Chicago Tribune: ‘Fugitive’ director Andy Davis returns to Chicago to screen his first movie ‘Stony Island’

Andrew Davis lives in Santa Barbara, California, which is a very nice place to live, all sunshine and warm breezes. He and his wife Adrianne have lived there and elsewhere on the West Coast since leaving his hometown Chicago decades ago. But he will be the first to tell you that Chicago is in his blood and in his dreams and, for all to see, in many of the movies he has made.

He is one of the most successful directors in the business, most famous for directing 1993′s “The Fugitive,” which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Tommy Lee Jones winning for best supporting actor. It was also filled with our city, alive with it. Remember? The one-armed man’s house was in Pullman. The store where Richard Kimball buys clothes was on Commercial Avenue on the Southeast Side. Davis was only allowed to shoot for one day in the former Cook County Hospital and so
used a school in Woodlawn to “play” that hospital. You, of course, remember the ballroom of the Chicago Hilton and Towers, City Hall, the Wrigley Building … there was much more. “Chicago,” says Davis,“ has been my cinematic playground.”

He has used it effectively in such other movies as “Code of Silence” (1985), “The Package” (1989), “Above the Law” (1988), and “Chain Reaction” (1996). He will be back in town later this week to talk about his first movie, 1978′s “Stony Island,” which launched his career as an A-list moviemaker. An
event at the Siskel Film Center marks the 45th anniversary of the film as well as its release on cable, satellite and digital platforms by Freestyle Digital Media.

After the 95-minute movie screens, I will be talking on stage with Andy, his brother Richie, who starred in the film, and some other cast and crew members. Some of the conversation will travel to the past, to 1946 when Andy was born on the West Side, son of Nathan and Metta Davis, who had met in the Chicago Repertory Group, an experimental theater company. She would go on to become a schoolteacher and he a pharmaceutical sales representative and later an acclaimed actor on local stages and in Andy’s films.

The family, which would include Richie and a sister Jo, moved to Rogers Park for a time and then to the Southeast Side. He was president of his YMCA photography club at age 8, a grammar school movie projectionist, he played guitar in local bands, graduated from Bowen High School, and was a journalism student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked with writer/director Haskell Wexler on “Medium Cool,” that highly acclaimed 1969 film that, in a compellingly unconventional fashion, focused on a television news reporter who gets deeply involved in the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention here.

He moved to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles, where he worked as a director of photography on television commercials and documentaries. Drawn home, he put together “Stony Island.” “We raised very little money,” he says. “We were basically all working for nothing.” On a $300,000 budget, the movie was filmed over 30 manic days, with 12 of those days given to capturing live music. “I look back at the film and I am satisfied,” says Davis. “We were all sort of children then and I now have to ask myself, ‘How were we able to do that?” One reason is the talent Davis was able to tap, which includes a young Dennis Franz in his first film, before Franz’s fame from movie roles and on TV as Detective Andy Sipowicz in the ABC television series “NYPD Blue.” The cast also included Davis’s father, the estimable Oscar Brown Jr., a number of talented musicians, future star Rae Dawn Chong and Susanna Hoffs. Hoffs was the daughter of Davis’ co-writer and co-producer Tamar Hoffs, and would go on to found the successful rock band the Bangles. The movie tells the story, based largely on younger brother Richie’s life, of a group of young musicians trying to start a band. In his three-star review, Roger Ebert called it “an easygoing, cheerful city movie about a bunch of kids who start a rock band” and wrote that it “captures a city spirit, with a
certain refreshing cynicism.”

It holds up well, capturing a city rough around the edges, a real city. It also touches on local politics, featuring the funeral of Richard J. Daley in 1976; rain-splattered sidewalks and a sort of encouraging racial harmony that Richie knew firsthand growing up one of the few white kids in an all-Black
neighborhood. When he was interviewed many years later for Studs Terkel’s book “Race,” Richie said, “The amazing thing is that children hadn’t learned to hate yet … I’m ten, eleven, twelve years old and started assimilating into black culture.”

Richie would go on to, in real life, form the successful band Chicago Catz, still active. Davis is still in the moviemaking business. Their parents have died. Their sister Jo is alive and well in California. Andy
and Adrianne have kids and grandkids in Massachusetts and back in California. While he’s here, Andy is likely to drive around, looking at the city that remains in his heart and mind and movies. “Things change, of course,” he says. “This is no longer the city of my youth. But the memories are still there. Richie and I may now be a couple of old bald guys but we can still remember the energy, the dreams we had.”

“Stony Island” screens 8 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.; tickets $13 at 312-846-2085 and

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