Creative Quarantine: Filmmaker Michael Glover Smith

Michael Glover Smith | Photograph by Sally Blood | © Sally Blood, 2018

1. How are you holding up?

I’m holding up as well as can be expected. At the beginning of 2020, I felt this would be my busiest year ever. I was anticipating a healthy and lengthy film festival rollout for a documentary I produced by my friend Rob Christopher, ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO. I traveled to Scotland in late February to attend what I assumed would be the first of its many live screenings. I was also at that time deep into pre-production on my fourth feature as writer/director, RELATIVE, which I was planning on shooting in May. I had assembled a dream cast headlined by the great Wendy Robie (Nadine Hurley in TWIN PEAKS) and Clare Cooney (a brilliant actress with whom I’d worked on my previous feature RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO). Then COVID-19 happened and the whole world seemed to shut down and fall into a kind of ghostly, meditative silence. I had to change all of my plans, which has not been fun. But in the world of filmmaking, one always has to adapt and evolve.


Poster for Rendezvous in Chicago, 2018.
© Michael Glover Smith

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

The pandemic caused me to first push back the RELATIVE shoot from May to August then again from August to May, 2021. It’s been frustrating but every artist I know is in the same boat so I can’t really complain. Also, I teach for a living and I’ve been able to do that from home via Zoom so I’ve been luckier than a lot of my artist friends who are currently out of work.

I’ve been able to use this time to promote my last two films online. In the early days of the pandemic especially, it seemed like everyone was stuck at home with nothing to do except “binge-watch.” So Clare Cooney and I hosted a watch party for RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO on Facebook Live, and the Gene Siskel Film Center hosted a 10-day run of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE as part of their “Film Center From Your Sofa” series. I was fortunate to be able to reach a lot of new viewers through these virtual screenings.

It’s a comedy starring me, my wife and one of our cats. I don’t want to put it online. If it doesn’t play a festival at some point, it may just disappear into the ether, which would be too bad as I feel it’s some of my best work.

I also made a 60-second quarantine short film, A MORNING PHONE CALL AFTER A RESTLESS NIGHT, just to be able to do something creative. I shot it in my home on my iPhone and edited it on iMovie. It’s a comedy starring me, my wife and one of our cats. I don’t want to put it online. If it doesn’t play a festival at some point, it may just disappear into the ether, which would be too bad as I feel it’s some of my best work.


Poster for Mercury In Retrograde, 2017.
© Michael Glover Smith

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I’ve lately been walking five miles a day, every day, as a means of getting exercise and, more importantly, as an excuse to let my mind wander for an hour or so. Walking through the familiar streets of my neighborhood, the glorious Rogers Park has the effect of letting ideas arise and collide with one another in my brain in a totally expectation-less way. I simply discard the bad ideas and let the good ones combine in what is often a creative and combustible manner. I almost always end up feeling inspired and having something to write down by the time I get back home. This is a routine I will likely keep when the pandemic is over.


Film still of actress, Roxanne Mesquida, from Mercury In Retrograde, 2018.
© Michael Glover Smith

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

I loved Jean-Luc Godard’s Instagram Live chat, which I don’t think would’ve happened had it not been for the coronavirus. Also, I’m thrilled that David Lynch has brought back his Daily Weather Reports.


Film Still of actor, Shane Simmons, from Rendezvous In Chicago, 2018.
© Michael Glover Smith

Michael Glover Smith’s work as writer/director includes the narrative features COOL APOCALYPSE (2015), MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (2017), and RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO (2018). Each installment in this character-based “relationship trilogy” has won awards at film festivals and screened at theaters across the U.S. including Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, Rooftop Cinema Club in L.A. and Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center. These movies have received acclaim from critics including the Chicago Sun-Times’ Richard Roeper who noted, “Smith creates characters who look and sound like people we know.” Smith produced Rob Christopher’s acclaimed documentary ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO, narrated by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, and Lili Taylor, which received its World Premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2020. He is currently in pre-production on his fourth narrative feature, RELATIVE, starring Wendy Robie (TWIN PEAKS). Smith received the Siskel Center’s Star Filmmaker award in 2017 and made Newcity magazine’s “Film 50” list in 2018 for being “one of 50 individuals who shape Chicago’s film scene.”


Films:

Book:

Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry – Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer