Michelle Kennedy, founder of the Chicago South Side Film Festival (CSSFF), grew up attending film festivals all over the world with her parents, who are also filmmakers. She also considers herself to be a film aficionado, which is why the 46-year-old South Side native is also the executive director and producer of CSSFF. Sept. 25, kicked off CSSFF’s fourth year. 

Kennedy’s love of film and her South Side roots inspired the creation of CSSFF in 2017 as a nonprofit arts and culture organization that provides a space for independent filmmakers on the South Side to screen their films in their own community.

This year, the pandemic has made it impossible for the organization to host its traditional festival of nearly 200 people at the Studio Movie Grill in Chatham. Instead, CSSFF will host six virtual screenings — including four films and two shorts — between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. through Sunday, Oct. 4 — at $8 per screening. 

Following each screening, CSSFF will host a free, live virtual discussion with featured filmmakers and guests on its YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Kennedy said she and her team felt it was necessary to host the festival this year to help independent filmmakers showcase their work despite the pandemic. She also said CSSFF received fewer submissions this year, and, as usual, very few men submitted films. However, the show must go on, she said. 

“We feel like people should have more than these Hollywood hits that are targeted more to African-American urban audiences,” Kennedy said. 

Prior to founding CSSFF, Kennedy said there were roughly 100 film festivals in Chicago — but none of them were on the South Side or catered to South Side audiences. She said she’s proud that now more than 80% of the filmmakers featured in CSSFF over the years are from the South Side and nearly 70% are Black women. 

“We want the South Side to be well represented and heard through its own voices,” Kennedy said.

Explore the CSSFF website to learn more about screenings and virtual events you may have missed last week from filmmakers Bayer Mack (No Lye: An American Beauty Story), Zanah Thirus (Unlearning Sex), and Larissa Lam (Far East Deep South). Last week also featured a short film showcase featuring filmmakers TJ Ali (An American Boy), China Colston (Big Chops), Tristian Montgomery (The Shine), Okema Gunn (A Sisterhood of Signatures), Elena Valentine (Humans @ Work), Eleva Singleton (The New Mother) and Aretha Tatum (Passed Over)

These films are no longer available for streaming as part of the festival, but Kennedy said she encourages interested viewers to watch the virtual aftershows on the CSSFF Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Viewers can tune in for the last two screenings of CSSFF, streamed via Seed and Spark, to see what the South Side has to offer on the big screen. 

Here’s what to look out for during the final week of CSSFF:

Streaming Thursday, Oct. 1., between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

40th: The Story of Bishop Robert Williams and Roberts Temple

This documentary travels through a portion of Chicago’s Black history in a story about Bishop William Roberts and the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ. The church served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, known as the site where Emmet Till’s mother agreed to an open casket funeral on Sept. 6, 1955 so the world could remember the horrifying moment her son was murdered by a group of white men in Mississippi. 

Half of all ticket sales from the screening will be donated to the Roberts Temple Preservation Project — the nonprofit organization raising money to restore the church.

Following the screening, viewers can join a virtual panel discussion led by Sylvia L. Jones — lead screenwriter for the Lifetime movie “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” — with filmmaker Lora Branch to discuss what inspired the documentary and its impact on the city’s history. Tickets are available for  40th: The Story of Bishop Robert Williams and Roberts Temple on CSSFF’s website. Viewers can attend the virtual discussion for free on Facebook live from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Streaming Saturday, Oct. 3, between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

South Side & Beyond

In this collection of short films, South Side filmmakers share futuristic and creative tales of the supernatural and digital world, a story of a fed-up woman on a mission to confront her lover and a story of a family’s strength after the death of their mother. In addition to the screening, viewers can virtually meet the filmmakers to ask questions and offer feedback. Tickets can be purchased online for the screening and viewers can join the six filmmakers from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Facebook live. 

The screening for South Side & Beyond is sponsored by Cinema 53, a screening and discussion series presenting films by and about women and people of color at the Harper Theater located in downtown Hyde Park. The best short film from the series will receive a $250 prize from Cinema 53.

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.