Sergio Mims, the co-founder of the Black Harvest Film Festival, a contributor to this site, and a long-standing member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, passed away this week at the age of 67. We wanted to open a platform to his colleagues and friends to help express their loss and what Sergio meant to them. He will be so dearly missed, and our condolences go out to his friends and family. Read the articles he wrote for us here.
I've struggled greatly with what to say about Sergio, more than I can ever remember after facing a loss. Writing is usually how I process things. But this one feels different. There's something that just feels so wrong about him not being around anymore that words can't express. He's always been there. He's always been not just present but foundational and influential. It's one of those momentous losses in our community after which nothing is the same. So many people below me here express what I somehow struggle to say, and I'm grateful for that, so I will only note that the two words I think of first when I think of Sergio are "brilliant" and "kind." May we all be lucky enough to be considered a model of those traits when we go.
Sergio hailed from the South Side of Chicago. In other words, he was built different. He didn't just champion filmmaking; he lived it. As co-founder of Shadow and Act and the Black Harvest Film Festival, he gave an innumerable number of Black creatives their first platform (so many people owe their place in this industry to him). He also possessed an unbelievable knowledge of all things film, not just Black cinema. And he had that South Side charm. He could cut through the bullshit while still managing to put a smile on your face.
I have many memories of Sergio: For the last couple of years, we were both guest editors for this site's Black Writers Week. During our first stint, while having lunch at Chaz's home, he regaled me with stories about the early days of Shadow and Act and Black Harvest. I couldn't help but look on in wide-eyed amazement (he so often led by example).
Earlier this year, at the TCM Film Festival, Sergio gave the introduction to two Sidney Poitier films: "Lilies of the Field" and "The Slender Thread." His introduction to the latter was marvelous and witty. He also asked the audience who was from Chicago. People cheered. Then he asked who was from the South Side: silence. You can see a joke flash across his face, only for him to put it in his back pocket (a bruising quip for another time). Every time I bumped into him at the fest, he had the biggest grin. He was in his element and having the time of his life. Later, when I asked him why he didn't mention the West Side (where I'm from) during his intro, he gave the biggest eye roll. As though to say: Who cares about the West Side?
The last time I spoke with him was a few weeks ago. I was working on a profile of Bill Duke for Indiewire but couldn't get in touch with his people. I had a general email, but it was mostly radio silence. I was so worried I'd have to drop it until I remembered that there was one person who I knew who for sure could help me: Sergio. I DMed him on Facebook and he gave me Duke's personal email. From there, the piece came together. And it was all because of Sergio. That was the kind of person he was. Not merely a man whose influence as a historian, critic, and writer stretched across the cinematic landscape. But a man who was willing to help wherever he could, who believed in a strong film community and mischievous laughter and treating even the greenest critic as a peer. He was a South Sider until the end. And I will miss him, dearly.
I also feel my strength in communicating is verbal instead of written. With that in mind, I'm sending the tribute I did for Sergio on my latest Podcast episode. It was not prepared and done just off the top of my head, the way I prefer to do it. So, here's the link and my tribute.
Anyone who attended screenings at the Chicago screening room inevitably ended up talking to Sergio. It was pretty much impossible not to. He was a warm, effusive presence with strong opinions and a multitude of interests. For me he was a link to a Chicago moviegoing scene I never got to experience but enjoyed hearing about secondhand, one of dingy second-run downtown theaters and all-day kung-fu movie marathons. With his passing we've lost a connection to that bygone world and much, much more.
Throughout a decade in which we both covered movies in Chicago, interactions with Sergio in/to/from the screening room or theater were supercharged with the passion of someone who combined the love of a fan with the knowledge of a scholar. His generous personality, strong opinions and contagious laugh will be missed.
