Profile of Calumet City ‘outsider artist’ highlights documentary sampler

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For its annual sampler of nonfiction fare, the Gene Siskel Film Center has lined up appearances by several directors. “Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Premieres”— eight films slated through Feb. 4 — includes “Almost There,” a new work by Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden. The Chicago co-directors will attend both of their screenings: 7:45 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Also appearing will be their subject Peter Anton, an 83-year-old “outsider artist” now living in a Calumet City nursing home. The intimate documentary is titled after Anton’s magnum opus, an illustrated scrapbook recovered from the moldy basement of his condemned house. “We could use our skills to put a frame around the chaos of Peter’s life. He seemed like a worthy project,” explains a voiceover by the filmmakers.

‘STRANGER THAN FICTION: DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES’ When: Friday-Feb. 4 Where: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State Admission: $11 (students $7, members $6) Info: (312) 846-2800; siskelfilmcenter.org

Drawn to Chicago for an internship at “This American Life,” Wickenden instead landed a spot at Kartemquin Films, where he worked on the “The New American” television series. He mentions two Kartemquin Films that informed the tone and topic of “Almost There”: “Home For Life” followed two seniors into a Hyde Park nursing home, and “Golub” put a painter in personal terms.

Rybicky, who teaches documentary at Columbia College, brings up another Kartemquin documentary. “ ‘Stevie’ was a film that had a super impact on me because [director] Steve James was super brave to actually show how he became a supporting character in the story that really wasn’t about him.”

At one point Anton tells the camera: “You are serving me. I am serving you. We’re both serving each other.” “Co-dependent” is what Cleo Wilson calls the eight-year-long Anton-Rybicky-Wickenden situation. She runs Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, where Anton exhibited in 2010.

Local history is also found in “Compass Cabaret 55,” Mark Siska’s talking head doc about the 1950s improv scene in heady Hyde Park. Filmmakers are profiled in two works in the Siskel series. Sam Fuller’s daughter Samantha depicts the late American director in “A Fuller Life.” A lesser-known auteur is the star of Adam Rifkin’s “Giuseppe Makes a Movie.” Giuseppe Andrews repeats this alliterative line to an addled actor: “I’m a satanic sadomasochistic senior citizen psychopath.”

Researchers tinkering with longevity are observed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg in “The Immortalists.” The legacy of Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer-SS and Chief of the German Police, is scrutinized in Vanessa Lapa’s “The Decent One.” U.S. soldiers stole personal papers of the infamous Nazi from his safe.

“Emptying the Skies” by Douglas Kass and Roger Kass takes off from Jonathan Franzen’s 2010 New Yorker article on the Committee Against Bird Slaughter. Music Box Films in Chicago is distributing this report of songbirds and gourmets.

In “This May Be the Last Time” Sterlin Harjo plumbs a historic Oklahoma hymn in diverse early American traditions, long before the 1965 single by the Rolling Stones.

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