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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New podcast The City brings back memories of Alderman Bill Henry and dealmaking in Chicago

Posted By today at 06.00 AM

Bill Henry at age 26, when he was still a foot soldier in the 24th Ward - THE CITY
  • The City
  • Bill Henry at age 26, when he was still a foot soldier in the 24th Ward

More than 30 years ago, I heard a relatively unknown west-side politician make a passionate declaration about dealmaking in Chicago that's been ringing true for me ever since.

The politician was 24th Ward alderman William "Bill" Henry. His declaration came amid the chaos and cacophony of the special City Council meeting on December 2, 1987, when aldermen came together to elect an interim mayor in the aftermath of the death of Harold Washington just a few months into his second term.

My memories of Henry come back stronger than ever thanks to The City, USA Today's entertaining and enlightening ten-part podcast created by Robin Amer, my old friend and editor from right here at the Reader.

I'll get into The City in a little bit. Back to that fateful council meeting.

The choice for interim mayor came down to aldermen Tim Evans and Eugene Sawyer. As usual, the decision was streaked with racial overtones. Harold Washington was, of course, the first and only black mayor elected in Chicago. As such, he embodied the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of black residents.

Conversely, he epitomized the worst fears of many white residents that somehow giving more political power to Washington meant taking power away from them, as though Washington would do to them what other white pols had been doing to black residents for decades.

They were fears that never came close to being true. Chicago's white power brokers in the council wanted to elect a white successor to Washington. But they couldn't come up with enough votes to pull that off. So they came up with the next best thing—a black successor who would be more or less amenable to their white constituents. They settled on Sawyer. Meanwhile, most members of Washington's coalition went with Evans, Washington's floor leader. In retrospect, it's hard to see much difference between Evans and Sawyer—both of them had come up through the ranks of the Democratic machine. But, in the immediate aftermath of Washington's death, it was easy to be overwhelmed with grief and rage.

The meeting went on for hours with protesters in and outside of City Hall chanting "Uncle Tom Sawyer," and accusing Sawyer and his black supporters of looking to return Chicago to the days of "plantation politics". Near the end of the debate, Henry—who'd put together Sawyer's coalition of black and white aldermen—rose to address the accusations of betrayal and deal cutting, declaring in his inimically bold and booming voice something along the lines of: "Deals? We was all making deals!"

Like thousands of other Chicagoans, I was watching the proceedings in utter horror, fascination, and disbelief on TV. Henry's comments hit me like a sledgehammer. His voice was so strong, what he said about dealmaking so true. Of course, Evans and his supporters were making deals, just like Henry and Sawyer had been doing. All politicians make deals—especially in Chicago. It's the essence of Chicago politics.

Over the years I took to quoting Henry's lines to explain how Chicago politics works. In fact, I was quoting them not long ago when Robin Amer and her fellow reporters—Wilson Sayre and Jenny Casas—interviewed me about Henry's role in the story their podcast tells. After that interview, I wondered. Did Henry really say exactly what I say he said? I mean, we're talking about something that went down 30 years ago. I hadn't taken notes—I was quoting from memory. Maybe I was misquoting him. Maybe he said something like it some other time and I just imagined he said it at the council hearing.

Well, my memory received some vindication when Amer recently aired episode three of The City, in which Henry's introduced as a character. The podcast ran the recording of Henry's council speech, which Jenny Casas tracked down in the Bob Crawford Archives at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Just hearing Henry's voice—with all its righteous fury—brought me back in time to the council showdown in the wee hours of 1987.

"Let's talk about the deal. Let's talk about the deal," Henry begins. "We all was trying to deal. Everybody had a hidden agenda . .. Not a person in this City Council has the right to accuse another for cutting a deal. When they was busy cutting a deal."

It's a concise account of the transactional nature of Chicago politics. Nothing's free. If you want something, you've got to give something to get it—everything's quid pro quo. It's a game everyone plays—even "the reformers" who claim they don't.

His speech ends with catcalls and booing from pro-Evans spectators, as Alderman David Orr, who was running the meeting, slams down his gavel and calls for order.