Sergio Mims loved movies, or as he called them, "pictures." But he also loved connecting with others that shared his passion in a way that made you feel less alone; he made you feel welcome. He would go out of his way to say hello to me at various screenings but also offered up ideas and suggestions for my podcast. We had a list of directors he wanted to talk about that now, will be very hard episodes to do with others. There's no denying that he left behind quite the legacy. A number of commentary tracks, podcasts, writing—so his voice and spirit lives on. He touched so many lives and it shows. When I think of Sergio, I will always think of him as being encouraging and supportive and one hell of a passionate communicator about the arts. He didn't just care about movies, he cared about the people that made them and the film critics that championed them. Future festivals and film events won't be the same without his presence, but he left such an impression on me and so many others, I know we will all carry on and ensure that what he gave to us all will not be taken for granted. Eternally grateful to have known him and to have had him several times on my show.
In knowing someone on the level as a respected colleague, it occurred to me when I heard of Sergio’s passing why I have that respect ... it’s about the passion, the advocacy and the sheer energy that he had towards his chosen life in the cinema.
On the occasion of his 2019 Legacy Award from the Gene Siskel Film Center, honoring not only his cinema passion but his contributions to the Black Harvest Film Festival as co-founder and programmer, I asked him what he thought author James Baldwin ... an early observer of black cinema ... would say about the evolution of Black Harvest. Sergio thoughtfully answered, “He would see the wide range of imagery in modern black films ... the diverse culture and the diverse lifestyles among black people today ... not only in this country but all over the world. I know he would really appreciate that.”
Just like the Chicago film community appreciates the life and times of Sergio Mims. Rest in Power, my brother.
I did not have as deep a friendship with Sergio as so many film critics and filmmakers in Chicago and the whole country had. I certainly did not spend countless hours on the phone talking to him or going out for drinks or dinner. Our encounters were always limited to press or festival screenings (and most recently social media). Oh, but what brief and short conversations we had, particularly about Latin American cinema and, more specifically, films from the Dominican Republic, his mother’s home country, and one that, like Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and now Costa Rica, has been enjoying quite a cinematic renaissance.
It was at a press screening where we had our first conversation about a film we had seen days before that had been screened for press after the voting deadline for the annual CFCA awards had passed. That film was "City of God," Fernando Meirelles’ and Katia Lund’s powerful, hyperkinetic and devastating portrait of Brazil’s favelas. We were both gushing over it, in agreement that it was the best film we had seen that year and lamenting how late it had screened for us.
He was always on the lookout for films that spoke about the Afro-Latin American experience for Black Harvest. He would always ask me if the Chicago Latino Film Festival had secured such a film or another so he could go after it (I have a seasonal position as the Festival’s Media Relations Coordinator). His ears would perk up and he would get really excited when I told him about any film at the festival that tackled the infamous 1937 massacres of Haitians by Dominican soldiers and was in fact chasing after one such recent film: José María Cabral’s "Parsley" (Cabral also directed a mutual favorite: "Woodpeckers." Seek it out. Highly recommended). I sure as hell hope he secured both "Parsley" and "Freda," a Haitian production I called his attention to, for Black Harvest.
And he couldn’t stop talking about two (to me unknown) Argentinian film noirs from the 50s that had been recently restored and released by Flicker Alley: Román Viñoly Barreto’s "The Beast Must Die" (1952) and Fernando Ayala’s "The Bitter Stems" (1956). I have yet to watch them. And he managed to find on YouTube a copy of the new restoration of another upcoming Argentinian noir restoration: El vampiro negro, Román Viñoly Barreto’s virtually unknown remake of Fritz Lang’s "M." “It’s a very different take,” is all Sergio would tell me about it.
Sergio’s passing is as much a devastating blow to our eclectic, cantankerous, opinionated, diverse community of critics as was Roger’s death. The fact that we lost Sergio three years after losing David Schultz, another important African-American voice in Chicago's film critic community, compounds the pain. Between the two, we lost two important connections to the history of African-American moviegoing in Chicago and African-American culture overall. I know I will miss Sergio’s many Facebook postings of the many movie theaters and palaces that lined State Street and Randolph and some many downtown streets back in the '70s and '80s. They always brought back childhood memories of the many theaters that lined the Ponce de León and Fernández Juncos’ avenues in Santurce, Puerto Rico, which ran parallel to each other and to which we went every week, rotating among them depending on the movie.
