Meet "the best Chicago filmmaker you've never heard of"

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From Lowlands, a dream of Catharina Vermeer
  • From Lowlands, a dream of Catharina Vermeer
This Thursday at 6 PM Columbia College will present three short films by Peter Thompson—the diptych Universal Hotel (1986) and Universal Citizen (1987) and the 2009 featurette Lowlands—at the campus screening room at 1104 S. Wabash, with Thompson in attendance. If you're a longtime reader of the Reader, you may have learned about him from Jonathan Rosenbaum's laudatory essays about his work that appeared in our pages over the years. Rosenbaum, who will introduce Thursday's program with Columbia Film & Video Department chair Bruce Sheridan, has called this local director (who's also a professor of photography at Columbia) "the most original and important Chicago filmmaker you've never heard of," and he's described Thompson's films as "troubled and troubling meditations on history and epic efforts of research and retrieval, concerned simultaneously with entire lives and fleeting experiences."

Such a description makes the films sound daunting, and while they're certainly dense with ideas, they proceed rather gracefully—closer in spirit to poetry than expository prose. Thompson presents history as an almost supernatural phenomenon, with revelations about the past often emerging from his own dreams or random thoughts. Lowlands, which mainly concerns the life of Johannes Vermeer, begins with Thompson remembering two antique Dutch tiles from his childhood home. And Universal Hotel is as much about a forgotten Nazi prison camp experiment as Thompson's obsessive quest to learn about it by visiting archives around the world. Thompson narrates both films, and his melodious voice contributes to their trancelike effect; it should be nice to hear him speak at the Q&A following Thursday's screening.

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