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Englewood Film Festival designed to transform community: Mitchell

Updated: October 9, 2013 7:56PM

Everyone is buzzing about the mayor’s plan to bring Whole Foods to Englewood, but I find it hard to get worked up about a grocery store that won’t open for three years.

There is, however, something going on in Englewood that we should be buzzing about.

The 3rd Annual Englewood Film Festival will open Oct. 24 at the Chatham Theater with the glitz not normally associated with Englewood.

With any luck, Wesley Snipes, Darrin Henson (“Soul Food”), and Erica Hubbard (“Let’s Stay Together”) will be in town to walk the red carpet.

“I want Chicago to know this festival is a world-class film festival,” said Mark Harris, one of the festival’s co-founders.

“There has never been any incidence of violence, and we make sure that people are greeted with the right spirit.”

Harris and co-founder Alisa Inez have pulled off the event for the past two years without a penny from the city, and it is not getting any funding this year.

That’s surprising when you consider the city is working with the developer of the Whole Foods site on an incentive package in the range of $10 million.

Too often, entrepreneurs like Harris and Inez have to beg for crumbs on projects that could uplift struggling communities.

But just as Whole Foods is being pitched as the way to give low-income residents better food choices, Harris sees his film festival as a way to feed the community’s soul.

“If entertainment could be used to destroy the human mind, it definitely can be used to transform the human mind into positive thinking,” Harris told me.

“That is our total objective for the Englewood film festival — to transform the Englewood community,” he said.

Harris, 41, was born and raised in Englewood.

“I would spend hours sitting in my brother’s room watching movies,” he said.

After attending the University of Wisconsin in River Falls, Harris tried his hand at screenwriting. But without an agent or referrals, he couldn’t break into the industry.

“Coming from Englewood, we don’t know anybody in the business,” Harris said laughing. “I decided that if I wanted to tell my stories, I had to produce my own films.”

He made his first film in 2006, “Why Men Cheat.” The movie was never released.

“I didn’t know anything about the process of filmmaking,” he admitted.

In 2009, Harris finished “Black Butterfly,” a drama about a promising teen athlete who struggles after being raped. That film was released on DVD in 2012.

Inez, a former events planner for a major radio and TV station, worked with Harris on “Black Butterfly,” which was shot in Englewood.

“It was a natural process to help do something in a neighborhood that gets a bad rep,” Inez said. “We need to do this film festival to highlight some of the productive things that are happening because people shouldn’t feel ashamed of where they live.”

Alisa Starks, owner of Inner City Entertainment, the company that operates ICE Theaters, is an early supporter of the film fest and is sponsoring the event this year.

“One of our missions is not just providing first-run movie entertainment to the communities we serve,” she said. “It is also about giving independent filmmakers an opportunity to have their work shown on the big screen.”

The festival runs Oct. 24-27 and will kick off with Harris’ film, “Black Coffee, No Cream, No Sugar,” which stars Henson, Hubbard, Gabrielle Dennis (“The Game”), and Chicagoan Richard Gallion. Snipes’ “Gallowwalkers” also will be screened.

Because Englewood does not have a movie theater, screenings will take place at the Chatham Theater, 210 W. 87th St., but workshops and panels will be held at Hiram Kelly Branch Library at 6151 S. Normal.

Harris wants to build a relationship with Kennedy-King College so that in the future, all events will be under one roof.

“We just want to show that we are here to stay and we are not going anywhere,” he said.

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Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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