Two films from Chicago International Film Festival set for wide release

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EDITH HILL AND Eddie Harrison in their home in Alexandria, Virginia. This elderly couple was torn apart in a elder custody battle that had grave consequences. Mega entertainer Cher was involved in this documentary and reportedly in 2015 helped make repairs to the couple’s home and helped with medical care for Edith. 

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

“EDITH+EDDIE,” a documentary about the oldest interracial couple, has been named one of the finest observational documentaries of the year. What starts as a sweet and tender portrayal of elderly interracial love transforms into a damning cry against institutionalized elder abuse.

“It’s currently long-listed for the Best Short Documentary at this year’s Oscars and deserves to win.” – ShortFilms.org

Edith and Eddie, ages 96 and 95, are America’s oldest interracial newlyweds. Their love story is disrupted by a family feud that threatens to tear the couple apart. This film has been Oscar-nominated in the short films category, and its executive producers include Cher, Steve James, Gordon Quinn and Betsy Steinberg. It is presented by Kartemquin Films and is now screening across the country, after having its premiere at the recent Chicago International Film Festival.

“They were truly in love. What happened to them is horrible — it’s elder abuse and it’s happening all over. We’re hopeful this film can make a difference.” – CHER.

What happens when someone’s life is taken out of his/her own hands? Who has their best interest in mind? Filmmaker Laura Checkoway (Lucky) presents an unforgettable emotional portrait of a guardianship abuse case. The story of Edith+Eddie is a testament to all elders who deserve dignity and the right to live out their last days as they have earned.

Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison got married in Virginia at ages 96 and 95. Dancing at the honky-tonk and going to church, their newlywed life is filled with affection, prayer and faith. Since tying the knot, both Edith and Eddie have experienced an awakening, and they have a new reason to get up in the morning.

At the start of each day, he helps her put in her teeth. They enjoy exercising and relaxing by the river. They are always holding hands. However, this fairytale love story hovers in great contrast to a nightmarish reality. The couple is embroiled in a legal battle between Edith’s daughters, over Edith’s estate and her rights. Edith has been diagnosed with mild dementia. Edith’s daughter Rebecca is advocating for Edith’s right to stay in her own home with Eddie. Rebecca’s sister Patricia, who lives in Florida, is pursuing the sale of the home and Edith’s eviction. The daughters are unable to reach an agreement so a court has appointed an outside guardian for Edith named Jessica Niesen. Stripped of her own decision making ability, Edith is now a ward of the state. Edith and Eddie’s marriage is in danger of being torn apart. Then things take a dramatic turn. (29 minutes).

This short film could not have been any longer, because I would not have been able to take it. It is heart wrenching to see this fragile couple torn apart, and the wife taken away from a home that she had known for more than 50 years. She had married a second time, and that husband died a year later. So, it was up to her to pay the mortgage and raise the children that she had. After this long life, she comes to meet Eddie near the store where they both play lottery numbers. A romance blossoms, as he has recently lost his wife, and the two are inseparable after that point—getting married by the local minister.

As one daughter has been caring for the couple, the out-of-town daughter is hell bent on having her mother move to Florida. At this point, all hell breaks loose. It’s a sad statement about the elderly in the country. It’s a sad statement about greed within a family, with no thought for the elder parent’s needs. I don’t say “wants” in this case, because Ms. Edith needed to be able to stay in that home with her husband. Now whether this was a case of just greed, or the fact that the husband was white, I am not sure. But from watching this film, I do know that all of the opposing parties in this case should never be able to sleep peacefully.

Look for showings at local theatres that are presenting the Oscar-nominated movies. This film can also be screened for free at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBNLxU98svQ

JONNY MARS AND Christine Horn have a heart-to-heart talk while walking the beach front on the North Side in a scene from “Rogers Park.”

Rogers Park

“Rogers Park” is another film that screened at the fest, and it highlights the ups and downs of two couples, who just happen to be in interracial relationships, as well. In the emotional rollercoaster of a third feature by Chicago-based director Kyle Henry, two urban couples, both middle-aged, come to a relationship crisis exacerbated by infidelity, concealed career downturns, and the fact that two of the people are siblings. A tenth anniversary party for real estate broker Zeke and his preschool teacher wife Grace begins as a hearty tribute to a seemingly strong and happy marriage, until the unexpected arrival of Grace’s troubled younger brother Chris and his increasingly restless girlfriend Deena. Daring no-holds-barred performances push this story into dangerous territory over a period of weeks, as secrets and longtime grudges surface with devastating consequences.

A surprise in this film is that Chicago’s own LaDonna Tittle, who is currently in the Showtime series “The Chi,” has a brief cameo in this film. Also, Chicago stage actor Cedric Young, who is the owner of Sonny’s Chicken Pit in “The Chi,” has a brief cameo. Another surprise for me was the teen daughter of Zeke, played by 14-year-old Lyric Ross, who plays Deja on the mind-blowing NBC series “This is Us,” for which the “Black Panther” star Sterling K. Brown won the historic Primetime Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama series, an honor that hadn’t been bestowed on a Black actor in 19 years. (Note: Chicago’s Andre Braugher won in this category for his performance as Detective Frank Pemberton in Homicide: Life on the Streets in 1998).

“Rogers Park” is set on the North Side of Chicago, and Deena works on a campaign at a local alderman’s office, and Chris is a writer, who struggles to put pen to paper. Zeke works hard to keep his family and household afloat, but Grace is a hard task master and very demanding of Zeke. I disliked her character the most. Since I once lived in Rogers Park years ago and am familiar with the North Side, I note that the movie screams the North Side of Chicago, with the apartment buildings and scene locations. It is a good film—one that I’m glad to see is available for a wider audience.

The movie is written by Chicagoan Carlos Treviño and also stars Antoine McKay as Zeke; Sara Sevigny as Grace; Christine Horne as Deena and Jonny Mars as Chris. “Rogers Park” will screen at the Gene Siskel FilmCenter, located at 164 N. State St., beginning February 23 through February 28. Visit http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/rogerspark for more information.

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