“If aliens came down and turned on the television to find out what we’re like, what are they going to see?” broadcaster and producer Darryl Dennard asks his attentive audience.
Dennard gets a laugh, but his serious point is not lost. He pauses to let the Lake Street “L” rumble past overhead.
“We are not well-represented in the media,” Dennard continues. “The only way that’s going to change is if the people in this room take a stand, make sure they’ve got the skills they need, and be griots. Tell a story.”
Dennard, a radio and TV vet and owner of Double D Productions, is addressing the first networking meeting of Visions Blu. A few dozen producers, directors, and actors, established and aspiring, mostly African American, are in attendance at The District in River West. Sipping martini specials with neon blue stirring rods, they’re here to find ways to help each other establish a stronger foothold in the production industry.
“Barbershop” producer George Tillman with current Columbia College students at the Visions Blu filmmaker symposium last November.
Visions Blu is the brainchild of Karon Hamlet, a former park district marketing executive, who set out last year to help Chicago production regain its rightful place in the industry.
“I was reflecting on how Chicago used to be a bigger market for film and entertainment, how that’s dissipated through the years, but there’s still so much talent here,” Hamlet says.
“We need to raise awareness to bring that back,” she continues. “Vision Blu’s mission is to connect urban individuals with professionals and institutions in the entertainment industry, to foster growth in the Chicago market.”
Attendees at the networking session are ready to make the leap. Between mingling and exchanging cards, they listen to Yvonne Wilbon talk about her documentary about black women filmmakers, “Sisters in Cinema,” which premieres March 14 at Women in the Director’s Chair. They listen to Kitt Woods of SAG/AFTRA talk about union merger talks and ABC’s upcoming soap opera auditions in town.
Hamlet established Visions Blu in August of last year. She kicked it off with a symposium in November that brought Columbia College Chicago famous alums George Tillman and Bob Teitel (“Soul Food,” “Barbershop”) and actors Lorenz and Lamar Tate to an audience of rapt filmmakers.
She’s enthusiastic about efforts like those of the Illinois Production Alliance, which is lobbying state and city officials to offer tax incentives aimed at attracting outside productions and stimulating local growth. “The Alliance has great potential to make Chicago more competitive,” she says.
She’s resolutely upbeat about possibilities for the future, while diplomatically acknowledging challenges of the present. “I would love to see more African Americans have more opportunities in production and on the technical side of the industry,” she says.
As CEO, Hamlet is presently the sole full-time staffer of Visions Blu. She runs the organization with the support of a network of consultants and volunteers.
Visions Blu networking meetings are planned on a quarterly basis. The next one is scheduled for May, with details to be announced. Hamlet is organizing a teen video and film expo at the Harold Washington Library for June 4. And the second annual Visions Blu filmmaker symposium is booked at the Gene Siskel Film Center Nov. 7-8.