‘Dishwasher Dreams’ captures immigrant trials and triumphs with humor and poignancy



Alaudin Ullah in Writers Theatre" 'Dishwasher Dreams'. (Photo by Amir Hamza)
Alaudin Ullah in Writers Theatre” ‘Dishwasher Dreams’. (Photo by Amir Hamza).

3.5 Stars

Closed for two years due to COIVD-19, Writers Theatre has reopened its 2021/2022 season with “Dishwasher Dreams.” A one-man show written and performed by Alaudin Ullah, it highlights the immigrant experience through the eyes of a father and son.

The show opens with and is accompanied by tabla percussionist Avirodh Sharma who adds a sense of cultural authenticity to the performance.  Sharma is considered one of today’s leading exponents of the tabla, carrying on the tradition of percussion rhythm that originated in India.

Ullah is a stand-up comedian whose family came from a very small town in Bangladesh. He grew up in New York City but is in L.A. auditioning for a major film role that could change the course of his career. Unfortunately, a family crisis hurls him back to New York and puts his own dreams on hold.

He takes the audience on a hilarious journey through his family’s history from colonial India in the 1930s to Spanish Harlem in the 1970s to present-day Hollywood.

This exhilarating trek will have you laughing and crying at the same time as Ullah shares his experiences of immigration, the Yankees and the pursuit of the American Dream.

At heart, Ullah is a storyteller dedicated to changing the misperceptions of South Asians and Muslims in our society. His performance covers a range of emotions dealing with prejudice and racism on stage as he tries to become a successful American.

For both father and son, there is more to life than being an undocumented worker with little opportunity for advancement. Ullah shows us with humor and commitment how he overcame this!

A playwright and performer with several TV and film acting credits, Ullah was one of the first South Asian comedians featured nationally on HBO, MTV, BET, PBS and Comedy Central.  He is currently working on a documentary of his book, “Bengali Harlem,” to be out next year.

The show is directed by Chay Yew, (formerly of Victory Gardens Theater) in association with Hartford Stage. Writers Theatre which recently changed leadership, is helmed by Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma and Interim Artistic Director Bobby Kennedy.

DETAILS: Dishwasher Dreams is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through January 16, 2022. Run Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information, visit writerstheatre.org. (Visitors must show a valid Covid vaccination card and must be masked through the entire presentation.)

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago






Five ideas to celebrate NYE


Brookfield Zoo Tunnel of Light sponsored by Xfinity. (Chicago Zoological Society photo)
Brookfield Zoo Tunnel of Light sponsored by Xfinity. (Chicago Zoological Society photo)

Lots of places from theaters and entertainment venues to zoos stay open on Dec. 31. Some are for kids, some for adults and some are for the whole family. Just know that reserved tickets and COVID protocols are in place.

Brookfield Zoo

See the zoo aglow with lights during Holiday Magic. A blaze with more than 2 million lights that includes, illuminated animal shapes and a tunnel of lights, Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic includes New Year’s Eve. The gates open at 3 p.m. and close at 9 p.m., Dolphins play from 4 to 6 p.m. (x fees). Brookfield Zoo South Gate is at 3300 Golf Rd. North Gate is at 8400 31st Street, Brookfield. For more information visit Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo.

Deck the Hallmark

If you second guess the endings to Hallmark’s movies you’ll laugh with the Second City crew’s Deck the Hallmark” parody. A two-0hour show with a 15 minute intermission, the New Year’s Eve productions are at 7 and 10 p.m. Packages can be general admission, drinks and food. The venue is at at the Up Comedy Club, 230 W, North Ave. For tickets and more information visit  Second City Deck the Hallmark.


Disney’s Frozen, a critically acclaimed musical for its special effects, costumes, storyline and songs has two performances, 1 and 6:30 p.m. in Chicago on Dec. 31, 2021. Hosted by Broadway in Chicago, the production is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. For tickets and more information visit Disney’s Frozen | Broadway in Chicago


Make it a magical night with the Magic Lounge’s Signature Show at 7 p.m. or at 10 p.m. that adds an NYE celebration. Either way there’s magic at your table and on stage.  The Magic Lounge is back of a storefront  at 5050 N. Clark Street in the Blackstone Cabaret Theater. Patrons must be 21 to enter or age 16 with legal guardian. For more information and tickets visit Signature show at Chicago Magic Lounge and Calendar.

