(Image captured from the film via Vimeo)


A fellow Chicago film critic once described the city we both live in as a hard place that grinds on you.  The cold of this place can come from more than the winters.  Maybe that’s why broad shoulders are needed to bear it.  Let’s make an opening lesson out of that.  

LESSON #1: HUSTLING AND BUSTLING CITIES CAN WEAR ON SOMEONE--My friend was right.  Trekking through, in, and around 9.5 million other people throughout the Chicagoland region can make a person feel insignificant.  Cities wear on people, eroding their patience, trust, and confidence when it comes to being another face in the crowd.  However, the “small world” trope still occurs, and people share more than they likely know with the man or women they sat next to this morning on a bench, train car, or passenger.   

When this city and its people do shine, they really radiate, turning Chicago from an emotional minefield into a home.  The short film “Jack and Amelia,” directed by Craig Barnes, is a bite-sized slice of the Windy City and the glimmers of hope and connection that are endlessly possible.  It screens May 8th at The Public House Theatre at 3914 Clark Street at 7:30pm.

The happenstance of a wrong number is the catalyst that unites two Chicago strangers together without meeting face-to-face.  The confident Jack (co-writer Paul Sanders) was calling about buying sci-fi film memorabilia from an online seller.  The fetching Amelia (Brenda Barrie) picked up his call and finds humor in the mistaken call.  The two strike up a conversation and become smitten by their banter enough to seek calling each other back.  Meanwhile, away from Jack and Amelia’s home interiors, two other, albeit nameless, Chicagoans navigate their respective lives out and about on the streets and sidewalks.  

Actor/co-writer Patrick Zielinski plays a cabdriver who spends his nights as the projectionist and handyman of the struggling antique Patio Theatre in the Portage Park neighborhood of the city.  He’s a sweet and content soul that doesn’t do things for the money.  Opposite him is an unnamed woman (Cora Vander Broek) who is having herself a horrible day, subjected to watching undignified people make out in the post office, getting hassled by a street vagrant, and stepping on dog shit.  She’s a transplant from Wisconsin living alone who has reached a breaking point on whether to stay in Chicago or move back home to the elderly parents that need her.

In a tight 30 minutes as a short film, “Jack and Amelia” feels like a lived-in drama with its raw urban locations and a keen sense of its time limit.  Its technical components are sharp as a tack.  Director of photography Fred Miller showcases nimble camerawork to avoid simple voyeurism of strangers.  His use of close-ups in and around many faces and hands give the film soft intimacy while never losing the distinctive urban atmosphere.

You and I have seen more than enough bad cinematic examples to know that pulling off convincing and compelling phone conversations on screen is difficult.  Either the timing or the tone is off to keep them from moving and operating in a believable fashion.  Neither is the case with the editing of Diana Moya-James and the stimulating performance beats of Sanders and Barrie to act with no one else around.  To call it natural would be too easy.

The key strength of “Jack and Amelia” is the focused narrative composed by Barnes, Sanders, and Zielinski that sketches a telling and accurate microcosm example of Chicago.  Circling back to the opening anecdote from my fellow critic, it blends lifestyles for people feeling the city’s stresses in their own unique ways.  Just when you think you these four central characters are random and will stay random, the short-order shifts and twists of “Jack and Amelia” push their destinies forward in engaging and cunning ways.  This really was a blossoming treat.

LESSON #2: PHONE CALLS ARE MINIATURE MOMENTS OF FATE-- Sight unseen, we all paint a mental picture of who is on the other end of the phone and what they look like.  We like to think certain voices match certain visages.   Especially when talking with an unknown stranger, a phone conversation becomes shared time of forced communication and momentary connection between two people.  For that brief moment, it’s just you and the other person in the world, not counting the “recording for quality and control purposes” and our own multitasking attempts.

LESSON #3: CHANCES TAKEN AND CHANCES NOT TAKEN-- All four main characters seem to have their personal walls and limitations when to comes to interactions with other people.  Their defeated self-esteems keep them, more often than not, from saying what they mean and investing in new people.  They forget all friends started out as strangers until someone took the chance to get to know them and find out more.