The Chicago Southside Film Festival Celebrates Five Years

The Chicago South Side Film Festival (CSSFF) celebrates 5 years by introducing a hybrid experience, including live screenings for film-goers and filmmakers throughout the South Side of Chicago from November 27th until December 5th.  This year, the founder of CSSFF, Michelle Kennedy, wanted to assure film-goers that this year’s festival will encompass something they can appreciate through film selections and audience engagement. The CSSFF is utilizing a hybrid festival for local film lovers with virtual participants. This hybrid model shows how the pandemic has affected our society, including the film community. This year’s festival is using its platform to be socially responsible to the current times.  The film festival will have a mix of live screenings and a virtual post-production workshop.

Michelle has a background in Finance and Investments, but she is passionate about films and the filmmaking community. She was born and raised on the south side of Chicago.  She graduated from Kenwood High School and studied at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Her passion for films led her to create the Chicago Southside Film Festival (CSSFF) in 2015.  This festival provides a special place for filmmakers from the south side to showcase their films.  There are over 100 film festivals around the city, and none of them focused on films or filmmakers from the southside.  Michelle said, “Filmmakers from the southside of Chicago have zero chance of getting their work seen.” As a result of the global pandemic, they went online in 2020 and going virtual allowed them to gain an international audience.

Once Michelle came up with the idea, she started pitching her idea to several theatres. She approached nine local theatres and the only theatre to say yes is the 87th Street Chatham Cinema.  The film festival has been so successful that most theatres that said NO are now looking for a partnership. Several people said the southside was not sophisticated enough to appreciate a film festival like those held in other parts of the city.  The goal of the Chicago Southside Film Festival is to elevate filmmakers, actors, and support staff.  The Chicago Southside Film Festival uses nontraditional spaces to partner with and showcase new films, including art galleries and local churches. The goal is to reinvest in the film festival and make it better than the previous year.

This year audiences can expect a high-quality assortment of films and a high level of engagement from the panels after the films.  The CSSFF is always a fun, thought-provoking experience with discussions from people with diverse perspectives. The audience is encouraged to ask hard questions during the post-screening discussion.  The film community is essential to the city of Chicago; there are economic benefits and invaluable exposure for amateur filmmakers.  When films are made on the south side of Chicago, they get access to a larger audience where residents feel a special connection to the films. This festival gives opportunities for marginalized filmmakers and helps level the playing field.  The festival audience is passionate about art and entertainment, and the films reflect the people from the southside. Here is a brief description of the film festival line-up:

  • Saturday, November 27th Noon to 2:00 PM at IIT Art Auditorium is the world premiere of Cicero/Mt Greenwood (1966/2016) by Ben Creech, a provocative film screening and conversation about race and activism. Post-screening will be with Filmmaker Ben Creech and Artist/Activist Tonika Lewis Johnson.
  • Saturday, November 27th, 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM at the beautiful Epiphany Center for the Art will be the official red carpet opening of Daughter of Eve, a mixed-media documentary film that analyzes and aims to dismantle misogyny and gender hierarchy within the Christian faith by Zanah Thirus, who critics say is the future Ava Duvernay.
  • Sunday, November 28th, 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM at the Parkway Ballroom – Simeon Henderson will facilitate CSSFF first ever Acting Master Class.
  • Sunday, November 28th from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM the anticipated screening of the Mama Gloria at Cinema Chatham. The screening documents the life story of Chicago’s black transgender icon Gloria Allen, now in her 70s, who blazed a trail for trans people like few others before her.
  • Chicago producer, director, and writer Zanah Thirus will focus on the importance of post-production by facilitating a virtual workshop that gives indie filmmakers an overview on how to best manage the post-production process from Saturday, December 4th, 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

This year the festival honoring a beloved vintage African American film, the CSSFF will close the 2021 festivities with the 30th Anniversary Screening of Boyz N The Hood on Sunday, December 5th 12:00 Noon to 2:30 PM. This critically acclaimed coming-of-age story of growing up in a South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood. The story follows three young men growing up there: Doughboy (Ice Cube), an unambitious drug dealer; his brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a college-bound teenage father; and Ricky’s best friend Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who aspires to a brighter future beyond “The Hood.” This film gave us a glimpse of a world where a trip to the store can end in a tragic death, the friends have various reactions to their bleak environment. Luckily Tre has a strong father (Larry Fishburne) who keeps him on the right track. This screening will be followed by a panel discussion of black male representation in the film featuring Derek Dow and Lonnie Edwards.

For more information on the Chicago Southside Film Festival and the full schedule of screenings, events, and workshops log on to

Theresa Horton is a contributing writer for the Chicago Defender. Find her on social media @passionateresources. 


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