Both David and Sergio also loved music: David would tell me about his days as a concert promoter, wrangling with the likes of Aretha Franklin. And we all know that Sergio was as much a connoisseur of classical music as he was of American cinema. His absence from our press screenings during his illness hit me in a big way during last week's screening of "TÁR." I know he would have had a lot of things to say about it.
A day after news of his passing made the rounds of social media, I was reading a review of Indicator's Blu-ray of "Putney Swope" in this month's Sight and Sound on my way to the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago’s offices in downtown and whose name would pop up as one of the folks offering commentary on the disc? Sergio’s. I realized his body may be gone, but his voice lives on in the countless DVD commentaries he recorded over the years, in the many podcasts he participated in, in the many video clips floating around YouTube. May we all not only remember him but follow his example as a curious, supportive and, most importantly, knowledgeable person.
Fifteen years ago, I made a small, scrappy little documentary called "Break-Up Date" (what a dumb title, what was I thinking?). I hoped it would play a few film festivals and that's it. It got a week-long run at the Siskel Center. That was because of Sergio Mims. He was in my corner. I thought he would help me get maybe an evening or two in that space, but he got me a whole week. It was one of many selfless favors he did for me, and I always have him to thank for that little bit of pride that I could suddenly take in that film.
Among other favorite memories: Guesting on his WHPK radio show, “The Bad Mutha’ Film Show” anytime I could. Three solid hours of conversation, film talk and laughter. Him guesting on my podcast, “Christmas Movies Actually.” Same thing. He always brought it and told amazing stories that tied everything together during the talk. Episodes of “Black Christmas,” “Lethal Weapon,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Dead Bang,” recorded just a couple months ago, would have been pretty dull without him.
Going shopping with him at Reckless Records. We would meet there a few times. Once, I went there with the purpose of buying their Blu-ray of “Viva Las Vegas” (saw it listed on their website. It was only $3). He got there first and beat me to it. I told him it was his, fair and square. Hey, he got there first, right? A week later, he put it in the mail and sent it to me. He wanted me to have it.
His Blu-ray commentary tracks. He could do them without looking at notes. He knew it. During lockdown, he did one for “Song of the South,” just for his friends. What a gift!
Of course, I’ll always remember his catchphrase anytime the subject of seeing films in the ‘60s and ‘70s came up: “Hey,” he’d say with a devilish grin. “I was there!”
He was there. He was here, too, with all of us and our lives are better for it.
Every time I approached Sergio at a screening or a film festival, he had a mischievous grin, and I knew right away he had a story to tell. Whether that story was current or a tale from the past, he loved telling stories—it was a passion that he was so good at and his enthusiasm was infectious. Yes, his knowledge of film and film history was vast and unparalleled (especially when it came to Chicago movie theater history), but what I’ll always remember is how interested he was in storytelling and the lives of others. He will be sorely missed.
While awaiting my early morning flight to the BendFilm Festival, all I can think about was every precious moment I shared with my dear friend and colleague, Sergio Mims. He never missed an opportunity to share a hilarious story or a thoughtful insight with me. Knowing how much I loved the Muppets, he posted countless priceless photos of Jim Henson and his collaborators on my Facebook page up until only two weeks ago. His programming of the annual Black Harvest Film Festival was masterful, and he cherished sharing the stage with Jacqueline Stewart at this year’s TCM Film Festival. He was thrilled that I gifted him my copy of “Robinson Crusoe on Mars,” and when he learned that I loved the 1978 remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” he lent me his copy of Abel Ferrara’s 1993 version, “Body Snatchers,” and told me to keep it. When I finally returned to the screening room after a prolonged absence due to the pandemic, it was Sergio who immediately leapt up to give me the warmest of handshakes. I will never forget his friendship nor the warmth of his spirit. My deepest condolences to all of his loved ones.
It’s hard to write about Sergio without wanting to describe the mischievous glint he so often had in his eye. Not really possible I suppose. That kind of magic is beyond words. I can only tell you that I always felt part of some special chicanery when I was with him. I was in on something. More important I was with him. In my work as a theologian and film critic I’ve grown into the idea that to walk alongside someone is the greatest of spiritual gifts. It’s not really about time but presence. Sergio walked beside me often. Asking how I was when I needed to be noticed. Asking for my opinion because he thought it mattered. When you were with Sergio you felt seen. Those little bits of encouragement (was Sergio ever not encouraging?) will still walk alongside me.
