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.

Please Don't Touch Me and Other Tales of Womanhood

By Ivana Rihter

I had gotten into the habit of constantly running around naked around the time I turned 3 years old. I remember the smell of sun screen and sea water. I chased the ocean waves as they receded and they chased me back up the shore across the broken shell floor, making imprints on the soles of my feet. I didn’t notice at the time but it was in this serene moment a woman approached. Quietly she confronted my mother with feelings of ‘discomfort’ over my nakedness. It has become an intrusion on the beach day her and her family had planned she said through tense lips. Only then did I look up to see her sports sunglasses turn towards me and motion abstractly at the whole of my body with her well-manicured hand. I remember my mother did not dignify this woman with a response, instead turning to me and instructing that I was never to be ashamed of my naked body. I was never to feel I must hide it in order to preserve its value. She told me that bodies are beautiful things and what I do with mine is entirely in my hands. She then turned to the woman and told her that she was absolutely insane for sexualizing the body of a toddler. She would not dress me under any circumstances and especially not for the comfort of a perverted stranger. She said it all with a smile and I remember thinking she was beautiful standing there defiantly with wild curly hair and a bright red bikini. I was peeing on the ground for the full duration of their conversation, embracing my womanhood.

I was 10 years old and my babysitter had all her friends over on an evening my parents were out. Looking back now, they were about 16 at the time which technically makes them children as well but Brian was 18. God knows why he was hanging out with high school sophomores, but he was there. My babysitter had straightened my hair and put makeup on me, ensuring me that my eyes were deep set and perfect for gold eyeshadows. I looked in the mirror and barely recognized myself, it was fun to dress up for a night. Brian stared at me a lot that night. They started playing spin the bottle and I stood near them watching with a smile, not fully understanding the goal of the game but just happy to be near so many older people. I went to the bathroom and as I exited, Brian was in the little dark hallway that led to my laundry. He asked if I had gotten my first kiss yet. I said no. He said that he thought he should give it to me so that I would know what I was doing later. I said no. He asked if I was sure and took a step towards me.

I was 15 years old and it was 8 pm and someone pushed me against a wall. His name was Danny and he was 20. He leaned in close and whispered that I was the most beautiful girl here that night. I laughed at him when he put his tongue in my mouth, I don’t even remember feeling lips to be quite honest. I had to hide in the basement when I found out he was looking for me. My friend said that he couldn’t be reasoned with when drunk so I shouldn’t let him see me or he might do something. I woke up the next morning realizing that I had gotten my period and my stomach hurt. I finally left the basement to take up what felt like permanent residence on the kitchen stool, eating generous spoonsful of Nutella to try and feel better. I remember watching a high school track team run outside and taking the Nutella outside to wait for my dad to pick me up.

 I was 18 the first time my ass was grabbed on the CTA. I turned to find a smiling man who got off at the same stop as me, I hid in Walgreens until I saw him stop lingering outside and looking around.

I was 18 when the first boy I loved visited me at college. Even when I was 15 and kissing him for the first time on his couch, I still felt like I belonged to myself. So many people told me that in your first relationship, you make the other person your world. I did not. I adored him but I did not need him, did not feel alone when he wasn't there and did not feel he had a god given right to any part of me. I remember him standing at the Orange Line Midway stop, I saw clenched fists and tears and wondered if I was the cause. I was. The series of conversations that followed all circled back to why I had found it necessary to destroy him with my rejection and give my body to someone else. He threw a bottle of apple juice across the room because I wouldn’t sleep with him, as if that notion just didn’t make sense.

I was 18 and working a night shift at Clarke’s Diner when a table full of boys flagged me down by putting their hands on the small of my back and pulling me into the booth with them, asking for more milkshakes and sweet potato fries. I found one of their numbers in the back pocket of my jeans after I was done rolling silverware. I put my tip money in my sock and walked back to my dorm ripping up that intrusive little paper bit by bit.

I am 19 now.

I am 19 now and I am angry because the weight of the involuntary miracle of being born a woman is not evenly distributed, some must carry far more gruesome memories than others with them wherever they go. These stories are not unique to me; they are the story of every little girl wrapped into a pink blanket from day one.

 My body is not something that any one has a right to. Looking at that 12-word statement on paper it seems like a simple enough concept. It is something that I knew from the time I was little and someone would grab me at recess. Standing there proudly wearing a hand-knit sweater vest and sporting a bowl cut I knew I was not theirs to touch.

This must have come from the strict matriarchy I was raised in, with 9 generations of women before me not only outliving their husbands but outdoing them. The women in my family are embedded in my roots. They taught me how to make a home in my body and love every nook and crevice. They showed me that being a woman is a gorgeously dangerous existence and I was going to feel it but I should never fear it.

