As a backdrop for their short film "The Painter," the producers decided to cut out a few newspaper stories about Chicago's gun violence.
Within weeks, the wall was plastered from top to bottom with tragic stories, creating a stunningly sad sight.
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"It was just overpowering to see all of these clippings," said one of the film's producers, DeAnna Cooper of Wheaton.
The 14-minute film is powerful, too. Starring Chicago native Ron Caldwell, who played Denzel Washington's son in the Academy Award-nominated movie "Flight," "The Painter" is now making the rounds at film festivals.
"The Painter" was written and directed by Kevin Cooper, of Wheaton (DeAnna's husband), who stayed up all night writing the script after watching the TV news during a particularly violent weekend in Chicago. His idea was to show the violence through a child's eyes. So "The Painter" focuses on Caldwell, a boy who's tempted, but afraid, to go outside. Instead, he paints.
"If you lived in this environment, where would you be mentally or physically? How would you survive? There are years of trauma. There are decades of trauma. There are thousands of lives being affected," DeAnna Cooper said. "This is a film you watch and you have questions, and that's good. This film doesn't answer any questions, it's meant to provoke thought and inspire action."
The Coopers hope to use the movie as an educational tool. Their production company, Amarok Productions, is starting to partner with social service groups who work in Chicago's violence-filled communities, showing them the film to help them visualize the fear children experience in these neighborhoods.
"The Painter" is the first short film from Cooper, who has worked on movies ranging from "Armageddon" to "I Heart Shakey."
His latest film, "Precious Mettle," filmed partially in Naperville and Aurora, will be released later this year. It's a mystery about a Chicago police commander who investigates his best friend's murder, and ends up helping a heroin-addicted daughter he didn't know he had. It stars Paul Sorvino, Todd Bridges, Joe Estevez and Fiona Dourif.
"The Painter" was filmed last year on a sound stage at Columbia College in Chicago, where Kevin Cooper works as a film professor. It features students from Parker Community Academy in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood. While Caldwell's face is featured, the local students are used as body doubles in different scenes.
DeAnna Cooper says life for suburban children is dramatically different from those in violent city neighborhoods, and what the kids are exposed to every day would be difficult even for adults to process.
"We are so out here in the suburbs. We have this beautiful life, and it's so well-protected. Our kids are so safe in their schools. And 10 miles away, I'm driving through a barbed wire fence and being let in by security guards," she said. "We are all Chicagoans and we love this city. We feel protective of these children, who are our children."