Occasionally, we disagreed with one another (usually about a film or some related cultural subject) but I never once left those encounters feeling smaller. Everything about him seemed expansive, reaching out, connective. I like to think that the mischievous glint I referred to earlier was about that. Sergio knew that he was bigger with us just as we were bigger with him. Maybe that’s why he seemed to bring all of himself with him everywhere he went. It was the best gift he had. It was what the world needed. It was what I was lucky enough to receive. I think next time I'm near a mirror I’ll stop, take off my glasses and peer deeply. I have faith I might see some of my friend in there. It was his worst kept secret. Loving what he did, the people he did it with and knowing that it made a difference.
The morning after I write these words, I will be heading down into Chicago to attend a couple of press screenings, something that I have been doing with regularity for ... well, let’s just say that it has been a long time. This in itself is not especially remarkable except for one thing—it will be the first one since the passing of local critic and film historian Sergio Mims on October 5th. For as long as I have been doing this job, he has been a mainstay in those screening rooms and the idea that he will no longer be there is still sort of inconceivable to me. His departure literally marks the end of an era and I know I am not the only one in our group of critics who will find it hard to make that adjustment.
Although Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel remain the best-known critics to have made their home base in Chicago, there have been any number of others who have helped the local film scene thrive over the years and Sergio was one of the key people in that regard. He wrote reviews for N’DIGO and produced and hosted the “Bad Mutha’ Film Show” on local radio (on which I would appear as an occasional guest). He taught screenwriting at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education center, appeared on countless film discussion panels covering a wide variety of subjects and earlier this year was given the opportunity to introduce a couple of screenings at the annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Los Angeles. He recorded a number of Blu-ray commentary tracks for films running the gamut from “Lilies in the Field” to the infamous John Travolta & Lily Tomlin vehicle “Moment by Moment.” Perhaps most significantly from a cultural perspective, he was one of the founders and driving forces behind the Black Harvest Film Festival, an annual program of films highlighting Black cinema from around the world that will be celebrating its 28th edition next month.
He was a man whose tastes were undeniably broad—he could embrace everything from the most prestigious art house titles to jaw-dropping grind house fare like “Mandingo” with equal enthusiasm—and were not limited to cinema; he also had a profound love for classical music as well. He was also a true student of film history who could instantly come up with some arcane fact or bit of trivia without a moment’s hesitation. Most importantly, he knew how to share his opinions, whether in a formal review or shooting the breeze in between screenings, in a manner so informed and entertaining that even when you knew that he was absolutely wrong on something—such as his bizarre insistence that the virtually unwatchable Paul Anderson remake of “Death Race” was indeed a worthwhile film—he could almost make you reconsider your way of thinking thanks to the wit and enthusiasm that he brought to his arguments.
More importantly, he was a good guy to boot. Even in a fairly small group like the Chicago film critic community, there are certain cliques, rivalries and occasional hostilities among members, but he is one person that I can safely say was beloved by all, always inquiring about their lives, families and interests outside of the screening room. When new people would filter in, as was the case with myself all those years ago, he would go out of his way to bring them into the fold and make them feel welcome. That said, if you got on his bad side, he would not hesitate to unleash on you either—he once got into a dustup with a particularly fearsome publicist before a screening that culminated with him loudly proclaiming that said publicist could “kiss my black ass,” an incident that instantly made him a legend among his peers and which he would cheerfully recount at the drop of a hat.
Now he is gone and while it was perhaps not a great surprise—his health had been failing in recent months—it was a great shock and one that I don’t think will go away for a while. He touched the lives of countless members of the Chicago film community over the years and while they will no doubt be feeling his loss for a long time to come, they will be able to comfort themselves with the stories that they were able to accumulate as a result of their associations with him that they can share with others. As for me, I think that in the next day or so, I may elect to sit down and take another look at that “Death Race” nonsense in his memory—no doubt hearing his memorable cackle in my head all the way through it. As for him, while I have no firm belief in anything resembling an afterlife, I am certain that if there is such a thing, he is already recounting the “kiss my black ass” tale to a new and appreciative audience.