Oh, Chicago, my adopted town.

"I share your love for that speech," says Casas. "I love talking about Bill Henry. He's so tragic to me."

As Casas notes, Sawyer's election was the pinnacle of Henry's career. In 1991, he was voted out of office—largely because his constituents never forgave him for helping Sawyer defeat Evans. In 1992, at age 56, he died of cancer.

There are so many details about Henry's life and The City podcast that I'd love to share. But I hesitate to give them away, because the podcast unfolds like a mystery, and I don't want to ruin its dramatic surprises.

In a nutshell, it's about a sleazy two-timing FBI mole and the dumping of six stories' worth of concrete debris on a vacant lot in North Lawndale. Residents around the dump were left vulnerable because city officials took bribes to look the other way as the dumping continued. Or they looked the other way because—you know, they didn't care about poor black people on the west side.

Ultimately, it's a story about graft, greed, and racism, which, alas, are long-standing traits in Chicago. Right up there with cutting deals.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Where and what to vote for this midterm election in Chicago

Posted By on 10.15.18 at 10:00 PM

  • Jeff Helsel

The spring Democratic primaries may be the hottest elections in Chicago, but there's plenty of action on this midterm ballot too. This November's    election features an opportunity to decide Illinois's next governor and attorney general, Cook County's new tax assessor, and a few contested county commissioner, state legislator, and congressional seats. Plus you can choose whether to retain dozens of judges in our civil and criminal courts.

First things first, however: registration. To vote, you must register. Luckily, you can do this at the polls. If you've never voted in Chicago before, you should bring two forms of identification, one of them with your current address—like a utility bill or a report card. You can find more information about ID requirements for voter registration here. You can vote in Illinois even if you have a felony conviction, by the way.

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German pop princess Kim Petras gets dark and campy with a Halloween-themed mixtape

Posted By on 10.15.18 at 05:38 PM

Earlier this month, Kim Petras released Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1. - THOM KERR
  • Thom Kerr
  • Earlier this month, Kim Petras released Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1.

German pop princess Kim Petras first got famous for something unrelated to her music: at the unusually young age of 12, she began hormone replacement therapy, at 14 she was officially registered as a girl, and by 16 she'd received gender confirmation surgery. But she's said in an interview with the New York Times that she doesn't care about being the first transgender teen idol. Petras, now 26 and based in Los Angeles, wants to be known as an artist.

Petras began her music career in earnest in 2017, and on October 1, she dropped her biggest release yet, the Halloween-themed mixtape Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1. It explores the darker side of her 80s-influenced sound, shifting from her trademark bubblegum pop to something moodier and more gothic. The mixtape's spooky electronic dance tracks ("Close Your Eyes," "Tell Me It's a Nightmare") are linked by largely instrumental breaks ("Omen," "Boo! Bitch!") with only occasional hushed vocals—and these passages carry you into the next song so smoothly that you might not even notice until you're halfway through it. Compared with the bright pop of her earlier work, Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 is spookier and sexier, with darker lyrics and thickly stacked synth chords that evoke the creepy organ sounds in pulpy old horror movies.

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At this year's Ginza Holiday, a lesson in kitsuke, the art of wearing a kimono

Posted By on 10.15.18 at 06:00 AM

Street View is a fashion series in which Isa Giallorenzo spotlights some of the coolest styles seen in Chicago.
Sarah Beharovic, 20, said she'd always wanted a kimono: "Now when I go to Japan and visit any festivals or special occasions I already have my attire." - ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo
  • Sarah Beharovic, 20, said she'd always wanted a kimono: "Now when I go to Japan and visit any festivals or special occasions I already have my attire."

Sarah Beharovic of Crystal Lake was rocking a kimono earlier this fall at the Ginza Holiday Japanese Cultural Festival, an annual event held at the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Lincoln Park. But her roots are far from Japan—Sarah's parents were born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and her family endured the hardships of the Bosnian war in the 90s. After a time as refugees in Germany, they came to America with whatever they could fit in two suitcases.

