Oak Park filmmaker wraps teaching career
Filmmaker and film professor Dan Dinello.
Celebrating filmmaker Dan Dinello’s career, 6 p.m. March 22
Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash, Chicago (eighth floor)
For more information, including news of Dinello’s memoir, Finding Fela: My Strange Journey to Meet the AfroBeat King in Lagos, visit shockproductions.com
Updated: March 20, 2012 8:24PM
One nice thing about being a filmmaker: If somebody asks what you’ve been up to for the past 30 years, you can just turn off the lights, turn on the projector, and show them.
In case you’re an old acquaintance (or a major Stephen Colbert fan), you can see what filmmaker/retiring Columbia College professor Dan Dinello, a long-time Oak Park resident, has been up to the past few decades at a career-highlights screening at his “Re-tire-spective” bash March 22 at Chicago’s Film Row Cinema.
The event includes a 45-minute compilation of Dinello’s films, edited by Dinello’s son Bryan (also a “Colbert Report” staffer), featuring excerpts of
roughly half the 30 or so films Dinello has made since signing on with Columbia College in 1979. We’re talking about documentaries (including 1991’s “Chicago Halloween” about the many varied ways Chicago celebrates All Hallow’s Eve), music videos (including an MTV-featured 1984 interpretation of African music legend Fela Kuti’s “Army Arrangement”), and a comic treasure-trove of sardonic shorts, many featuring early performances by Second City performers Colbert, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello.
Require a sample? Search on YouTube for “Shock Asylum,” Dinello’s brilliantly twisted 1997 short featuring Colbert as a mad psychiatrist (“Am I pretty, Daddy?”) whose evaluation of Paul Dinello leads to commitment, shock therapy and attempted power-drill brain surgery. “Shock Asylum” screened at the Sundance Festival before becoming part of its permanent collection.
“I was a bit of a class clown and I guess I’ve always been interested in comedy,” said Dinello, who hid that inclination successfully as starting halfback of the 1962 All-City Championship football team fielded by Oak Park’s Fenwick High School. “I like silly stuff, but I’ve also always been drawn to darker, more surrealistic humor — comedy that tends toward satire and social criticism.”
It was an appetite for social criticism that put an end to Dinello’s football career when he was swept up in the counter-cultural and anti-war movements while studying at the University of Illinois on an athletic scholarship. “Being a hippie and being a football player; those two things didn’t mesh too well,” he recalled with a laugh.
After graduating in 1969, Dinello hovered around the graduate programs at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for 10 years, studying philosophy and theater and filmmaking until earning his MFA in filmmaking in 1979. At that point, he returned to Chicago for a job teaching film production at Columbia, a position that has allowed him for 33 years to pursue his twin passions for teaching and making movies.
As an early faculty member (now a Distinguished Faculty Scholar) during what Dinello calls the school’s “anarchic period,” he helped create Columbia’s production program and taught film courses that reflected his personal passion for pop music, science fiction, horror, spaghetti Westerns and other juicy pop-culture genres.
All of which are also represented in Dinello’s comic films. “Shock Asylum,” for example, revels in sending up vintage sci-fi and horror shockers while “Wheels of Fury” (1998) features Sedaris as a female gunfighter seeking revenge in a wheelchair.
Dinello discovered Colbert and Sedaris early in their careers, after his nephew Paul met them while working his way up the ladder at Second City. They later invited him to New York to direct several episodes of their Comedy Central series “Strangers with Candy.”
He was impressed with them then and he’s even more impressed with them today and considers “The Colbert Report” to be the funniest show on television.
“All three of them are amazingly smart and talented at improvisation,” Dinello said. “As for Stephen, he’s figured out a way to focus his satirical barbs more directly, but he’s always been good at using his incredibly straight-looking, seemingly normal exterior to play extremely crazy people. He’s also one of the funniest people — on and off-screen — that I’ve ever come in contact with — and an amazingly nice person.”
Unless, of course, he’s got you strapped down in his office for a little power-drill psychotherapy.