When I think about how I was first assimilated into the scene of Chicago film critics, three names come to mind. There was Dann Gire, Nick Digilio, and Sergio Mims. Dann read my stuff and offered me advice and encouragement. Nick had me on his radio show and made me a permanent fixture. But my first true memory of knowing Sergio was just a simple act. The members of the Chicago Film Critics Association, of which I became a member in 2000, used to have a group meeting at the Lake St. screening room where we would hash out suggestions for the year-end awards. It was an opportunity to not only put films and performances on people’s radars but, more importantly, a gathering for CFCA members to commiserate and hang out with one another and have some pizza and merriment. I was just a newbie and anxious to be involved but also clearly still felt like an outsider. I was aware of Sergio from those screenings and I may have even popped in with a conversation or two. But at this meeting standing in the middle of the screening room, Sergio brought me a slice of pizza and started engaging me in conversation along with a few others. At some point he liked what I had to say and said “you should come on my radio show.”
Not long after I did as a guest. His show was on WHPK Radio at the University of Chicago where he had also taught some classes. There was another younger gentlemen whom he shared the booth with but he found room to have me crammed into the small booth to do a full three hours with them. It was my first time in an actual radio studio doing a live broadcast. Over the course of time, Sergio would have me back in the studio to talk what we had seen lately and new DVDs every three months or so until one day it just started becoming the two of us in that radio booth. A vacation and a hiatus turned into a move from the other guy and before I knew it I was there every month with him and he began introducing me as his co-host of The Bad Mutha Film Show.
That was the beginning of a partnership that lasted for more than 20 years and rarely a day would go by where I didn’t get an e-mail from him or eventually a tweet calling my attention to something. And yet even in those 20 years I don’t think I can accurately reflect the full life and career this man had and the orbit he brought me into. He was an assistant director on the film, "Penitentiary," and told me stories of working on "The Blues Brothers," particularly the day John Landis nearly killed a guy with a stunt. When Sergio made him aware of how close it was, Landis reportedly said, “Did we get the shot?”
Sergio was full of stories like that and he loved to tell them. When I included as part of his intro his humblebrag that he is “a walking Wikipedia of film knowledge” it was because it was the truth. There wasn’t a topic you could land on where Sergio did not have some behind-the-scenes knowledge. I would often let him share specific knowledge again and again cause I could tell how much joy he had in reciting it. Occasionally I would be able to school him on something and I felt like a damn superhero. But as something he would always say to me—“the films you grow up with are the ones that will always mean the most to you.” And over the years I felt like I continued to grow with Sergio as part of my life.
One of the things I have most missed over the years is doing Robert Parks’ class at Columbia College Chicago as a guest speaker. One day he decided to invite Sergio, Andrea Gronvall (a former longtime producer of Siskel & Ebert) and myself to be part of a panel for his class. We would each discuss and breakdown a pair of movies for the first half and then answer questions about movies, our careers or the industry for the second half. It went so well the first time that Robert made it a regular part of his curriculum once a semester. So twice a year, Sergio, Andrea and I would make our way to Columbia to participate in this joyous experience. The three of us would even occasionally have to be shushed by the teacher as he wanted to start the class since we enjoyed our company so much and just could not stop talking. We had not done the class in a long time and just a few years ago, Andrea passed away. I had not thought about those classes for a while but it's really striking to remember once you become one of the last people in the photo.
Sergio was a writer too, contributing over the years to New City and was on the ground floor of the beginning of Shadow & Act. Recently he had made several contributions to RogerEbert.com but also had written screenplays. I still have a copy of one of them, a western called "Blood Creek" that he was quite proud of and rightfully so. But so many probably knew him because of his voice. Though The Bad Mutha Film Show was only once a month, he spent the other weeks of the month at WHPK Radio doing a show dedicated to classical music called Songs From My Collection. More than once he would burst my bubble on a film score I loved from my youth and point out how the composer had incorporated parts of their “original” compositions from those that came before them. Then again as he always used to say about Quentin Tarantino – “he steals from everyone but he does so by putting his own unique spin on it.” Sergio had the knowledge and always had his own unique way of sharing it.”