Teatro Zinzanni

Celebrate NYE with an unusual combo of circus, cabaret entertainment and food. It all happens in a jeweled, mirrored tent in the Cambria Hotel downtown Chicago at 32 W. Randolph St. For tickets and more information visit Teatro ZinZanni Chicago.

Have a happy and safe New Year

Jodie Jacobs


Grab a handful of Peanuts


On the bus from l to r. Tuesdai B. Perry, Marcellus Burt, Alley Ellis, Sierro White, Jimmy Hogan, Neil Stratman (Citadel Theatre's You're a good man Charlie Brown.
On the bus from l to r. Tuesdai B. Perry, Marcellus Burt, Alley Ellis, Sierro White, Jimmy Hogan, Neil Stratman (Citadel Theatre’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

3 stars

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues to delight audiences.

Can an off-Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s well-loved “Peanuts” comic strip characters that is more than 50 years old still be relevant?

The answer is Yes!

With music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the musical opened off-Broadway in 1967 and ran for almost four years.

Popular with regional theaters, a new version directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening and Thoroughly Modern Millie) featuring additional songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) ran on Broadway in 1999. It won the Drama Desk Award for “Outstanding Revival of a Musical.”

Citadel Theatre, in Lake Forest s playing this updated, fast-paced and high-energy award-winning version, now through Dec. 23, 2021.

The play features a series of vignettes, almost like a cartoon strip, that chronicles the trials and tribulations of childhood.

Fifty years later, the characters have the same insecurities, the same issues about friendship, sports and their own failures.

Charlie Brown continues to have a crush on sweet little red-headed girl whom he discovers chews her pencil, too.

He is the eternal optimist, but he never gets a break. He is still the same blockhead.

In this updated production, the audience will encounter some references to present-day items such as “bit coin.”

Pictured left to right: Alley Ellis, Jimmy Hogan, Marcellus Burt, Tuesdai B. Perry, Neil Stratman, and Sierra White in ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at Citadel Theatre

Directed by Joe Lehman and choreographed by Jake Ganzer with music direction by David Zizic, memorable music includes the title song, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Happiness,” a piece that highlights enjoying the little things in life.

The cast, top-rated with hapless Charlie Brown played by Neil Stratman and Lucy played by Actor Equity member Sierra White, also includes Jimmy Hogan (from Citadel’s “Annie) as Schroeder; Marcellus Burt (of Griffin’s Ragtime) as Linus and Alley Ellis as Sally. Tuesdai B. Perry is Snoopy. It’s hard enough to play a role, much more so, that of a pup.

Kudos to Sally and Schroeder whose tap dance knocks it out of the park.

Mention must be made of the incredible, colorful lighting design by Samuel Stephen that almost takes on a role by itself. Flashing emotions help showcase the feelings of the cast.

Also, the props design by Jonathan Berg Einhorn are larger-than-life, adorable and infinitely better than using the real things.

DETAILS: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through Dec. 23, 2021. Run Time: approximately 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre.

State COVID restrictions in effect at the time will be enforced at Citadel’s 144-seat performing space. The show is suitable for general audiences aged 5 and older.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


‘Kate’ battles Shakespeare and ex at Marriott


Susan Moniz and Larry Adams battle it out in Kiss Me Kate at Marriott Theatre.( Liz Lauren photo)
Susan Moniz and Larry Adams battle it out in Kiss Me Kate at Marriott Theatre.( Liz Lauren photo)


Three stars

In a season overflowing with feel-good holiday fare, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has chosen to balance the offerings with the controversial “Kiss Me Kate.”

Go for this production’s superb vocals, comedic moments and excellent dance numbers. But beware, the 1948 musical written by Bella and Samuel Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, is based on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

What you see is a show within a show presented by a traveling troupe as its stars battle on stage and off in a mirror image of the plot.

