Olympia Review- A Chicago film by Chicago filmmakers

McKenzie Chinn and Charles Gardner in "Olympia"
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The 54th Chicago International Film Festival, just concluded, ran from October 10-21, 2018 at the AMC River East Theatre, 322 N. Illinois St, Chicago. This year’s festival screened 125 films in numerous categories. Olympia, 2018, made in the U.S., was featured in the City and State and World Cinema competitions, and also in the Black Perspectives category.  Running 93 minutes, it was directed by Gregory Dixon, written by and starring McKenzie Chinn; also starring Charles Andrew Gardner and Ericka Ratcliff, distributed by Cow Lamp Films, produced by The Line Film Company, 30 Pictures, and Lucy Lola Manda

 The film showcases the lives of two Millenial aspiring artists- and their friends- who are involved in a modern love affair; can it survive separation, success, and society’s expectations? Can they remain true to themselves and to each other at the same time?

McKenzie Chinn and Ericka Ratcliff in “Olympia”

Olympia was shot in Chicago, featuring Chicago actors, and the writer/star McKenzie Chinn as well as director Gregory Dixon both attended Chicago’s De Paul University, she in Theater, he in Film. While it is always fun to watch a movie showcasing familiar places, this one’s subject matter is also filed with familiar plot lines. Certainly, the characters are NOT facing any subject matter from any angle that could be considered distinctly “Black”, and just as certainly, this is a quintessentially American film portraying a particular micro-generation.

For these characters, there are no unusual experiences, no really hard knocks. So Olympia’s sister noodges her to settle down before it’s too late? Whose married sister doesn’t? So the sister has a son and is married to a woman? Nobody in this film bats an eye about these issues, as they live and party, black and white, roommates/buddies all. Our heroine’s biggest problem seemed to be her boyfriend was too good to be true, but was, in fact, true.

The overwhelming feeling I came away with from this film was a sense of comfort. The cinematography was clear and well defined. The actors were real-life attractive, their sexual encounters predictable and safe, they definitely had enough to eat and drink, and no real threats were extant to their continuing on that way- success was at hand.  And in the end, that is ok; not every story has to be fraught and tortured- after all, this is an entertainment medium.

“Olympia” director Gregory Dixon

This reviewer had the opportunity to interview director/producer Gregory Dixon during the Chicago International Film Festival, about the making of and intentions behind the film. An affable, cordial man, he offered the following insights into the crafting of Olympia:

As to the distribution company and his collaboration with Chinn:

“Cow Lamp Films is a brand new arm of Questar, which has been around for 30 years; they primarily work with independent filmmakers. This particular film is my thesis project from DePaul- McKenzie and I met when we were both graduate students. We were in a class that paired up MFA theater people with MFA film directors. In fact, I’ve been able to stand beside McKenzie for 4 years, with ‘Me Too’, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and other joint concerns mobilizing our beliefs”.

As to the film’s point of view:

“McKenzie and I both relate to the subject matter from a generational standpoint; I graduated college in 2008. We are effectively stuck in ‘adulthood waiting line’. This particular age bracket has placed a lot of expectations on itself and is burdened by those as well as by student loans. Like all people, I only have one real perspective, and I never attempted to tell this story from another, or a black perspective”.

As to the collaborative effort involved and subject matter of Olympia:

“This story touches on struggling artists. Many artists worked together to produce the story. For instance, the cinematography was embellished with fine original illustrations drawn by Kelsey Zigmund and Kaitlin Martin. Every time I set up for a shot I had ‘a conversation’ with everyone involved. Film is the most collaborative medium and Olympia is a testament to the up and coming talent here in Chicago”.

McKenzie Chinn and Penelope Walker in “Olympia”


All photos courtesy of 30 Pictures LLC


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