The women that raised me did so in a tiny apartment in Toronto and made me feel like I was all I would ever need. My mother was fiercely independent and often times brutally honest with no regard for people’s unwillingness to hear the truth. It sounds like mythology now but she once physically threw a grown man out of a crowded bus for pinching her ass. She worked three jobs to put herself through school, studying biology with a concentration in genetics. She was only 21 when she married my dad to save him from the war, something she will never let him forget.

My grandmother is a 4 ft. 11-inch storm of homemade bread and poesy. She gave me my first journal and told me to write down everything that made me feel something. Growing up in Macedonia, she had men basically weeping at her feet for a chance to feel her warmth and read her writing. 

My aunt was unapologetically sarcastic and taught me how to identify every single Jelly Belly jellybean by both taste and sight. She showed me the wonders of 24-hour gas stations and told me about her first time.

The lessons I learned from these women have become a part of me. I carry them with me into every room I enter, and not always gracefully. I am a messy force of nature with no time to do laundry and even less time to overthink. I am often wearing socks I found in the back left corner of my closet but I have accepted myself. The recounts of male entitlement that began this essay do not define me, they are just stories now. Some I can tell my little sister with a smile, preparing them for what it is to exist in the world as an unapologetic female. Others I keep just for me and I try not to float them back up to the surface of my mind because they do not deserve to occupy space. This essay is not about men and definitely not the small ones that have stolen little black spots for themselves in my memory, this essay is about women. I am just one of so many cis women/trans women/queer women/women of color that I know could write full scale memoirs about times their bodies were touched without their permission.

Women carry the stories of their times being grabbed on the playground and their times being grabbed outside of bars. As they grow the stories grow with them, the words of their struggles are not confined to the bedrooms, train stops and parties they occurred in, instead making imprints that last longer than most can imagine. I am just one person with a fairly good memory trying to navigate womanhood, writing it down helps. 

I am 19 now and there is a boy sleeping next to me who looks at my body like there is god damn sunlight shooting out of every pore. He does not touch me like he owns me and I think that’s why I kiss him so hard. 

Women Have An Entire Day To Themselves and It Was Last Tuesday

By Ivana Rihter

Courtesy of  LaborRights

Courtesy of LaborRights

I remember waking up on March 8th every year of my young existence to something. It was my aggressively Serbian father waking me up for school with a rose in his hand and two other behind his back for my little sisters. It was a skype call from my grandmother SHOUTING on the other line because any understanding of computer microphone systems has confounded her for decades now. It was my mother, bra-less and in a stained sleeping shirt, making Nutella waffles downstairs and lecturing us about how useless it is to depend on a man for anything.

International Women’s Day holds weight to me. It has a history just as profoundly badass as the women who celebrate it and everyone everywhere should know about it.

In 1909 the very first International Women’s Day was celebrated in the United States as designate by the Socialist Party of America to honor the 1908 garment workers strike. This holiday was born in the wake of women protesting unfair working conditions and only got more intense from there.

In 1913, International Women’s Day became a mechanism for protesting World War 1. Russian women joined the peace movement and held rallies and led protests against the war and with solidarity with other activists.

In 1917, Russian women were still protesting and striking actively until the Czar abdicated and the government granted women the right to vote.

In 1975 the UN started celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th.

In 1995, The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments, focused on 12 critical areas of concern, and envisioned a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.

If you didn't do anything out of the ordinary on the Tuesday that was women's day this past week. Don't fret because it is annual and now you have almost an entire year to plan what you are going to do next year. I am going to give you a comprehensive guide on International Women’s Day comprised of global information, gentle suggestions and flirty tips to help you celebrate this day to its fullest potential.

Things all the lovely ladies of the world can do on Women’s Day:

·      call your mum immediately

·      also call your grandma/sister/aunt

·      buy yourself some flowers

·      dance naked in front of a mirror in awe of how exciting and beautiful it is to be you

·      read feminist poetry

·      show your genitalia some love and fight anyone who tries to tell you it equates gender because womanhood is not comprised of a collection of ‘female’ body parts

·      buy a coloring book and color it with your choice of crayon, marker of colored pencil

·      think about child birth

·      think about placenta flowing out of you post child birth

·      write in your journal

·      buy $60 worth of clothing you already kind of own but just want better versions of

·      read anything you can find by rupi kaur

·      yell at any man who has ever transgressed against you

·      take 4 naps

·      skip all your classes

·      look at your acne in the mirror and try to overcome it because that shit happens and it is always horrifying and you are stunning anyway

·      scream at everyone who passes you about how important this day is

·      talk about the wage gap

·      do laundry

·      buy really pretty bras that make you feel like you are god damn flying

·      don’t wear a bra

·      put a lot of lotion on

·      take a 3-hour bath and don’t get out until someone is yelling at you

·      listen to a load of TED Talks done by other women

·      honestly anything you want to do because this day is about the inherent beauty and pride of being a woman on this earth.

