Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival

Thursday 5 – Sunday 8 September 2013

The Music Box Theatre is pleased to host the closing day of the 25th Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival. One of the premier festivals in the world devoted exclusively to experimental film and video, Onion City will present a rich selection of new work from September 5-8.

Onion City was founded in the 1980’s by the Experimental Film Coalition and run by them for many years. Chicago Filmmakers assumed responsibility for the festival in 2001, and expanded the size and opened it up to video work as well as film. It is generally 8-10 programs over four days and features roughly 60-70 works from around the world. Aside from the competition programs, there are occasional special presentations of new or old films of note or guest presentations. Screenings take place at Chicago Filmmakers and other venues around mid-June.

The mission of Onion City is to provide local and regional audiences with an opportunity to view a wide variety of contemporary experimental works, focused on artistic excellence but also with an eye towards representing differing styles, forms, and nationalities.

The screenings at the Music Box will include two matinee programs (Scott Stark’s mannequin-starring The Realist showing with Phil Solomon’s Grand Theft Auto-derived Empire; and James Benning’s Nightfall) and the Closing Night film: a Special Sneak Preview Screening of Gabe Klinger’s Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (2013, 70 min, DCP), fresh off its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Gabe Klinger will be in person to present this lively and fascinating portrait of two unlikely long-time friends, independent maverick Linklater and experimental film legend Benning, filtered through their mutual love of film and sports. Onion City is a production of Chicago Filmmakers. See the complete schedule at www.chicagofilmmakers.org/onion_fest.


Sunday, September 8th, 2013

  • 2:00pm: EmpireThe Realist
  • 4:00pm: Nightfall
  • 7:30pm: Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater


Sunday, September 8: Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave.)

Tickets: $10.00 per show for the 2pm and 4pm shows; $12 for the 7pm Closing Night program

Advance tickets for the Sunday shows at the Music Box Theatre will be available online through Chicago Filmmakers’ ticketing. Details available on the Onion City website.



  • Sun 8 Sep 2013, 2:00pm

Empire (2012)

“A re-make of Andy Warhol’s Empire from high atop the Manhattan Island of Grand Theft Auto IV (“Liberty City”), far from the madding crowd of thieves, cops, prostitutes and murderers down below. I hijacked a copter, leaped onto the rooftop of an adjacent building, spawned a scooter out of the thin air and then gingerly drove it to the very edge of the precipice in order to roughly approximate that familiar view from July 25-26, 1964.

“And then I put the controller aside and did exactly nothing for 24 hours (48 minutes in our world). A day of rest and bordered inaction. And lo and behold, the Overseers appear to have accounted for someone, somewhere doing exactly this, resisting the game’s narrative intention toward movement and action. Again and again, for 40 days and 40 nights, I was privy to a very different apperception of time and light, but one that was already embedded into the game’s code, if for no other existential purpose than to act as a gradually shifting rear screen projection for the street level mayhem.

“A thunderstorm threatens, then clears. High winds blow errant pieces of limned debris. Golden waters sparkle and dance as the west-turned sun sets in the rosy-fingered dusk. Night comes in. Mechanical fireflies and custodial lights dot the void. The moon (twice) comes out to play. The night canopy is gradually withdrawn, as the morning light of weekday commuting burnishes in from the east. As we approach full circle, the blue afternoon gradually reveals the Building in its final iconic silhouette state, as a single plane appears and flies across the horizon line, doomed to repeat its fated flight path in eternal recurrence.”

The Realist

directed by Scott Stark

“The Realist is an experimental and highly abstracted melodrama, a “doomed love story” storyboarded with flickering still photographs, peopled with department store mannequins, and located in the visually heightened universe of clothing displays, fashion islands and storefront windows. […] The Realist is a soaring visual romp peppered with turgid melodramatic moments, flickering visual rhythms that border on abstraction, and seductive images of commercial products with their dubious promises of physical nourishment and fashionable allure. In the process, It examines our own relationship to consumerist culture: we see in these commercial displays idealized, pre-packaged renderings of our own needs, desires and identities. Perhaps on some level we, too, communicate and define ourselves in the same way that the mannequins do; we are what we buy.”

  • Sun 8 Sep 2013, 4:00pm

Nightfall (2011)

directed by James Benning

“[W]hat makes American filmmaker James Benning’s latest film Nightfall distinctly cinematic is that for it to mean anything, one has to consume it in its entirety.

Shot in late September, Nightfall is a 97-minute take of a forest situated 8,000 feet high in Sierra Nevada, California. The film presents a deliberately unassuming composition recorded late enough in the day to allow its titular phenomenon to occur within a digestible timeframe.

Since one would never normally watch an actual nightfall with the same focus required of (and somehow attained by) a projected image, Benning’s recording of one makes us aware of it as an inevitable and natural process (…)
Benning noted in his post-film Q&A that he actually shot the film twice. First time round, he thought his chosen scene was affected too much by the wind and, distracted by a particular branch blowing throughout, decided to shoot it again on a day still enough to ensure as little moved within the frame as possible.

With light as the only visual variable ensured, the film’s extreme minimalism facilitates a strangely intimate communal experience in the confined discipline of the cinema. Its virtual absence of incident allows for one’s mind to wander (and perhaps even one’s eyes, to the surrounding physical space): because of the severity of the film’s set-up – its static framing, its real-time unfolding – one might legitimately find oneself wondering about that outside and beyond the on-screen space, particularly when primed by a new, unseen sound, such as an overhead plane or a distant car, the aural presence of which take on suggestive meanings in the absence of direct visual signification. (…)

Responding to whether or not there was a meditative thinking behind his work, Benning – who told a great anecdote about how he once skipped maths class to watch John Cage’s abridged reading of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake – said, “I have anxiety and this calms me down. It’s a reflection not of how I live my life but how I’d like to live my life.” The comment seemed to find a shared agreement in the room.” (Michael Pattison, Front Row Reviews)

  • Sun 8 Sep 2013, 7:30pm

Special Sneak Preview Screening of Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater

Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater

directed by Gabe Klinger

Fresh off its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Gabe Klinger will be in person to present this lively and fascinating portrait of two unlikely long-time friends, independent maverick Linklater and experimental film legend Benning, filtered through their mutual love of film and sports.

In 1985, former oil rig worker Richard Linklater began a film screening society in Austin, Texas, that aimed to show classic art-house and experimental films to a budding community of cinephiles and filmmakers. Eventually incorporating as a nonprofit, the newly branded Austin Film Society raised enough money to fly in their first out-of-town invitee: Milwaukee native James Benning, visionary filmmaker, who was then based in New York.

Accepting the invitation, Benning met Linklater and immediately the two began to develop a personal and intellectual bond, leading to future screenings and encounters. Starting in the late ’60s, Benning had been creating structural non-narrative films largely on his own, while Linklater had just begun to craft his first 8 and 16mm shorts. The filmmakers have remained close even as their careers have wildly diverged. After the cult success of Slacker (1991), Linklater went on to make big budget narrative films with Hollywood support. Benning, meanwhile, has stayed close to his modest roots and is mainly an unknown figure in mainstream film culture.

Working with legendary producer André S. Labarthe — who co-created the long-running French television series Cinéma, de notre temps (“Cinema of Our Time”) — the critic, teacher, and curator Gabe Klinger set out to document the unique friendship of Benning and Linklater over the course of a few days in Austin and Bastrop, Texas, while the two filmmakers presented Benning’s films at the Austin Film Society, played baseball at Linklater’s home, visited old shooting locations, and talked about their respective filmmaking trajectories over long meals and hikes.

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