One of them being one of the loves of his life which was the Black Harvest Film Festival. Again, he was one of the founders under a different name and this incredible annual event was dedicated to bringing black stories and voices to Chicago audiences. Every year he would start talking to me about it at its earliest stages. Films he was looking at. Films he so wanted for his festival if he could just convince certain filmmakers and distributors to choose Black Harvest over another that would take place months later. This was his passion and I attended many screenings there over the years and getting to meet a number of his special guests including Dick Cavett (at a screening of the doc about him and Muhammad Ali) and Rusty Cundieff, a multi-year guest who recently attended for a special screening of his great "Fear of a Black Hat." The festival used to be a regular event in August (and I mean ALL of August) but recently switched to November at the Gene Siskel Film Center after the pandemic. This year will definitely have a hole in it but I suspect will be filled with all the love everyone who knew Sergio will provide it by attending.
Doing the WHPK Radio show in person with Sergio was always such a joy. Three hours on the air. Another three-plus in traffic and a little extra time driving him around to do some errands like picking up his laundry and stopping at Harold’s Chicken before dropping him off at home which was not far from the University. He would show me where the Obamas lived up the street when they were in Illinois and the house where they filmed "Widows" and set a car on fire. But on the air I always cherished the times he asked me to vamp so he could open the door for another DJ or when I’d crack that funny bone and he could not compose himself for minutes. Perhaps my favorite though was when I would reference some movie out of the blue and I would watch him pause like a Scorsese freeze frame, cock his head and say “that’s a good picture.”
One of the regular parts of the radio show we would do is to talk about all the new Blu-ray and DVD releases which always meant literally bringing in bags of stuff we wanted to discuss. Like duffel bags. Usually take up half the show or longer then we would borrow stuff from each other’s collection. It was often so much that when I ultimately began the Movie Madness Podcast I suggested to Sergio that we make it a regular part of the show. Over the years we ended up doing over 70 podcasts dedicated solely to Blu-rays including a bi-annual discussion that we called “Why Is This NOT On Blu-ray?” But he was a regular on the show and often would be the one most excited to tape, keeping me on track during times where I was letting interest in doing the show lapse, especially during the pandemic. We did shows dedicated to awards, box office and other specifics like the career of Sidney Poitier and his ever-loving appreciation of James Bond. Episode 100 was a very special one as we gathered a number of colleagues to discuss the losses of our dads and our connection to film from them. I highly recommend that one and then for a palette cleanser listen to Episode 195 to hear Sergio’s infectious enthusiasm for our favorite moments in movies where people get kicked in the balls.
Sergio may have been the most in-demand guest on podcasts I knew and he did them all. Christmas Movies Actually, Director’s Club, Afronerd and so many others. Ben Joravsky’s radio show (where he would also intelligently debate politics—national and local) he was frequently on and he would always tell me when. But another of the perfect fits in Sergio’s life was when he became a regular (and I do mean regular) contributor of commentary tracks on Blu-rays. From the very film he was an assistant on (Penitentiary) to such classics as Putney Swope and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, this guy was like Michael Caine. He was everywhere. He even did a track for one of his favorites recently—"Gambit"—with Michael Caine. I think I have most, if not all, of them on my DVD shelf as their own section alongside the careers of favorite directors. Sergio never had a problem tooting his own Wikipedia horn, but he was always eternally grateful and moved whenever I told him how much I loved his commentaries.
Quick story—On one of our NOT-On-Blu-ray shows I selected the film, "Career Opportunities." Even though it was not exactly a favorite of mine I did feel it was one that deserved an upgraded release perhaps with all the lost footage and a commentary on what happened to the film John Hughes wanted his name taken off of. Not long after, it came out that Kino Home Video was actually doing a Blu-ray release. (Sergio always loved when we would “get one” released from our various shows.) Having done several commentaries with them already, Kino approached Sergio about doing one for this. Saying as he had no stake and little knowledge of the film, he turned them down. But ... he told them he knew someone who loved the movie. OK, he embellished a bit, but the next thing I knew I was being offered the opportunity to contribute my very first Blu-ray commentary track. All because of Sergio who delighted even up to just a month ago telling me how well it was selling. He loved to joke how my one commentary was outselling all of us, not to mention the 4K of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."