Now an aspiring model and photographer, Sarah has expanded her wardrobe considerably since then, and at the festival itself the 20-year-old picked up her latest acquisition: a kimono from Ohio Kimono, one of the largest online stores of its kind in the States. Manning the booth was Kerry, aka the Kimono Lady (she preferred not to give her last name), who painstakingly styled Sarah in traditional attire.

"It was an absolute joy to introduce Sarah to kitsuke, the art of wearing a kimono," Kerry said. "Hers is a casual piece known as a yukata, which is made from a cotton print fabric." Kerry paired this with an informal version of the sash worn around the waist, a hanhaba obi. "The kimono and obi have their own rules, and it is important to match them correctly," she said.

Kerry admires the slow and intricate ritual of donning a kimono and laments our hasty modern ways. But for those with less patience she recommends a haori, the coat worn on top of a kimono: "A haori looks great with a shirt and pants, and they do not require any special knowledge or accessories to wear."

More pictures after the jump.

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Chicago International Film Festival and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 10.15.18 at 06:00 AM

Rafiki, playing at CIFF Thu 10/11, 6 PM; Sat 10/13, 1:30 PM; and Thu 10/18, noon
  • Rafiki, playing at CIFF Thu 10/11, 6 PM; Sat 10/13, 1:30 PM; and Thu 10/18, noon

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Indigo Nation Denim Festival and more of the best things to do this weekend

Posted By on 10.12.18 at 06:00 AM

  • courtesy Indigo Nation

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here’s some of what we recommend:

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The shorter end of the Chicago International Film Festival: A talk with shorts programmer Sam Flancher

Posted By on 10.12.18 at 06:00 AM

"Shorts Program 8: Meditations (Experimental)" - COURTESY CIFF
  • courtesy CIFF
  • "Shorts Program 8: Meditations (Experimental)"

With any film festival, there's the long and the short of it. More specifically, there are narrative and documentary features, which comprise the bulk of most major festivals, and then there are the short films, officially defined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits." Often overlooked for bigger stars, larger budgets, and longer running times, short films nevertheless embody the philosophy of any good film festival, which is to revel in the thrill of discovery and, more importantly, the opportunity to take risks with the medium.

We've covered the long of it, so what about those shorts? I spoke with Sam Flancher, the short film programmer at the Chicago International Film Festival, about this year’s shorts programs, of which there are eight in total, ranging from documentaries to a new experimental series. Flancher graduated from Columbia College Chicago and has been with the festival since 2012, when he started as a volunteer; he started programming the shorts in 2016.

What do you think of short films in general, as a sort of genre in and of themselves?

I think there’s limitless potential with the short format. People have fewer expectations about what short films should be or how they should work, so I think shorts tend to be free from a lot of the constraints that can bog down feature-length films. When they're at their best, short films are under less pressure to create a saleable product (it’s really hard to make money with a short film), so that allows filmmakers to take risks they might not have if they were under pressure from investors or moneyed interests that were trying to see some return on their investment. The result is a lot of experimentation and risk taking that's unique to short films—there's more room to challenge your audience.

What is the process by which the short films are selected and then curated into programs?

We receive around 3,500 submissions to our open call for entries every year, so most of the films selected for the festival are curated from that list. I’ve got an incredible staff of volunteer pre-screeners that help me review all of those films to find works that we'd like to bring to Chicago. I usually start by just compiling a big database of all the quality work that gets submitted regardless of which specific category it might fit into. Once that list starts to get to a few hundred films, we start to hone them down and consider what films might fit well together, and we build our programs from there.

Solar Walk
  • Solar Walk
What's CIFF's overall strategy with short films? Each festival seems to have its own perspective on the art form.

We try to do a few different things with the short film program. The festival takes pride in its history of discovery, so we're looking to identify filmmakers and perspectives in the short film program who we want to hear from again. It's often happened that alumni of the shorts program will return to the festival with a feature film should that be where their career takes them, so part of it is building relationships with artists whose future work you're excited to see.