No matter how good the production is of the Shakespearean version (and I have seen good ones, including at Chicago Shakespeare), it still is misogynistic.

So, if bothered by the theme, blame Shakespeare.

If out for a night at the theater, sit back and enjoy director Johanna McKenzie Miller’s clever staging, Alex Sanchez’s choreography and the outstanding voices of Susan Moniz as leading lady Lilli Vanessi who plays Katharine (supposedly as a shrew) and Larry Adams, Lilli”s ex-husband, Fred Graham, who plays Petruchio (shrew tamer) and who is also directing the troupe.

Also dance shout-outs to Alexandra Palkovic who is Lois Lane, Kate’s overly-sweet little sister, Bianca, and to Jonathan Butler-Duplessis who leads the showstopping “Too Darn Hot” number.

You get to hear such familiar songs as “Wunderbar,” So in Love,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and “From this Moment On.” To audiences who have missed the theater due to COVID, the opening number “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” offers a hopeful note.

DETAILS: “Kiss Me Kate” at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, is on now through Jan 16, 2022. Run time:  2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information visit Marriott Theare.  (Check Covid safety protocols.)

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Powerful ‘Ragtime’ still relevant


Coalhouse Walker Jr (Curtis Bannister) and friends in Ragtime at Music Theater Works. (Photo Credit: Brett Beiner)
Coalhouse Walker Jr (Curtis Bannister) and friends in Ragtime at Music Theater Works. (Photo Credit: Brett Beiner)

4 Stars

Music Theater Works’ “Ragtime,” a multi-award-winning musical with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, is a powerful, riveting production that perfectly meshes with our current age of anxiety.

Based on E. L. Doctorow’s novel on the pervasive value systems and prejudices toward immigrants, blacks, class structure and women’s “place” in the early 1900’s, the musical follows the interaction of three disparate “family” groupings.

Now at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, “Ragtime” unfortunately closes Nov. 7, 2021. Music Theater Works productions historically ran for just a couple of weeks when housed at Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern’s Evanston Campus. Maybe it’s wistful thinking about budget and date conflicts to hope the venue change would allow longer runs.

A production as good as “Ragtime” superbly directed by Stacey Flaster with sophisticated staging and propelled by the cast’s powerful voices, deserves a longer run. Continue reading “Powerful ‘Ragtime’ still relevant”

Up close at Lincoln Park Zoo Lion House


At Lincoln Park Zoo a lion looks over its shoulder at some members of the Chicago Uptown Lions Club (L.R. Mark Kotz, Sharon Howerton, Suzy Travers-Byster, Julie Lovison, Bob Solomon, Albert Anderson)
At Lincoln Park Zoo a lion looks over its shoulder at some members of the Chicago Uptown Lions Club (L.R. Mark Kotz, Sharon Howerton, Suzy Travers-Byster, Julie Lovison, Bob Solomon, Albert Anderson)

Thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, Lincoln Park Zoo broke ground on a $41 million renovation of their lion house in December 2019.

After being closed for about 2 years, the new Lion House opened in October 2021 and is home to a pride of lions that includes one male and four females. Rumor has it that locally born offspring may result.

The state-of-the-art habitat has been renamed the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, home not just to lions but also Canada lynx, snow leopards and red pandas.

Fans of the old Lion House will be happy to see the renovation was achieved to preserve and enhance the architecturally significant features of the historic structure built in 1912.

The dramatic entrances on either side bring a flood of natural light into the interior and the beautiful vintage vaulted ceiling has never looked better.

Small cages and cells with their archaic painted backgrounds are gone, replaced inside and out with expansive viewing windows for close-ups of the big cats.

Pepper Family Wild Life Center at Lincoln Park Zoo
Pepper Family Wild Life Center at Lincoln Park Zoo

The habitat has nearly doubled, now providing the lions with a variety of choices  from plenty of outside fresh air and thermal comfort zones to  trees for climbing, and elevated rocks to give them high vantage points plus areas to seek privacy, shade, and shelter.

A unique indoor design element known as the Lion Loop, funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, enables guests to view the pride even more intimately from the center of the habitat.

