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Three young Chicago filmmakers set off for Cannes Film Festival

DePaul University, Chicago Housing Authority and Chaz Ebert rally support

Three young filmmakers and Lili Calfee
High school seniors Unique Moore and Isis Gullette; DePaul junior Christal Westmoreland and faculty member Liliane Calfee are traveling to the Cannes Film Festival. (Jeff Carrion/DePaul University)
CHICAGO — Three young filmmakers from Chicago are traveling to France this week to attend the Cannes Film Festival. As they set off on the dream trip, Isis Gullette, Unique Moore and Christal Westmoreland are reflecting on how DePaul University and the Chicago Housing Authority launched their filmmaking dreams.

The three met during the Become a Filmmaker program, a six-week summer intensive in DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts, tailored for CHA residents. They have each returned, summer after summer, and were chosen for the trip for their talent and commitment to the craft. Westmoreland is now a junior studying film and television at DePaul.

“At the core, the programs are designed to provide youth with new economic pathways and the tools to share their voices with the world,” said Lili Calfee, a faculty member at DePaul and director of the program.

‘Breaks the sky wide open’
CHA CEO Tracey Scott said when people think about CHA, they often focus on the housing. But the impact she wants to have on youth and adults is one of continuous learning and growing. Filmmaking is just one of the many educational opportunities CHA offers to its residents and participants, she said.

Christal, Isis and Unique
Christal Westmoreland, Isis Gullette and Unique Moore attended several summers of the Become a Filmmaker program in the School of Cinematic Arts. (Jeff Carrion/DePaul University)
“On behalf of the staff and Board of Commissioners, I am proud to extend a hearty congratulations to Isis, Unique and Christal, and a big thank you to Chaz Ebert and our nonprofit partner Springboard to Success, for allowing these young filmmakers to participate in such an incredible event,” she said. “It’s just another example of how CHA isn’t just about housing – it’s about people.”

Chaz Ebert, president and CEO of Ebert Digital and the film criticism website, lived in CHA housing as a girl and has been a longtime supporter of Become a Filmmaker. She sparked the idea to send students to film festivals and is co-sponsoring the trip.

“This is the type of transformational experience that breaks the sky wide open for what is possible,” Ebert said. “It is also an opportunity for them to feel that they are welcome and worthy of all spaces, even the most prestigious film festival in the world.”

The trip is being sponsored by Elevated Films Chicago’s crowdfunding and a generous donation from CHA’s nonprofit partner, Springboard to Success (S2S). Adding to the fairytale, Chicago celebrity designer Barbara Bates will provide each student with a custom red-carpet look. And while the students are looking forward to international adventures (and croissants), their focus is steadfast on filmmaking.

“This trip will be a really good opportunity to see what film could be for me and what type of career I could have,” Gullette said. “As young, Black filmmakers, the universe of possibilities in film for us is so bright.”

Group pose with students
Mentors Lili Calfee (left) and Pier Smith (right) from the Become a Filmmaker program will accompany the students to France. (Jeff Carrion/DePaul University)
‘Wildest dreams can come true’
Together, the trio recently celebrated the completion of “I Am Not Your Token,” a short film written and co-directed by Gullette, 18. It is the program’s first professionally produced narrative short film; others have been documentaries. Over the course of 16 minutes, a Black high school student’s internal conflict with adapting her identity to keep her place among the popular kids is tested when her ex-best friend becomes the target of their not-so-subtle racism.

Westmoreland, 21, is looking forward to returning to share her Cannes experience with others. “This will be such an incredible boost to me as a filmmaker,” she said. “It will also show my entire community, especially all the little Black girls, that if I can do this, even their wildest dreams can come true." As a girl, Westmoreland was always writing in journals and loved film. When she was 16, her mother enrolled her in the summer program at DePaul. Now, she is a junior studying film and television in DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts.

“Screenwriting enables me to communicate my personal experiences as a woman of color,” Westmoreland said. “I am motivated by the work of Black filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Jordan Peele, and John Singleton who tackle sensitive topics like racism, gun violence, and identity.”

Moore, 18, grew up on Chicago’s South Side and agrees that bringing forward Black voices is one of their main motivations as an artist. “From Spike Lee making way for Black directors to Issa Rae giving voices to dark skinned Black women, I want to be among those filmmakers bringing new perspectives to the screen.”

Become a Filmmaker program connects youth to possibilities
Since 2016, CHA has partnered with DePaul’s Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media to offer youth in public housing valuable skills in cinema, game and graphic design. Through the six-week summer intensives, high school-aged students learn from award-winning faculty, receive mentorship from DePaul graduate students and attend field trips to be inspired by Chicago’s rich arts culture. This program is entirely funded, since its inception, by S2S.

“Students in the program learn to look through two lenses—the lens of a camera and the lens of their life experiences,” Calfee said.

Short films made in the program have played in over 20 film festivals worldwide. They’ve garnered multiple awards such as Rising Voice Award at Windy City International Film Festival, Best Documentary at Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival (NYC), Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival (New Jersey), and Katra Film Series (NYC), and Best of Chicago award at the Cineyouth Film Festival. Learn more about Become a Filmmaker online, and follow along with the group’s adventures on Instagram​.


Media Contacts:
DePaul University
Kristin Claes Mathews

Chicago Housing Authority
Matthew Aguilar

For Chaz Ebert
Shawn Taylor​