We also try to make sure there’s a broad range of perspectives and styles in the program. An individual shorts program is a great opportunity to encourage audiences to engage with different varieties of work. I like it when people come up to me after screenings to tell me that they loved one of the shorts but hated another. When that happens I feel like I've done my job well. I really think there's something in each program for everyone, but it's impossible to think that someone will like all the films. That's the best thing about going to see a short film program—if you don't like what’s on screen you know it'll be over soon and there’ll be another film up there in a few minutes.

What might festivalgoers be able to expect from this year's shorts programs that they haven't seen in years past?

We're doing a few new things with the program this year. First, in line with a festival sidebar, we're doing a program dedicated to comedic shorts. That's different from past years because the comedies are typically peppered throughout all eight programs, and this year there's a concentration of them into one block. It's got a pretty wide range of types of comedy—there’s dialogue-driven star vehicles and nearly silent slapstick romps—so I'm excited to be in the theater for that one to see how the audience responds. There are some oddballs in there.

The experimental program is also new. I’ve wanted to put something like this together for a really long time. My personal taste tends to be on the experimental side in general, so in past years I'd been including non-traditional work in the other programs. I think we realized that there's a robust community of cinephiles in the city who want to see challenging, non-traditional work on the big screen, and there’s room for the festival to engage with them in a more meaningful way this year and going forward.

After seeing Melika Bass's Creature Companion and Deborah Stratman's Optimism, I knew we'd be able to build something around these two dreamy, if incredibly different, works by Chicago filmmakers. The two other films in the program, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blue and Isabelle Tollenaere's The Remembered Film, are also both excellent and doing something similar with the way they handle their explorations of narrative and time. After the screening we’ll be doing an extended discussion with Melika and Deborah that will give the audience some really good context and insight into what they’ve just seen. I've been a fan of both for a long time, so I still can't believe we get to put on this event. It's a dream come true.

  • Tourneur
What are your favorite shorts from this year's festival? What can't be missed?

Well, I think they’re all good and worth taking a look at! I'll try to choose some standouts though. I think the experimental program is really strong and would recommend everyone see that. In the short documentary program ("Shorts Program 4: In Real Life") there’s a film called Tourneur by Yalda Afsah that has been in my head since the moment I saw it—it's an observational doc about this strange bullfight in the south of France where they pump tons of foam into the rings with the bull and then kind of dance around it in an attempt to agitate it. It ends up being this meditation on spectacle and absurdity as the bull and these young men wander in and out of the foam. It's incredible and is a standout among a program of really strong docs.

I also think the block of animated shorts ("Shorts Program 2: Outside the Lines") is particularly strong. There’s a film in there called Solar Walk that was one of the first films I sent an invitation to this year. It’s a beautiful mixture of hand-drawn and 3D animation and follows these two intergalactic travelers as they meander in and out of surreal landscapes. The structure finds images and set pieces just kind of bleeding into one another, and it makes for a really pleasant, beautiful visual experience once you realize that you don’t need to try to hard to understand a story or characters.

One final one I’d like to mention is in a program of more traditional narrative dramas ("Shorts Program 5: Searchers") called L’été et Tout le Reste (which translates to "Summer and all the rest"). It's about two friends wrapping up their time working on Corsica, a vacation island. The guests have left, and they’re dreaming of their lives back on the mainland when their routine is revealed to one of them to be something important to him that he doesn’t want to give up. It’s a pretty irresistible movie and includes a few scenes with music from John Jacob Niles—a lute player and folk legend—that are really haunting. Definitely worth coming out for.

Do you think an appreciation of short films is important? If so, why?

I do think it's important to stop and consider short films. As I was saying before, I think they're often overlooked because there's no real financial structure for them to succeed—it's really hard to make money by making a short film. There’s a more democratic or proletarian attitude with shorts—anyone can make one—and I think that’s part of the appeal, and why audiences should consider prioritizing them when they're at a film festival or even just messing around on the internet looking for something interesting to watch. They're often films that were made for the sake of making them, and they're often made by young or new filmmakers. If you're looking to see developing voices or just works relatively free from commercial constraints, you should consider diving into the world of short films.

L’été et Tout le Reste
  • L’été et Tout le Reste
How do you recommend interested festival goers keep up with short films outside the festival?