The $41 million renovation of the building is the final phase of what has been dubbed The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.

It was my good fortune to tag along with the Chicago Uptown Lions Club on a special tour conducted by Bill Green, accessibility and inclusion manager for the zoo.

About seventy-five percent of the Uptown Lion members are visually impaired. Thanks to a grant by the Hart Prinze Fund, special accommodations have been made to allow those with special needs to enjoy the experience.

Albert Anderson, Sharon Howerton and Bill Green at the newly re done Wild Life Center at Lincoln Park Zoo (Reno Lovison photo}
Albert Anderson, Sharon Howerton and Bill Green at the newly re done Wild Life Center at Lincoln Park Zoo (Reno Lovison photo}

Green outfitted our small group with wireless earpieces that allowed us to easily hear his commentary as we toured the Lion habitat inside and out while he creatively and thoroughly explained what was being shown so that those unable to see would understand what the rest of us were experiencing visually.

On several occasions there were tactile displays that allowed both the sighted and unsighted members of our group to feel the size of a lion paw, the impression of their print, the feeling of their fur or the rough texture of their tongues.

Inside the building Green produced a special three dimensional map of the African savannah that the visually impaired could run their fingers over to get a sense of the various distances a lion might travel and kinds of terrain they may encounter in their journey.

All-in-all the Pepper Family Wildlife Center and its inhabitants are indeed destined to be the Pride of Chicago and should definitely be on your things to do calendar in the Windy City.

If you haven’t been to the zoo lately you might like to know that there are a number of restaurants and cafés on the grounds and several more within a short walk.

The Lincoln Park Zoo can be approached by car at Fullerton and Cannon Drive just west of Lake Shore Drive. Parking is available and might be considered pricey by some but admission to the zoo is free. If you’re a little more adventurous street parking is available along Clark Street on the west side of the park and there are bus routes that include the zoo entrance.

For more information about the zoo visit lpzoo.org. For more information about the Chicago Uptown Lions Club email info@chicagouptownlionsclub.org.

Reno Lovison

A meaningful and timely play


Heidi Schreck and Cassie Beck in “What the Constitution Means to Me” from Broadway in Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.)
Heidi Schreck and Cassie Beck in “What the Constitution Means to Me” from Broadway in Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.)

4 stars

Based on a true story by playwright Heidi Schreck, “What the Constitution Means to Me” focuses on 15-year Schrenk’s experiences participating in debates across the country for the American Legion to earn money for college tuition. The truth is, she earned enough money from the debates to pay for her entire college education.

The audience participates in the show as well, creating powerful theatre about the relevancy of the U.S. Constitution. This interactive play questions whether our 230-year-old document is still applicable today and for future generations of America. After experiencing this powerful show, theatregoers will have a new appreciation for this historic document.

The play goes from hilarity to tragedy. As Heidi goes back in time, she traces the intimate connection of four generations with the founding document that shaped their lives.

The U.S. Constitution and amendments were drafted to protect its citizens, but unfortunately, not everyone.

Women, immigrants and people of color are left out, not included in police, voting and civil rights laws. She raises the question of what would have happened if the Equal Rights Amendment had passed in 1982?

Cassie Beck in “What the Constitution Means to Me” from Broadway in Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Cassie Beck in “What the Constitution Means to Me” from Broadway in Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Cassie Beck plays Heidi Schreck, who vacillates between a teenager and an adult, displaying a wide range of emotions. She handles the role with precision, humor and class. Mike Iveson, who originated the part of the Legionnaire on Broadway, moderates the debate as one of “those old men.”

Suddenly, the show moves into a different direction, creating an actual debate between the adult Schreck and a high-school student from L.A. about whether or not the Constitution should be abolished or kept. Everyone listens to the debate and one audience member decides the verdict.

There are also a few surprises thrown in that make the play even more fun and meaningful.

Directed by Oliver Butler, the show became a hit on Broadway with two Tony Award® nominations, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama nomination and broadcast on Amazon Prime Video.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” will have you thinking about the Constitution and your own government long after the final bow.

