In Casey Suchan’s new, darkly comic short film, Janey Van Winkle, the title character wakes from a seven-year sleep to learn that her parents have married her off to a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop and that she’s now the mother of triplets. A nearby military base is being used to test bombs, and no one around her seems to be bothered by the explosions–or her discomfort.

“You were a radiant bride,” her new husband says.

“I was comatose,” growls Janey.

Suchan, who grew up in suburban Riverside and now lives in Los Angeles, says the story was partly inspired by her own experience as an art department assistant on commercial shoots in Chicago. “The crews were incredibly talented and fun, but it wasn’t where my heart was,” she says. She got some perspective on it during a two-week visit to LA in 2000. “While I was driving through the mountains I just realized, ‘Oh, wow, there’s a whole world out here that I forgot about.’ I’d gotten so involved in this redundant work I was doing, it was kind of mind numbing. But once I got on the road and drove for a while, it just kind of woke me up. And I thought, what would happen if we did fall asleep and life did go on? How many of us live our lives like that?”

Suchan studied film at Northwestern and says she’s influenced by work like Emir Kusturica’s 1995 epic Underground, a black comedy that used the relationship between two friends to explore the history of Yugoslavia. Janey, she says, was “a way to experiment with satire and magical realism on a small level.” She’d been producing independent films for friends since graduating in 1996, and easily put together a professional crew willing to work for free.

With its crane shots, original score, and high production values, the 20-minute film looks like it cost far more than its meager $10,000 budget. A friend scored some 35-millimeter film for cheap, and Suchan rubbed Vaseline on the lens to create a dreamy look.

They shot in Riverside over two long weekends in the summer of 2000. Suchan’s father is in the film, her niece plays one of the triplets, and her mother and sister did the catering. “I think it was exciting for them,” Suchan says. “I also think it’s a miracle that they don’t hate me.”

After production wrapped, she shipped the footage off to LA, and she and her production partner, Denis Hennelly, soon followed. Friends from college helped her edit the film and mix the sound, while she went about establishing herself out west. She eventually “lucked into” producing hip-hop documentaries, including Thug Angel: The Life of an Outlaw, about Tupac Shakur. Currently, in addition to trying to finance a feature, they’re developing a road movie that they hope to partly shoot in Chicago. “Everyone I know here is trying to get financing so they can come back to Chicago and shoot films,” she says. “Chicago is supportive of the independent vision. You don’t see that here. You have to fight for certain things in Chicago, but you don’t have to fight for your vision as much. People encourage you to do that kind of stuff–have your own voice and be outrageous.”

Chicago Community Cinema will host the local premiere of Janey Van Winkle Tuesday, July 8, at 7:30 at Excalibur, 632 N. Dearborn (doors open at 6). Also on the bill are the world premieres of Rick Rios’s Identity Theft and Carl Paoli’s Nenu, followed by a live acoustic performance by Gayle Ritt, whose music video for “Everyday” will also be screened. Admission is $8, $5 for students; call 312-266-1944. For more on Chicago Community Cinema see Culture Club.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Max S. Gerber.