It’s hard at this point to even imagine a world without television and film. Instead of viewing parties for Breaking Bad or a Star Wars marathon, families and friends gathered around an old-timey radio waiting to hear the thrilling conclusion to the soap opera Clara, Lu, and Em or the latest headlines on NBC (pre-peacock). But this weekend the local audio-storytelling organization hosts the Third Coast Festival’s Filmless Festival—the “Sundance for radio” according to Third Coast founder Johanna Zorn—to prove that the days of communal audio experiences are far from over.
The festival started in 2009 as a one-day event highlighting radio broadcasters and podcasters, says Zorn, and has taken place every other year since. The last couple events were packed, so this year the fest has expanded to three days and features three core elements: audio “screenings,” radio adapted for stage, and, new this year, workshops for dabblers and professionals alike.
“For a field that has a history of being very difficult to get into, things have changed dramatically in the past ten years,” Zorn says. She attributes the accessibility to audio-production technology as one of the primary reasons for the sudden influx of interest. “Slowly, over time, equipment became cheaper and more accessible with computers and even cell phones. Now you can produce the work and distribute it and promote it through social media.”
The classroom is a motif throughout the weekend, a nod of recognition to the festival’s venue, Chicago’s High School for the Arts. Audio-presentation themes range from sex ed to field trips to bathroom stalls, and the school’s jazz band was invited to play at the fest’s “pep rally” on Friday night—it also includes Katie Mingle of 99% Invisible and Shannon Cason of Homemade Stories. “To be in this space that’s for future artists has been the most inspiring of all,” Zorn says.
So far the weekend is slated to bring in more than 400 people from as far away as Australia and the Czech Republic to enjoy the likes of Alix Spiegel of Invisibilia, Starlee Kine of Mystery Show, Sean Cole of This American Life, and many more broadcasting heavy hitters. And while it hasn’t been easy to alter the behavior of radio listeners, who tend to view the act as an individual experience rather than a group activity, Zorn says that it’s worth it.
“Everything has been challenging creatively,” Zorn says, “but in a good way.”
Filmless Festival, 10/23-10/25: times vary, Chicago’s High School for the Arts, 3200 S. Calumet, thirdcoastfestival.org, $12 per event, $100 three-day pass.