Details: “What the Constitution Means to Me” is at the Broadway Playhouse Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut in Chicago through Nov. 21, 2021 Running time: 100 minutes without intermission.

All audience members are required to wear masks throughout the play and must show proof of vaccination with ID card. For those with exemptions, proof of a negative COVID 19 test is required. For tickets go to BroadwayinChicago.com.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Lovison reviews two ‘Robust’ movies at Chicago International Film Festival


'Robust' at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
‘Robust’ at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars


In “Robust,” Gerard Depardieu portrays a lonely, bored, aging actor, Georges, unwilling or uninterested in going through the same old motions.

When his regular driver/security guard is temporarily called out of town, Georges creates a new alliance with his replacement, Aissa, brilliantly played by Déborah Lukumuena. She turns out to be the equal of both the character, Georges, and Depardieu, himself. Every scene between the two is a mesmerizing lesson in restraint and underlying tension.

The film is not a thriller with over the top special effects or chase sequences. There is no great plot or cinematic triumph. “Robust” is basically a quiet character study directed by Constance Meyer and written by Meyer with Marcia Romano providing very believable situations.

The tension is created between the male/female and employer/employee relationship specifically since Georges has personal boundary issues.

But this is not a “me too” theme. Instead, though there is an underlying subtle desire, this is more of a paternal relationship between two people trying to deal with their loneliness in spite of their busy professional lives.

In the end, as with any intense relationship between people in close proximity over a period of time, they learn something about each other and about themselves.

“Robust” is produced by Isabelle Madelaine. She apparently has produced a number of short subjects which explains her attraction to this piece that is a kind of expanded short subject.

Kudos to casting director Judith Chalier for putting together such an interesting and talented team. Even the performances of the secondary characters, regardless of the size of their roles, were delivered with sincere perfection.

Cinematographer Simon Beaufils treated us to a number of beautiful close-up portraits that amplified the inner tensions and intimacy. Likewise production designer Julia Lemaire provided an array of interesting, mostly interior, settings that provided subtle insight into the characters and their situations.

“Robust” is much like a warm bath. Just sit back and soak it in. Then when it is over feel refreshed and satisfied.

I highly recommend this film because you will be happy to see Depardieu work his magic. But more importantly, you will be very glad that you got to see an interesting performance by rising star Lukumuena.

This is a North American premiere as part of the Chicago International Film Festival with two live screenings at the AMC River East 10/18 and 10/22 and limited online streaming Oct 14, 2021 to Oct 24, 2021 in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. For detailed information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com

Language: French with English subtitles. Running time:  95 minutes.


Hit the Road at Chicago International Film Festival. 'Robust' at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
Hit the Road at Chicago International Film Festival. ‘Robust’ at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars

“Hit the Road”

“Hit the Road” by director Panah Panahi is a story of an Iranian family road trip with overtones of “Little Miss Sunshine” or “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Lest you think Iranian families are very different than yours, this family will dispel that myth.

It is an odd sort of setup that begins with the father,  (Hassan Madjouni) sitting in the back seat with a cast on his leg that is being decorated by his younger 6 year-old son (Rayan Sarlak).

Mom (Pantea Panahiha), a rather attractive forty something wearing a hijab that fashionably reveals her stylish gray hair, is in the front seat, while the elder, twenty-something son (Amin Simiar), is the driver.

You can’t help but to ask, “Who are these people, where are they going and why does he have a broken leg?” For most of the trip the purpose of the journey is unclear.

In the first half of the film, we get to know the quirky characters as they quibble and banter back and forth. Most of the action is directed by the younger son referred to as “the kid” who is full of non-stop energy, curiosity and downright obnoxious silliness.  The Spiderman and Batman obsessed “kid” restlessly tumbles and falls relentlessly next to, and on the lap of, the father who willingly partakes in all of the activity, even encouraging him.  Mom does little to intercede and indeed encourages him while the older son silently keeps his eyes on the road.

Through the course of their day-long travel they make a few rest stops and we begin to get a better, but still fairly unclear, idea of their destination. This is best described as a dramedy with the characters using the antics of “the kid” to interject some humor and provide distraction for their more serious task at hand.