There are plenty of avenues to see short films theatrically in Chicago. The Chicago Underground Film Festival always has an incredible lineup, as does CIMMfest, and Midwest Independent Film Festival. The Chicago FIlm Society does great work and often includes short films in their lineup, and the Music Box Theatre has plenty of events that feature short films as well. The Art Institute is also a great way to engage with short works, if in a different, non-theatrical setting. The Video Data Bank, in concert with the Art Institute, often puts on screenings of short works. There’s plenty of opportunities to see them here outside of CIFF. You just have to know where to look.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fast-casual Indian spot Tikkawala is taking a time out after just five months

Posted By on 10.11.18 at 02:39 PM

Tikkawala - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Tikkawala
Don't you hate it when this happens? You hear great things about a new place, but you know it takes time for restaurants to get in the groove, working out the kinks in the kitchen and front of the house. So you wait awhile to give it time to come into its own. Then you go and it either meets, exceeds, or disappoints expectations, but one way or another you're inspired enough to want to tell people about it.

And then you find out it's closing.

Tikkawala, which is closing Friday, is a fast-casual West Loop Indian restaurant with fine-dining pretensions from a pair of industry vets.

"We started off with a real amazing menu," chef Hiran Patel told me when I talked to him earlier this week before filing next week's restaurant review. "We hit a grand slam and got a lot of attention. It just didn't make sense in dollars and cents to continue, because everything was from scratch, and we only had four tables and no bar program."

Patel, a veteran of Klay Oven Kitchen and Veerasway, along with chef  Siran Singh (Roister, Veerasway), opened this tiny counter-service spot in June, by day feeding hot dogs and chicken seekh burgers to the kids from Whitney Young, and by night serving grown-ups (including enthusiastic early-bird food writers) more ambitious things like grilled shrimp with mango-apple salad and grilled lamb chops with Indian-spiced chimichurri and gingered potato puree.

Usually I wait about a month before I'll visit a new place, but I clearly slept on Tikkawala too long. I could tell right away something was up. Those dishes were nowhere to be found, and even things like the lauded rogan josh and saag paneer with fresh spinach were missing the cheffy garnishes that reportedlly had gussied these standards up. No chicken seekh burgers either—just a bare-bones lineup up of eight textbook dishes and a handful of sides. I tried them all, and they were all pretty good and fresh, even if somewhat restrained in their spice profiles. That restraint's intentional, according to the chefs, so that at least was on target.

But Patel tells me it isn't goodbye, just see you later. Another partner owns the building, so they're going to take some time to refocus and develop a concept that makes financial sense yet won't stifle their creativity. An intriguing five-course "Namaste Italy" dinner set for tonight has also been put off, but anyone who can't stave off a craving for the partners' take on Indian fast-casual can still hit up their two Naansense locations for lamb vindaloo tacos or channa tikka quinoa bowls.

Tikkawala 1258 W. Jackson, 312-455-1258, 

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

There are Chicagoans in the Chicago International Film Festival!

Posted By on 10.10.18 at 06:00 AM

The Hate U Give
  • The Hate U Give
It's that time of year again: the 54th Chicago International Film Festival starts tonight. Included in the lineup are many films made by Chicago-born or -based filmmakers or else set in our city. Here’s a quick and dirty guide about the films that really put ‘Chicago’ in the festival:

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Making All Black Lives Matter: Barbara Ransby talks politics and protesting in 2018

Posted By on 10.10.18 at 06:00 AM

table at yesterday's book talk.
  • Sign-in table at yesterday's book talk.
Barbara Ransby, a history professor at UIC, author of Making All Black Lives Matter, and one of the keynote speakers for the March to the Polls this Saturday, October 13th, hosted a book talk and discussion panel Tuesday at the SEIU Healthcare headquarters on Halsted. The panel also included Jaquie Algee, a board member and organizer of Women's March Chicago, and Chicago poet and playwright Kristiana Colón, cofounder of #LetUsBreatheCollective and creator of #BlackSexMatters.

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Agenda Teaser

Christina Aguilera, Big Boi Chicago Theatre
October 16
Performing Arts
August 26

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