Rebecca Fons and Jack Newell Credit: Photo courtesy Lisa Trifone at 11th Street Lot

At 8 PM on Friday, August 25, the Goose Island design studio Lost Arts will host a new screening project called Destroy Your Art, in which five local filmmakers will present new short films, then destroy the hard drives on which they were recorded immediately after screening them. Organized by the husband-and-wife team of local filmmaker Jack Newell and entrepreneur Rebecca Fons, Destroy Your Art represents a rebuke to the individualized nature through which people regard films today. “So much of the film industry is built around DVD, Blu-Ray, and video on demand,” Newell explains. “When you’re making films, you have to think about how many units can you sell and how well [the film] will last over repeat viewings. What we’re suggesting with this project is antithetical to how filmmakers work now.”

Destroy Your Art also provides an antithesis to the streaming model of film exhibition by forcing viewers to appreciate the shorts in a public space with other people. “I want to know if it will change the way people look at these movies if they know that if they’ll blink, they’ll miss something,” Fons says. “I worked for the Chicago International Film Festival for about ten years, and I saw so much energy build up around movies that would never play in this area again.” She hopes the ephemeral nature of Destroy Your Art will inspire a similar response to work on display.

Newell and Fons drew inspiration for the project from improv comedy, performance art, and art happenings of the 1950s. Their approach to Destroy Your Art is that anything goes with regards to the films being shown. “With the exception that the shorts have to be seven minutes or shorter, there are no rules about what the filmmakers create,” Fons explains.

As for the filmmakers, they range from veteran documentary makers to up-and-coming artists with a few shorts under their belts. One of the contributors, Lonnie Edwards, completed a documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015. Another contributor, Shayna Connelly, is a DePaul University professor who has screened her work in art galleries across the country and in Europe. Nick Alonzo completed a feature narrative comedy, Shitcago, a few years back. Matt Hyland, who has done production-design work for Newell as well as Chicago-based directors Stephen Cone and Kris Swanberg, comes to the project after directing a handful of shorts. The final participant, Aemelia Scott, presented a short film last year at the Chicago International Film Festival.

The organizers have yet to see any of the films they’re going to show at the end of the month. They plan to see them for the first time just before the audience does, when they test the projection for the event. Newell and Fons are excited not to know what they’ll be screening; they have faith in the participants to deliver interesting results. “We just want them to explore whatever story or genre they want to,” Fons says. “We’re hoping that [in doing so], they may be inspired to alter their approach in how they work.” Newell adds, “There’s no wrong answer to this. However they interpret the process is right. We’ve talked to all of the filmmakers about their ideas, and we’ve just nodded at whatever they’ve said.”

So far the participants have been amenable to the process, finding satisfaction in the project’s sketchbooklike nature. One of the filmmakers, Fons relates, “said, ‘I really need this. I’m so entrenched in production of a feature film, thinking about funding, and all that.'” Making something quickly and getting it out of her system provided some relief from more ambitious endeavors.

Destroy Your Art also marks a change of pace for Newell and Fons, who have kept busy in the last year with a number of projects. Newell is in postproduction on a feature documentary about Haiti and planning the production of two fiction films. He’s also an organizer of the public art project Wabash Lights, a light installation below the Wabash Avenue el tracks. Since leaving Cinema/Chicago last year, Fons took the reins of restoring a historic movie theater in her hometown of Winterset, Iowa. The theater runs second-run commercial releases six nights a week, and shows classic movies on Wednesdays. The repertory programming, Fons says, “has been rewarding, because we took a risk showing classics and the town really responded.” Seeing both young and old viewers come out for such Hollywood classics as The African Queen and Jaws has made Fons enthusiastic about the possibilities of film exhibition—something she hopes will persevere with Destroy Your Art.