If you’ve been cooped up due to COVID, “Hit the Road” will give you a chance to take a little family adventure while enjoying the beautiful rugged Iranian landscape. Much like one of those 500 piece picture puzzles you might have been working on this past year, the film’s director doles out small colorful pieces that fit together and begin to make sense amid the chaos of “the kid’s” antics.

Incidentally, this is a debut film by Panah Panahi whose father’s directorial feature film debut was the Iranian classic “White Balloon” (Jafar Panahi 1995). It is the humanistic style of both of these films with their subtle criticisms that somehow manages to exist within the country’s authoritarian regime that I find very interesting.

“Hit the Road,” presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival, is available to stream Oct 14 to Oct 24, 2021 in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

LANGUAGE : Farsi with English subtitles. Running time: 94 minutes


Reno Lovison


‘The Last Shelter’ a must see at Chicago International Film Festival


The Last Shelter at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
The Last Shelter at Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

4 stars

A group of random migrants from West Africa destined for Europe stop at “The Last Shelter” on the edge of the Sahel Desert (that transitions into the Sahara) before continuing their journey toward a better life.

Here at “La Maison du Migrants” in Mali they are confronted by a kindly social worker who urges them to return home, explaining that it is admirable that they had gotten this far but many die in the harsh desert conditions beyond. His agency promises them a bus ride back home.

While counseling two sixteen year-old girls from Burkina Faso he pleads with them to reconsider by explaining that even if they do get to Algeria they will likely find no employment and will be forced into prostitution. In a meeting with the others he tells them of his own experience of being cheated of his wages and treated with contempt.

One of the girls reveals how Facebook (and certainly other social media) fuel discontent and spur the hopes of young migrants who see friends and acquaintances who have successfully made the journey. For fifteen or twenty year-olds who hate their life, hardship and even death are abstract ideas that do little to dissuade them.

This is an all too common tale taking place around the world as young people seek a better life, freedom and more opportunity. This story could be told not only in Africa but in nearly any country throughout the Middle-East and South or Central America as well as Mexico.  For many, Europe is a fine destination, but their hope is the ultimate lottery win of reaching the United States.

“The Last Shelter” focuses primarily on the two young girls. Ester says she had hopes of acting, singing or boxing. She chose the latter because she admits having a lot of anger and feels boxing would be a way to release her frustrations.  Her friend expresses hopes of being a teacher or doctor because she wants to help people. During their respite in the shelter she is the one who encourages Ester to study English as they work on simple phrases.

The film is sensitively photographed by director/cinematographer Ousmane Samassekou and Amath Niane. It shines with intimate close-ups and beautiful b-roll of the desert sunrise and evocative cutaways of the shelter’s inspiring blue painted interior. The shots are reminiscent of a beach cabana that belies otherwise minimal accommodations and the hot, dry reality outside its doors.

The story is expertly constructed by Samassekou with editor Céline Ducreux to tell a compelling, important and compassionate human story that sheds light on the motivations and desires of migrating individuals.

The Last Shelter is a U.S. Premier presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival. Online viewing is available. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.

LANGUAGE : Bambara, French, Fula, Hausa, Mooré, Susu, Waama with English subtitles

Reno Lovison

A look at more Chicago International Film Festival offerings

Reviewer Reno Lovison picks two more shows currently offered by the Chicago International Film Festival worthy of three star ratings. They are either based in Chicago or have Chicago themes or subjects.

The films have limited in-person options but can be viewed virtually  October 14 through October 24, 2021. Check back at CTAA for more International Film Fest reviews. For specific information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com.


'On the Edge of Victory' showing at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
‘On the Edge of Victory’ showing at the Chicago Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

3 stars

On the Edge of Victory

How soon we forget. This intimate behind the scenes documentary “Mayor Pete,” follows his bootstrap campaign for the presidency from its nascent beginnings to the edge of victory.

Sure Pete Buttigieg, (pronounced boot-edge-edge)  mayor of a small Midwestern city, speaks eight languages, is a Rhode Scholar and retired lieutenant in the Navy Reserves who served in Afghanistan; but that didn’t stop this over achiever from being the first openly gay presidential candidate, with an odd name, from soaring from unknown candidate to winner of the Iowa caucuses, primarily by being extremely intelligent and being his authentic self.

