by Christopher Rejano and Andrea Bauer.
It’s officially film festival season in Chicago. As the Gene Siskel Film Center’s long-running European Union Film Festival wraps up, two similarly enduring fests, the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Chicago Latino Film Festival, are shifting into gear this week. Though they offer wildly different programming—CLFF favors narrative features, CUFF prides itself on experimental fare—both festivals make it a priority to promote small, independent voices. Closing this year’s CUFF is American Arab, a documentary directed by former Chicagoan and Columbia College alum Usama Alshaibi and produced by Chicago’s venerable Kartemquin Films. Incorporating his own experiences as an Iraqi-American with those of Arabs across the country, Alshaibi explores the post-9/11 struggles and contradictions of Arab identities.
For this interview, Alshaibi talked with Carlos Jiménez Flores, a local Puerto Rican filmmaker whose deeply personal feature My Princess, a black-and-white drama shot and produced here, is featured in CLFF’s “Made in Chicago” segment. Like Alshaibi, Flores takes stock of race and ethnic issues, particularly those pertaining to his own community. The two filmmakers didn’t know one another prior to their conversation, but they quickly found common ground in their positions on the ethics of filmmaking and the narrow portrayals of race in media, and their deep connections to their respective backgrounds.
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