The UN’s 2016 theme for International Women’s Day was “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. Behind this theme was the hope to build momentum for the 2030 Agenda and the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals and focus on legislation under the UN Women’s Step It Up initiative. The UN recognizes the holiday and is trying to close the gender gap, end violence against women and work tirelessly towards gender equality. Although this may seem very bureaucratic and complex in nature, the key targets of the 2030 agenda are ethical, feminist-minded, and wonderful steps in the right direction:

  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

·      By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.

  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

(UN Sustainable Development Goals)

The International Women’s Day official website’s 2016 theme was Gender Parity, which centers around the relative access to education between males and females at any given stage. The celebration also brings an awareness about the state of gender parity today, which needs work fast. The 2015 report by the World Economic Forum predicted that the gender gap would not be closed until 2113. The pledge created to fight this bleak prediction reads:

“Everyone - men and women - can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly - whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.” International Women’s Day Pledge for Parity

Overall, the focus on International Women’s Day in a broad scope is doing massive things in the fight for equality. Women’s voices should be heard, represented and respected within the context of international politics. This day brings awareness to the inequality plaguing our world as well as awareness to the work of brilliant women everywhere. On a smaller scale, it is a day of self-love and simple adoration for womankind. I remember seeing the men in my family celebrate this holiday with just as much zeal as the women, with flowers and lectures about the work my mother and grandmother did as artists, academics and human beings. I saw this day as a time to draw inspiration from all the feminine forces around me and define what being a woman was going to mean for me.

Everyone creates their own ideas of womanhood which is also why I firmly believe that Women's Day should not exclude any woman, anywhere in the world. Equating Women's Day to a day of vaginal celebration, is exclusionary in nature and looks past a slew of stunning individuals who deserve to feel ownership and joy of this celebration. This day extends to cis women, trans women, women of color, disabled women, women without iPhones, women of all body shapes and sizes, mean women, vegan women, women who write for the odyssey online even though it is often horrible for women, women who only truly love their dogs, women who never went to college, women who don't consider themselves feminists, women with snakes as pets, women in bad relationships, women who do not ever want to get married, blonde women,  women who have survived the horror of sexual assault, women who go by neutral pronouns, women who have no kids, women who have 9 kids and one more on the way…overall all women. This is a day to reflect on everything you adore about your personal and intimate definition of womanhood and the other brilliant women who have inspired you to get there. Celebrate as hard as you possibly can next year. 

The Decline of Western Compassion

By Ivana Rihter

Courtesy of Facebook

Courtesy of Facebook

The temporary Facebook profile picture filters give you, a social media user, the opportunity to identify yourself as an ally, a socially conscious member of society, and a practitioner of solidarity with a variety of causes. The core of this phenomenon is deeply problematic because it entirely ignores the complexity of issues surrounding human rights and acts of violence. These filters suggest that these truly complex nuanced issues are binary questions of “with us or against us.” While these filters are capitalizing on the brilliant tendency to express compassion, they do so in a way that is problematic and creates a persona rather than a standard of everyday living.

Solidarity with causes, tragedies and social movements is an absolutely gorgeous thing. I am moved by the empathy and profound human ability to feel so deeply for those suffering, those silenced and those grieving. They may be far from us in distance and in circumstance, but the power of feeling and acting for something larger than yourself is never to be undermined. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I see in the world around me but its practice can be imperfect like anything else. Solidarity in its most basic form is unity between individuals with a common goal. These goals change over time and move in conjunction with social justice causes as the infringement of rights, safety and basic human freedoms continue to be a part of every generation’s struggles. The images of solidarity are something so immediately recognizable that they characterize the struggle of the time. Flowers in gun barrels and nonviolent marches toward armed state troopers evoke the periods of activism from which they emerge.

These images evoke the beauty of standing in solidarity at the time that change was dire, thus making them meaningful and important. They tell the stories of the oppressed, the undermined and the marginalized as a snapshot in a time where that conflict was kinetic. These narratives are indicative of our society’s imperfections and to stand in solidarity with them means a hope for change and empowerment in the future. However, that stand must come at a time when support is relevant rather than reactionary.

Being an ally is solidarity in motion, it is the actions you take supporting the feelings you have. The filters are not an action being taken, they are stagnant. I want to fight the notion that any exposure is good exposure because when you are using your voice to speak for the voiceless, there is a incredible need for sensitivity.   

