Growing up in Lake County, IL, I didn’t have access to independent cinema at all. There were mostly large chain theaters, or a few smaller chains that showed the same things the large chains did.
Just like seeing live music, seeing independent cinema in a theater required an hour trip to Chicago. The only thing resembling a film festival that I remember in Lake County was a “Classic Movie Film Festival” at the Marcus Gurnee Cinema. While more of a screening series than an actual film festival, these screenings were a rare chance to see movies that weren’t current releases in a theater. These events were programmed, promoted, and introduced by Daniel Chapp, an avid film fan whose passion for film was infectious.
Unfortunately Daniel suffered a stroke in 2000, and passed away. The film festival ended. Almost ten years later, I named one of the festival awards after him for his service and dedication in bringing cinema to Lake County, which served as one of my inspirations.
I had wanted to bring some sort of film festival to the area for some time, and in 2002, I bought Dog Ear Music & Movies, a video rental/music store in Libertyville, IL. I got it in my head that I could use my audience and resources at the store to help fund, promote, and generally facilitate holding a film festival. Those were still the nascent days of digital projection, and renting out the chain theaters were extremely cost prohibitive, so I wound up booking a double feature of 35mm films at the Liberty Theater, about a mile from the store.
I rented out the theater, secured 35mm prints of two of my favorite recent independent films I had seen, and printed some horribly designed posters, which I hung up around town, and on August 1st, 2004, The Lake County Film Festival was born.
The Date: 2004.08.01
708 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Libertyville, IL 60048
The Film Schedule:
The first festival more or less broke even (maybe a little less), but it did spark a lot of press, including a front page story in one of the biggest local papers. This led to a lot of people finding out about the store, and in the weeks after the film festival I was constantly fielding questions from new customers who said they wished they had heard about the festival earlier.
A few other things led to be barreling into the second year with excitement.
The first was that I auditioned for a TV game show called Ultimate Film Fanatic. I did an audition, they flew me out, I showed off my festival and film nerdiness, and I wound up winning my division and taking home cash, and a giant TV (which I turned into cash).
The second was that I discovered that what most festivals do is open a call for submissions to get independent films to submit their films (along with a fee) for consideration to be shown. Most small festivals use these fees to help pay for festival expenses.
Lastly, I discovered I could rent out various rooms around town and build my own theaters. This would eliminate the need for 35mm projectors and prints, as well as the costs associated with them.