Like many documentaries, “Mayor Pete” by Jesse Moss simply follows the action. Since it starts at the beginning of the campaign the filmmaker has no idea how it will end. Very often in these situations you know you have an interesting subject but you don’t really know what the story will be.

In this case you have someone who many might consider a nontraditional candidate with a same-sex partner running for the highest office in the land. But the mundaneness of his relationship with husband Chasten and the “regular guy” laid back attitude of Pete himself kinda shouts, “There’s nothing to see here folks,” illustrating that those who we might consider as being “other” really have more in common with us than our perceived differences suggest.

“Mayor Pete,” will certainly appeal to political wonks and historians, though it doesn’t really offer much strategic insight other than some interesting preparation for his debates and appearances. At its core it is an inspirational story of authenticity, personal growth, love and victory; even if that victory is not exactly what you had expected.

Running time: 96 minutes. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.


Harlem Renaissance Man (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)
Harlem Renaissance Man (Photo courtesy of film fest presenter Cinema/Chicago)

3 stars

A Harlem Renaissance Man

The small city of Metropolis sits on the southern-most border of Illinois and is best known for its self-described claim to fame as being the “birthplace” of the fictional comic book hero Superman. However the town’s real life native son is author and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

Oscar was born in 1884 to former slaves Calvin and Belle Michaux who travelled out of Kentucky over the Ohio River establishing a homestead where the boy spent his early years farming. Eventually he made his way to Chicago getting a very prestigious job as a Pullman porter. This experience no doubt contributed to a wider understanding of the world and introduced him to a more diverse social strata.

Within a short period of time Micheaux was able to obtain a small piece of land in South Dakota. However the harsh winters put his mind to other interests and after a few years he wrote a book about his life experiences and escapades that he self-published then sold door-to-door apparently rather successfully within Black communities.

After gaining some notoriety Micheaux turned down an offer to make one of his stories into a moving picture. Instead in 1919 he opted to buy some equipment, gather some people and do it himself, putting him on the road that would ultimately establish him as the first major Black filmmaker, going on to produce 42 feature films.

Micheaux’s filmmaking business brought him to Harlem, the undisputed Black Capitol of segregated America, at the very dawn of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance no doubt putting him in contact with some of the most notable cultural icons of that era.  Micheaux is in fact credited with hiring Paul Robeson before the actor became an international superstar.

It seems that aside from promoting his own written works Micheaux had a desire to use his early silent films and later talkies to project a more wholesome and authentic view of African-American life presumably to counteract the negative stereotypes that were being portrayed in  White cinema, most notably in films like D.W. Griffith’s (1915) “Birth of a Nation.”

At least from my perspective Micheaux’s story is as much about his entrepreneurial spirit as it is about his filmmaking. Not only did he write and produce film but often appeared in small roles and set up his own distribution scheme to insure that his films would be screened and seen in African American communities nationwide. It seems he was one of those people who was  going to create a place for himself in this world somehow.

“Oscar Micheaux – The Superhero of Black Cinema” had its North American premiere as part of the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival.  Directed by Francesco Zippel, it is a sort of meandering biographical documentary that gets this important story told through a number of expert interviews and original film clips.

The importance of this documentary is perhaps to illustrate to younger generations that in the early nineteen hundreds there were a number of African American entrepreneurs who stepped in to fill a void created by segregation.

They operated their professions and crafts parallel to the more influential white power structure by exploiting opportunities to serve a market that was otherwise being neglected.

As a result of America’s unofficial apartheid system these early industrial pioneers rarely were recognized by the wider society for the contributions they made.

“Oscar Micheaux -The Superhero of Black Film Making” is a useful contribution to the library of Black History subjects placing Micheaux into the pantheon of individuals who contributed to the rise of twentieth century African American culture and ultimately, in a more “woke” sense, to the fabric of American culture as a whole.

Running time: 80 minutes. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.

Reno Lovison