In our modern world, it has become the most simple action to declare that you care about a cause/candidate/spooky feminist comic book as it is done with a minuscule and thoughtless amount of pressure of a forefinger on the click pad. It should not be as easy to summarize ones stance on a complex global issue as it is to “like” your high school friend's shitty pop punk band. Liking that band’s fan page even though the band sounds like trash to you, is done out of obligation or worry about your social standing and on that kind of issue, ambiguity is fine. But on issues that call into question people’s human rights or the culpability of nations in times of crisis, the implications of your "like" betrays the notion of informed dialogue. This decision, no matter how physically easy for your fat and drunk-with-power human hand, should not be done thoughtlessly. My thesis is this… 

The way you express your solidarity should not be:

   mindless.

   temporary.

   under-researched and under-represented.

   because you think it would make you look like a sick socially conscious activist but you have no actual intention of ever getting involved with a social movement.

   overdramatized.

   disrespectful.

   inaccurate.

   in any way influenced by sponsored social media ‘suggestions’ brought to you by corporations whose job is only to make sure all trending things show up in front of your beady little eyes.

   about you.       

The first appearance occurred when gay marriage was legalized across the nation, a monumental step in a wonderful direction for the LGBTQA+ citizens of this country. The function I have trouble with is that the filters are temporary and can be set as an addition to your trendy profile for 1 hour, 1 week or 1 month. This allows you to choose how long you would like to publicize the support of basic human rights before your profile goes back to normal. Everyone has a right to celebrate in the way they choose, but this does not represent a full reaction of what it meant to a systematically oppressed community since this was only the beginning of a long-fought and messy battle for recognition and rights.

The filters appear much more of an accessory than a stance against oppression, because there is no active role they play other than informing friends and family that people whom are not straight should also be able to do things. Being an ally to the LGBTQA+ community is not an identity to be had or an exciting piece of information that is added to the 160 character bios on social media platforms. Allyship should not exist only in the public eye to be preformed and propagated through saturating your senior year prom photo in the rainbow flag for a week. A recent term that explains this phenomenon is known as ‘ally theatre’ which basically follows the trend in recent years of HUGE social media presence sharing, liking, commenting and declaring allyship as a sort of performance for a reward rather than actual support of the cause or oppressed group because then it becomes a form of theatre.

 Opinions and attempts to speak out in solidarity are inherently valuable because people are having them and expressing them and that is better than an apathetic mass of 20-somethings sharing highly specific and problematic BuzzFeed articles about the “16 types of guys you will throw up near on your vacation to the Florida Keys” or “What sexy handicapped former Olympic athlete are you?” These I have yet to find a stitch of progressive fiber in, but maybe their time will come as I am an optimistic person with a generally open mind. 

Much like the LGBTQA+ social media filters, movements themselves like Black Lives Matter should not be thrown around as a fun, reformist and progressive part of one’s personality. Social justice movements are not accessories to be wielded publicly in order for a persona of tolerance to be complete and active online. Interestingly enough, Facebook has not yet endorsed a temporary profile filter for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of national protests because that would be much more controversial than one in support of a state football team during the championships. These filters must be looked at critically because they are sponsored by Facebook and suggested to the general population in the same breath as the push to like your favorite bands and upload creative cover photos in order to express your authentic self online.

Most recently came the banners of blue, red and white in solidarity with the absolute devastation of the Paris attacks. I followed this horror closely and consumed all the media I could in the form of news updates, personal testimonies and editorial pieces on all the attacks that day. The places targeted were Paris, Beirut, Lebanon, Kenya, and Syria all suffering injuries and fatalities in the most barbaric way to take human life, with fear and unfathomable violence. Sadly, many were unaware of the death tolls in other places because social media took to Paris, not that the coverage was inherently negative, but it left entire countries unrepresented and Facebook followed suit. To disregard any tragedy is inhumane, but to do it in order to remain relevant in pop culture trends is incredibly disrespectful to both the represented and unrepresented sites of horrific loss. This perpetuates only the dominant and most simple narrative, being played to a dumb audience that I don't think is dumb. The option to support anything other than THE story of the day is not present and that is where the immorality stems from. It is inattentive hashtag activism in a deceitfully appealing facade.

There is a better way to support a cause than a 5-day cosmetic change to social media appearance because that is not meaningful or thought-provoking or worth anyone’s time. The filters make these worthwhile causes about the individual rather than a collective working tirelessly against injustice. Causes are not meant to be worn like garments, only taken off after it starts to feel stale. These movements have death tolls and victims and decades of systemic oppression in the soil from which they rise. The impulse is there and good, but the choice that lies is between static or kinetic energy, and how we use all of the human excitement fueling as an insatiable need to uproot injustice in this world.