By Stacey Lewis
Traveling the world in two weeks is no longer a privilege reserved for the elite few, as the 49th installment of the Chicago International Film Festival will take viewers on a complete world tour, all while they remain in the comfort of their movie theatre seats.
The highly anticipated event, which runs from October 10-24, is the oldest competitive film festival in North America. It continues to be a leader in bringing foreign films to the forefront, with an astounding list of 180 movies from over 60 countries being presented this year.
Among the highlights of the Festival this year is the highly anticipated 17th Annual Black Perspectives Tribute, which will honor film writer, director and producer George Tillman Jr. with the distinguished Career Achievement Award on Friday, October 11.
International star and Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson, will present that honor to him. The Academy Award and Grammy Award-winning actress and singer also stars in Tillman’s latest film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, which will be screened immediately following the awards presentation.
“As a writer and director, Tillman has told funny, inspiring and heartbreaking stories that capture the energy and complexity of the African-American experience,” says the Festival’s founder and artistic director Michael Kutza.
“We are pleased and honored to present him with this award and we are also delighted to welcome back past Black Perspectives honoree Jennifer Hudson to the Festival. Hudson shares Tillman’s deep love for this city. I am quite sure this evening will be special for both of them.”
Tillman’s film, The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete, takes place during a sweltering summer in New York City, when 13-year-old Mister’s hard-living mother (Jennifer Hudson) is apprehended by the police, leaving the boy and his friend, nine-year-old Pete, alone to forage for food while dodging child protective services and the destructive scenarios of the Brooklyn projects.
It has been called “a beautifully observed and tremendously moving film about salvation through friendship and the way transformation sometimes can happen just by holding on long enough.”
Tillman’s Career Arc
Born January 26, 1969 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tillman was inspired to make movies of his own after seeing the film Cooley High.
He entered Columbia College here in Chicago, where he majored in film and video. There, he made the 30-minute short, Paula, which told the story of a 17-year-old single Black mother. It received numerous accolades, including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Student Academy Award and the Black Filmmakers’ Hall of Fame Award.
Tillman graduated in 1991 and formed a directing/producing partnership with fellow student Robert Teitel, under the company name of Menagerie Films.
In 1994, Tillman wrote and directed his first feature film, Scenes for the Soul, which was shot entirely in Chicago using local talent and resources. In Scenes, Tillman skillfully intertwined three different stories by casting himself as a documentary filmmaker who peeks into a day in the life of a disparate group of characters.
He and Teitel raised $150,000 through a group of Chicago investors – ranging from doctors and lawyers to blue-collar workers enthused about the local project – to finance the film. When it was completed, Tillman had $400 left to his name. He drove to L.A. and got his film seen by Doug McHenry and George Jackson, who acquired it for Savoy pictures for one million dollars.
Following this success, Tillman wrote Soul Food, which was a film that he hoped would tell a deeply imaginative, from-the-heart story about a contemporary African-American family. He based the story on his own childhood experiences growing up. The film, starring Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, and Nia Long, was a critical and financial success that begat its own cable TV series and grossed over $43 million domestically.
State Street Pictures became the name of Tillman and Teitel’s new company – a reference to their early film years in Chicago.
Tillman went on to direct Men of Honor starring Oscar-winning actors Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Robert DeNiro. The epic story was inspired by the life of Carl M. Brashear, a man who came from humble beginnings to battle the obstacles of racism, lack of education and serious injury to become the U.S. Navy’s first African-American master deep-sea diver.
After the success of Men of Honor, which grossed $85 million worldwide, George ventured into producing. In addition to his role as executive producer of “Soul Food: The Series “for Showtime Networks, he and Teitel produced the films Barbershop and Roll Bounce. Barbershop, starring Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Eve and Cedric the Entertainer, opened to record-breaking box office success, and spawned the sequel Barbershop 2: Back in Business and Beauty Shop starring Queen Latifah.
Tillman stepped back into the director’s chair in 2007 to direct the biopic Notorious, the edgy telling of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s life. The film starred the unknown Jamal Woolard as Christopher “Biggie” Wallace, Derek Luke as Sean “Puffy” Combs, Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace, and Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur. It grossed over $43 million worldwide.
Tillman directed Faster with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2011, but had also fallen in love with The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete in 2009 and spent three years trying to get the film made. It debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with a cast including Jennifer Hudson, Anthony Mackie, Jeffery Wright, Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon. Songstress Alicia Keys was a co-producer and wrote the film’s score.
Tillman is currently in development on the Miles Davis biopic Miles: Prince of Darkness.
Tillman’s special night at the Chicago Film Festival begins with a red carpet event at 6 p.m. at the AMC River East 21 (322 E. Illinois Street) followed by a special presentation of The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. Jennifer Hudson is scheduled to join Tillman on the red carpet and at the tribute. An after-party follows immediately at Altitude at the W Chicago Lake Shore Hotel.
(N’DIGO staff contributed to this story.)
Festival passes can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com/chicagofilmfestival; by phone at 312/332-FILM (3456); at the Festival box office at AMC River East 21, or at the Cinema/Chicago office (30 East Adams, Suite.