in an intimate setting.”

He added: “This is a complete evening. There is nothing like this festival anywhere in the country. We have a very high standard for the films we screen at the festival, plus we only consider films from Midwest filmmakers.”

“The Poker House” advance screening kicks off the Midwest Independent Film Festival in 2009.
Photo credit: The Poker House

It is that Midwestern perspective that feeds upon the burgeoning filmmaking scene in Chicago and the surrounding area, and McNamara feels there is a characteristic sensibility in the feature films and shorts.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘honest’. It’s going to be an honest and earnest production. It’s going to be character driven story, there’s not going to be a lot of things blowing up,” he said. “There’s not going to be a lot of frllls, it’s going to be honest storytelling, with a well written script and well executed with talented actors.”

Besides creating a convivial social atmosphere at each festival event – complete with before and after cocktail gatherings – McNamara considers the evolution of the producers panel discussions before the films to be a particular innovation.

“The producers panel has grown into a real anchor for the Midwest Indy,” McNamara said. “What I love about it, I always tell the panel it’s not just a ‘how-to’. This is about how the participant themselves produced their movie.”

He added: “If there is one thing I can grab onto from their story and relate it back to my own film journey, then that is extremely invaluable.”

Asked about festival highlights coming up in 2009, McNamara pointed toward event premiere films and showcases.

On Major Films: “I’m looking forward to the festival’s Midwest premiere of ‘The Merry Gentleman’. It’s Michael Keaton’s directorial debut. It stars Keaton and Kelly Macdonald. The film was shot in Chicago, written by Chicagoian Ron Lazzeretti and most of the cast and production team is from Chicago.”

On Special Shows: “On Tuesday, September 1st, we’re actually going to have a short program of films that are all produced by the Midwest advertising community. Basically, folks who make their living doing commercials, these are the films they have made. I think it’s going to be a rocking shorts program.”

On the Producer’s Panel: “This year, I’d like to have a discussion on self-distribution, distributing your own film and the opportunities out there.”

Mike McNamara concluded with a nod toward the special consideration the feature producers themselves get at the Midwest Independent Film Festival.

“The satisfaction for me personally is when filmmakers who have premiered their films at Sundance or Tribeca or any other great film festivals around the country, come and present their films through us, and then say this is the best screening and most fulfilling experience they’ve had for their film.”

The Midwest Independent Film Festival has film events every first Tuesday of the month. Feb. 3, 2009 features a special advance screening of “The Poker House”. Doors open at 6 p.m. at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema in Chicago. has ticket information and further details. Mike McNamara is also a featured actor in the American Theater Company’s Chicago stage production of “True West.” The theater’s website has more details. staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald,

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