It Started Messy and Big: The Story of The Spectacle

The origin story of The Spectacle is like many we have heard before—it is a phenomenon born of women. Hannah Welever, a Chicago-based cinematographer with roots in Ohio, is one of those women. Hooligan sat down with Welever, a co-founder of The Spectacle, to talk about the inner workings of the group and how it has allowed the work of Chicago creators to find a place on screen.

With the help of other intrepid filmmakers and friends, The Spectacle has created a place for Chicago’s artists to express their individual voices through film.  The independent films screened each first Sunday of the month at the Annoyance Theatre, where they have been held for the past nine months, are curated entirely by the Spectacle team. Each grouping of films, approximately 14 per screening, are brought together for one night under a central theme. It is no easy task curating a line up month to month. Up until the most recent screening, Welever has never missed a single event, showing extreme dedication to the work of others. Not only has The Spectacle created a community of loyal filmmakers and film watchers in the city of Chicago, but it has also fostered a community fiercely dedicated to supporting the massive undertaking of creating.

How did you get involved with The Spectacle?

My friend Ally Hadly and I got to a point as female filmmakers [at] Columbia College where we got sick of the sexism we were noticing. Being 18 to 20 years old and very passive, because that is what we are taught, and in a classroom setting with all these hierarchies—we started a Women in Film Club. It was essentially a mix of that and the cultural studies program where we would have really intelligent people from the cultural studies department come talk about things like the male gaze or how to talk to women you know—things that are relevant.

It is so crazy we did that a few years ago because that shit is so hot and relevant. We got so involved and it is still alive at Columbia. We had a great turn out. We [combined] what our feelings were and how we were treated in Columbia’s film world with this community where we would talk about it and share our stories. One of my roommates was head of the documentary club and I was head of the women in film club and we all kind of friends, but doing totally different things and at a point we all got together and decided to have a screening to showcase all this amazing work because Columbia wasn’t doing it.

And then The Spectacle was born?

What is the point of working tirelessly to make all this stuff if we can’t watch it in this beautiful film building? The first joint screening we all had was four or five hours long. We just said ‘we will take anything, send us everything, just come be there’ and we were there. I remember thinking ‘why the fuck did we agree to this? It is so long and it needs to be more refined and have a Q and A and so much more’, but anyways that is how things started. Messy and big.

Once that happened we started chiseling away at what we wanted to see. It started at Columbia because we had a space and if you have something finished, you want to see it big and with great sound.

How did things evolve from there?

Once I graduated, I realized there are more filmmakers in this city [than] the 10 I [was] seeing who are my age, with similar backgrounds. As a super diverse city there must be more. I started finding venues around the city that would be down to have screenings. I am so blown away by the number of super talented filmmakers who still come every month. [At] the last screening, we screened a feature film made by someone who started coming a few months ago and then asked if we would be interested in showcasing his work. That screening was the first one I haven’t been to in a year.

Do you think you have built a community in Chicago?

You are not doing it for yourself. That is just not how community art programs work. It is going to be exhausting, but being able to bring people together in that way is priceless and just enough fuel to do it month after month. If we make something that is a really strong 90 minutes and if you come for the first time, then you will probably come back. If you love Chicago, it is a great way to be informed as to what is happening and what other filmmakers are doing.

You hand pick each movie and put together a whole program. When you are curating do you try to incorporate films whose themes confront social issues?

Yes. I would say that if you have a stage to stand on and you are not representing those things then you are doing a disservice. Our Q and A’s I take really seriously. If I have 14 films, I will hit up the white cis men, but I am making sure to hit up the queer film maker and the black filmmaker. I want the stage and the screen to be diverse. As a programmer you need to be mindful of keeping everyone’s voice buoyant and afloat. You don’t want to pull some down and lift others up. It is all about the representation because seeing a stage full of 20 female filmmakers is a huge visual.

See the whole spread in Issue #16 here.