Miranda July's "video chain letters" for women filmmakers get some respect at the Siskel.
Given the success of her 2005 film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and her 2007 book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July has become a recognizable name in the arts. But long before she even began working on such successes, July founded Joanie 4 Jackie, an alternative distribution company turned supportive community for women in filmmaking.
The way the organization worked was simple: A filmmaker would send in a copy of a film she’d made and, in return, receive what was called a “chain-letter tape” consisting of bits of others’ video projects or films. Occasionally, July would organize screenings of the films she collected. This started in 1995, before the Internet and social media made it so easy to share work and create any sense of community for budding filmmakers outside of New York or Los Angeles.
Although July’s current involvement in Joanie 4 Jackie is that of “almost consulting,” as she says, she’s glad it’s still going strong and getting attention in the form of exhibits and screenings, including an upcoming series at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
“When I first started gathering the movies, having screenings seemed to be the only way the women could see each other’s work,” July says. “It felt like the more people became aware, the more they’d come together. It was really a whole different world, where the only way to show and see work was really by coming together.”
The network July launched and the subsequent archive of films by hundreds of women will be highlighted on October 16 at Joanie 4 Jackie: The Lady Glitterati of the New Movie Uprising, at Conversations at the Edge, the weekly series put on by the School of the Art Institute. Though July won’t be present for the screening, her influence will be felt in the films.
Amy Beste, an SAIC instructor who puts on the Conversations series, says she’s been interested in doing a retrospective of Joanie 4 Jackie for quite a while and finally decided this semester would be perfecting timing. She sees it as a response to the series’ Chicago Underground Film Festival retrospective, which took place earlier this year.
“What I think is really interesting about Joanie 4 Jackie, especially in the face of this sort of YouTube revolution, which is kind of overwhelming and impersonal, is that people respond to the idea of the chain-letter tapes,” Beste says. “It comes into your home, which makes it special, and people are drawn to the DIY, craft-oriented nature of it.”
Beste adds that with so many filmmakers spending time on computers, cell phones and social networking sites, it’s a relief to be involved in something more hands-on. “The fact that someone spends time editing these tapes to send back out creates a real specialness, too,” she says.
Beste says the Conversations at the Edge audience members know they’re in for a variety of innovation and forms of film, so Joanie 4 Jackie “fits within the M.O. of the series.”
Perhaps the most significant difference between this screening and others of the series is that it features work by women exclusively, which July says was her original focus.
While July continues to work in several mediums, she maintains it’s especially important to have a community-based forum like Joanie 4 Jackie specifically for women working in film.
“Any area is good, but I think video has a real power,” July says. “You don’t have to be superliterate. Maybe you’re not that confident with your English, or you suck at school; but with video, all you need is the technology to be made available, and it can potentially be really democratizing.”
Next week’s screening will show a wide range of work from throughout Joanie 4 Jackie’s history, including films by July, Naomi Uman, Tammy Rae Carland, Dulcie Clarkson, Zoey Kroll and cocurator Shauna McGarry.
Joanie 4 Jackie: The Lady Glitterati of the New Movie Uprising plays at the Gene Siskel Film Center October 16.