Independent Filmmaker Kris Swanberg to speak at IU Cinema as part of film series

Guest post by Barbara Ann O’Leary, “Directed by Women” founder:

Kris Swanberg has been called one of Chicago’s “superwomen.”

This week, IU Cinema will recognize her contributions to film with their “Midwest Independence: Kris Swanberg” series, which includes several film screenings and a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture on Friday.


Kris Swanberg will speak at 3 p.m. Friday as part of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series.

Earlier this year, Swanberg received Women in Film Chicago’s Focus Award, which honors the accomplishments of the “superwomen who continually put Chicago on the map.”

Her response?

“It’s really nice for Chicago to like me, too. It’s mutual. I love Chicago.

“I talk about it all the time,” she said. “Almost every interview I do, I end up talking about Chicago — why I live here, why I work here. Really, when I’m home, I feel the most inspired.”

Swanberg studied filmmaking in the Midwest at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale — “six hours from Chicago … so you’re really isolated.”

She appreciates the chance to talk with students about how to make it as a working filmmaker. “I love sharing my work with anyone, but I especially love sharing my work with film students. I remember how important it was when I was a film student. When I talk at universities, I try to be very candid with students.”

Indie film family

Over the past few years, she and her husband, Joe Swanberg — who visited IU Cinema in 2012 as a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecturer — have carved paths for themselves as filmmakers working successfully outside Hollywood.

Together they’ve explored how to pursue their independent film careers while raising two small children. Early on, their financial situation did not always allow the flexibility for them both to work, which left Kris Swanberg “dealing with being a mom and trying to have a career — that guilt and the identity shift.”

“I felt really unsatisfied all of a sudden being a stay-home mom, and then I felt really bad being unsatisfied,” she said. “I felt very stifled, and it took me a while to figure out that I felt that way, because I loved my son and I really enjoyed being a mom.”


“Unexpected” stars Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean.

These experiences inspired her to write and direct her latest film, “Unexpected,” which Variety called “an accomplished piece of work deserving special consideration in the indie marketplace.”

“When Joe made ‘Happy Christmas,’ we got a little money and I was able to start sending Jude, who was 2, to a preschool two days a week. I was able to start writing just two days a week. That’s how I wrote ‘Unexpected.’

“Then my life changed. I had never been so happy. So now we are just doing a little bit better financially, and that has made all the difference. Now I am able to make money, also. I made money with ‘Unexpected.’ Right now I’m working four days a week and staying home one day a week with the kids, and that’s a really good place for me.”

As a filmmaker, Swanberg looks for opportunities to collaborate. On “Unexpected,” she worked for the first time with cinematographer Dagmar Weaver-Madsen. “I really wanted a collaborator. I didn’t just want a camera operator. I really wanted someone to be part of the creative process when it came to cinematography. And she was. And I definitely want to work with her again.”

Visit to Bloomington

Swanberg said she is looking forward to the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture, which will be in the form of a public conversation with Ougie Pak, a filmmaker and visiting lecturer in The Media School. The talk will begin at 3 p.m. Friday, and a question-and-answer session with audience members will follow.

The “Midwest Independence” series at IU Cinema also will include screenings of the following films:

  • 7 p.m. March 24 — “Empire Builder,” directed by Kris Swanberg, follows a new mother whose independent respite in remote Montana takes an unsettling turn.
  • 6:30 p.m. March 25 — “Unexpected,” also directed by Swanberg, explores the friendship between a teacher and student as they both navigate unexpected pregnancies.
  • 9:30 p.m. March 25 — “Little Fugitive” is a charming 1953 film about childhood that Swanberg selected to share with the IU audience.

Swanberg also is scheduled to be available for questions following the free but ticketed screenings of “Empire Builder” and “Unexpected.”

The series concludes with Swanberg presenting Morris Engel’s influential independent film “Little Fugitive,” which she describes as “exactly the kind of film that I love. It’s quiet and observational.”

Little Fugitive

Kris Swanberg admires the 1953 film “Little Fugitive.”

“It was an inspiration for the French New Wave. It’s just a pleasure. If I could send myself back in time to make a film in the 50s, it would be something like that. It’s just exactly the kind of filmmaker I am and want to be. It’s an inspiration to me.”

She sums up her approach to film making this way: “I try to remind myself — and everyone — it’s really supposed to be fun and playful, and that it’s actually no big deal. So even though I had important things that I wanted to say, I also know that I’m not performing surgery on someone. In the end, it really is just a film and, when I remind myself of that, it gives me a little freedom to play and to try new things in the piece — to take risks — and that attitude carries over to the actors.”

More details about “Midwest Independence: Kris Swanberg” and tickets are available on the IU Cinema website.

Guest blogger Barbara Ann O’Leary is the social media expert at IU Cinema, a graduate of Indiana University and the founder of the “Directed by Women” movement. She began the international initiative in 2015 to call attention to female filmmakers and their work. 

Tags: , , , , , , ,