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Naperville the next Sundance? Local film festival may do the trick
By Bob Smith | Daily Herald Staff

Robert Redford has the Sundance Film Festival, but Naperville is looking to make a name for itself, too, when it plays host in September to the inaugural Naperville Independent Film Festival.


Associated Press

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Published: 2/25/2008 12:15 AM

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Hollywood isn't the only place that knows how to roll out the red carpet.

Sure, the Academy Awards has plenty of glitz and glamour with all the industry's big-name stars, big-name directors and big-name producers waltzing in front of popping flash bulbs and screaming fans.

But Naperville has its own red carpet event tonight. And while the guest list isn't quite as glittery, organizers hope they someday can look back at this party as their first small step in making the city something of a player in the film industry.

The fundraiser -- called the Red Carpet Event -- is the first of two planned in advance of the Naperville Independent Film Festival, which premieres in September.

Organizers hope to screen 30 to 40 films during the four-day fest from Sept. 24-27. Each flick will be selected by a panel of experts from among more than 80 entries.

There also will be opening and closing galas along with seminars, workshops and roundtables offering everything from script-writing tips to special effects demonstrations.

The idea is to create a top-notch festival for those who don't want to journey into Chicago to view independent films, co-founder Gary Pradel said.

In the process, organizers want to lure movie buffs and filmmakers from around the world, both to build support for Chicago's film industry and to introduce them to Naperville as a potential setting for their work.

If it goes as planned, Pradel and his cohorts aim to make the festival an annual event.

But first, they hope everything goes well tonight.

Walking the carpet

The two-hour Red Carpet Event starts at 5 p.m. at Jilly's, 103 S. Main St., in downtown Naperville.

Tickets are $35 at the door and include one drink, appetizers, live entertainment and a chance to win gift certificates, said Pradel, who co-founded the Naperville festival with Edmond and Glessna Coisson.

He said it will be the perfect chance to talk shop with guests like Dan Decker, an authority in storytelling and screenwriting who serves as a consultant for script development for the Nevada, Illinois and Mississippi state film offices.

Decker also is the author of "Anatomy of a Screenplay," has optioned or sold 15 of his own screenplays, and is one of the shakers and movers who will appear on panels during the festival.

The party will feature music and trivia and offer participants a chance to view a montage that includes scenes from 26 of the film festival entries to get a taste of what to expect in the fall.

And, of course, there's that red carpet where patrons can get their picture taken like they were Tom Hanks.

No one is sure how many folks will show up, but Pradel is looking for more than 150.

"We're hoping we can get as many people out as possible and get them excited about the festival," said Sara Snyder, who handles publicity for the group.

"People have been asking about the festival and the response has generally been very positive," Pradel said. "There's a lot of curiosity about it."

Why not here?

Sundance. Cannes. Naperville?

Robert Redford probably isn't ready to jet in for the city's inaugural effort, but maybe he will someday if the festival really takes hold.

Organizers say they already have a variety of entries from around the world and with other deadlines approaching, the number easily could top 100.

The festival team got the word out to filmmakers by working through a Web site called

They received their first entry the day the fest was included on the site, Pradel said, "and it was a little like Christmas."

The entries will be divided into categories -- documentaries, animations and so on -- and a panel of experts and critics will sort through them to choose the best of the best.

One day of the festival, Sept. 27, will be set aside as a family day with an emphasis on films and activities for the younger set and their parents.

But for the rest of the festival, visitors should remember the films aren't necessarily appropriate for the Disney Channel. Ratings will be prominently displayed outside each screening room.

"There isn't any pornography," Pradel said, "but there are some pretty raw and interesting documentaries that aren't necessarily for everyone."

The films will be screened at the Comedy Shrine downtown and other yet-to-be-disclosed locations.

"Our goal is to have people at the end of the festival say, 'That was fun, I hope they do it again next year,' " Pradel said.

Making movies

It's not hard to figure out why Pradel decided to get involved in the festival.

He started making amateur movies when he was 10, armed only with an active imagination and a Super 8 camera.

When he was in junior high, he helped his older sister film a prison break movie for a high school movie class. She got an A; he got hooked.

So much so that when he was in high school and everybody else was making three-minute movies for class, he was shooting a 15-minute epic complete with full script and special effects.

It was called "Disk" and it was about a kid who's a computer expert and breaks into a power company to steal its files.

Years later, he and his pals laughed when they saw a very similar plot played out in Sandra Bullock's "The Net."

The son of Naperville's mayor is now a vice president at First National Bank of Naperville and has two kids of his own who are experimenting with film-making.

"It's a little selfish, but I really want my kids to have a festival like this right here in town," he said. "A lot of area people are involved in the film industry and this will allow people to come together and talk to other people in the industry."

And what if the festival really does catch on and someday we really do catch a glimpse of Redford strolling along the Riverwalk?

"I won't mind," Pradel said, "and I'm sure other people wouldn't mind, either."

If you go

What: Red Carpet Event to raise money for the Naperville Independent Film Festival

When: 5 to 7 p.m. today

Where: Jilly's, 103 S. Main St., Naperville

Cost: $25 in advance, $35 at the door