For the final project of their programming and distribution class at the School of the Art Institute last fall, video makers Sara Cough and Colin Palombi helped organize a screening of student work at Jinx Cafe in Wicker Park. They were counting on their 20 classmates showing up plus a handful of interested individuals; instead they drew a crowd of 60. “It was way too crowded,” says Palombi, who’s 22 and has just completed his final semester at SAIC. “People were smoking, and we had audio problems. It seemed like a disaster at first. About halfway through the program we fixed the audio. But it was still just way too crowded.”

Encouraged by the fiasco, the pair decided to stage a series of four monthly screenings at the Ice Factory, an informal recording studio and event space on the near west side. They dubbed the series Ice Capades in honor of the venue, and solicited submissions with flyers and e-mail. “A lot of it is student work and work from filmmakers who’ve been around for a while,” says Cough, who’s 23 and graduated last fall. “Some was from random people we’d never heard of before.” Two regulars at the Inner Town Pub, where Cough works, submitted films.

The first Ice Capades program, in March, included Cough’s Ships Out to Sea, a 16-millimeter black-and-white film she describes as “a look into the beauty and humor behind our instincts to relate to nature where true nature no longer exists.” Palombi screened two of his films, Genetics and This Is the Dance, which consist of 8-millimeter home movies and found footage he reedited and synced to music by his band, Velvetron. That show attracted about 50 people, but it wasn’t an unqualified success. “We grouped everything together that we thought had a similar mood,” says Cough. “It ended up being kind of dreamlike and meditative. I think people really enjoyed it, but we realized there wasn’t enough humor and differentiation between the pieces.” Since then the programmers have tried to balance longer works with shorter, less serious ones.

The Ice Capades series seems to fill a hole left by the demise of Discount Cinema, an informal showcase run by SAIC grad students that ended last December when some of the organizers left town.

“I think there’s always a place for more work to be shown,” says Patrick Friel, program director of Chicago Filmmakers, which has been showcasing local and experimental films for the past 30 years. “In the past five years there’s been increasing growth in what they call microcinema, which is organized in a very DIY, grassroots kind of way. It’s usually a couple of people doing it on their own without any organizational or institutional affiliation. Often it’s the doing of it that is as important for them as the fact that work is getting to be shown.”

This week’s screening is a best-of bill culled from the previous three. Next month the pair will exhibit the program on the east coast. So far they’ve set up screenings in Rochester, Queens, Baltimore, Providence, and New Brunswick, New Jersey. “At first it seemed like this daunting task–how do you find venues to show very small films from a different city?” says Palombi. “But the more we talked to the people and the professors we’d had who’d done the same thing, we realized that the short-independent-film community is pretty small.”

The two will probably resume curating film and video programs after they return. “We’ve been talking about keeping Ice Capades going,” says Cough. “Not necessarily as the same kind of series, but either doing things like showing the work of one filmmaker, or having a series of films showcasing different cities. We want to keep showing Chicago work, but it seems like it’s getting kind of limited as to what we have.”

The Ice Capades screening is Tuesday, June 29, at 9 PM at the Ice Factory, 526 N. Ashland; there’s a $3 suggested donation. Those interested in contributing to future shows can send work on DV or mini-DV to Palombi at 1801 W. Erie, Apt. 2, Chicago, IL 60622. For more information call 312-942-1478 or visit

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.