Sergio was such a supporter and I think everyone who knew him can attest to that. He told me after I recorded that commentary to send to him before I sent to Kino which I did. I was prepared for him to tell me that I should tighten it up or expand on certain elements. He called me the next morning to simply say “that was incredible.” Sergio always used to say to me that when he would ask me to do something or put me on the path of something it was because he “knew I could do it.” Years ago in studio at WHPK when he would often challenge me on music he chose to highlight during our films shows that he wanted me to program an entire show around John Williams. We had not done a show in studio since 2020 and ultimately ended up recording episodes virtually and programmed as part of the lineup. This year he came back to the Williams idea and said he wanted me to do it. I spent much of May and June working on it to meet the date he programmed it. I had to scale it down to three hours with music and commentary and, again, he wanted to hear it before he sent it in. This time he used the word “amazing.” We may all take for granted what it's like for a friend, a colleague and someone we love and respect so much to offer so much encouragement but may we all have a Sergio in our lives to do so.
One of our playful bits of rivalry involved the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which annually would take place about three months prior to Black Harvest since 2013. One year, our shorts programmer, Collin Souter, lost one of his films when they decided to go with the August event instead. It led to years of playful ribbing with Sergio playing the role of the French guy on "Cheers" who kept insisting he was going to steal Woody’s girlfriend. But the pattern was always the same. His words of encouragement and advice over what we had achieved with the festival always meant the word to me. He was always happy to talk up the new records that Black Harvest was achieving, and he saw it every year at our festival as well. I have never forgotten him telling me just how hard he laughed at a particular scene in our opening night film, "They Came Together," from our first year at the Music Box Theatre. He has cited our 40th Anniversary "Alien" screening with Tom Skerritt in attendance as an “all-timer” film event that he was in attendance for. I think it was year seven when we talked about the confidence we were seeing from studios and audiences alike to our event. He said “that’s because you are established now. You have proven you can do it.” The 10th anniversary in 2023 is going to be dedicated to his memory.
Just looking back on this singular year and how much Sergio was involved in it still feels like he is still here. How could this beacon be taken away from us when he still had so much to offer? One of his daily rituals when he got up in the morning was to immediately turn on Turner Classic Movies. He would introduce me to old movies (this way and so many others) so when he got the opportunity to go out and be a part of the Turner Classic Film Festival and introduce films on stage and be part of Q&As it literally felt like one of those movie moments where somebody’s entire life is realized in a single moment. He was so excited at the attention the festival took upon him in making him comfortable and getting him out there and he made the absolute most of it with the festival talking about how much they wanted to bring him back next year. In February he was going to make his debut at the Critic’s Classics series at Elk Grove Cinema that I help produce to lead a discussion about "Devil in a Blue Dress," one of his favorite movies. Due to Chicago snowstorms, he was unable to make it in from the city and I had to fill in for him. Talk about stepping into the shoes I did not feel I was worthy to fill. And yet I could still hear Sergio saying something complimentary about it even if he wasn’t there.
That’s a reality I have to face going forward. That he won’t be here to do the next podcast or radio show. I won’t get a tweet or a text from him about the news he just caught up with. He won’t be asking me what kind of food we got for our closing night festival party. But I have all these memories and more. Like the celebrities we memorialize every year there is so much that they have left behind that we feel like we know them personally. Sergio has radio shows, podcasts, commentaries, videos and an enduring legacy with Black Harvest and what he meant to the Chicago film community. Sergio did not used to respond to the film "Almost Famous." For years he would just kind of shrug it off. But when someone he knew really liked something he always gave it another chance. With this it wasn’t just me but another friend of his who told him how much the film meant to her. That was enough for him to look at it in a different way. I’ll think about him that way and so much more as I paraphrase one of the Band Aids from that film who loved a silly little piece of something so much that it hurts: I’ll be able to revisit those shows, those podcasts, and commentaries whenever I want. And visit my friend.