Don Hatton
Don Hatton, a filmmaker and the head of the Rockford Film Office, speaks Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, at the RPL Nordlof Center about the upcoming 815HORTS film festival. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — The 815HORTS film festival returns this winter with 13 short films headlined by the premiere of Academy Award nominee Bing Liu’s latest documentary.

Plus Seven Co., which puts on the festival, announced the lineup at a news conference Thursday at RPL Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., where 815SHORTS will be held on Dec. 2.

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The company received double the number of film submissions it got last year, and it will screen twice as many pictures, said Nick Povalitis, the founder of Plus Seven Co.

“While the quality was terrific last year, year one, I think we definitely stepped it up in year two,” Povalitis said.

There are seven films from Rockford-area natives and two selections from Oscar-nominated filmmakers, including Liu. Liu’s latest documentary is called “What the Hands Do,” and was created with Patagonia Films to explore how rock climbing can shape the way we see the world.

The other picture from an Academy Award nominee is “Barefoot Empress,” which is written by Vikas Khanna, produced by Oscar-nominee Doug Roland and executive produced by Deepak Chopra.

The film festival is also part of the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour.

“It really helps us to elevate our position as a film-friendly city, and also to build a more cohesive excitement of filmmakers in the region.” said Don Hatton, a filmmaker and the head of the Rockford Film Office.

He said 815HORTS can help attract other studios to the region. He said he’s meeting with one, Chicago Media Angels, this week to talk about the potential in Rockford.

“Rockford has an incredible amount of artistic talent, and this festival is a great way for us to showcase our region’s creative and filmmaking community,” Mayor Tom McNamara said.

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The mayor noted that spending on film production in Illinois hit a record high last year. That total was $691 million, which is a $131 million increase from the pre-pandemic record in 2019, according to the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“Rockford is really poised to play a bigger role in the success of the state of Illinois in the film industry,” McNamara said. “If you look at what Rockford has to offer, even some of our challenges are really opportunities in the film industry.”

Lynn Stainbrook, executive director of the Rockford Public Library, talks about the upcoming 815HORTS film festival on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, at the RPL Nordlof Center. The festival happens Dec. 2. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

The movies will screen in three time blocks inside the 286-seat J.R. Sullivan Theatre of the RPL Nordlof Center. The theater has an upgraded lighting system,commercial grade wireless digital audio system and full-screen projection system, said Lynn Stainbrook, executive director of Rockford Public Library.

“That enables us to provide really breathtaking sound and movie experiences for people and make the perfect film screening venue right here in the heart of downtown Rockford,” Stainbrook said.

Know before you go | 815HORTS

When: Saturday, Dec. 2

Where: RPL Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., Rockford

Schedule: 3 p.m. 815HORTS Matinees; 5 p.m. 2023 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour; 7 p.m. 815HORTS Matinees Prime Time block; 8:45 p.m. conversation with Bing Liu; 9:30 p.m. awards

Lunch and learn: The 5HORT Route will be produced as a lunch and learn program from noon to 2 p.m. at City Stage Studios, 811 First Ave., where up to 50 aspiring area filmmakers can learn from industry professionals.

Tickets: $15; $10 for students with a school ID (Children younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian as some films include mature content)

Purchase tickets: Go HERE

More info:

815HORTS Matinees

  • “Because I Love You”  (written by Jacob Guerrero and Corbin Rivers; directed by Corbin Rivers; produced by AreVeeSee Productions)
  • “32 White Teeth” (written by Max Burke; directed by Nathan Talan and Luca Sauceda; produced by Lonnie Iske, Nicholas Stange, Nathan Talan, Nick Talan and Luca Sauceda)
  • “PICKUP” (written and directed by Sean Wisbey; produced by Emily Schumann and Keiph Oliver)
  • “Love, John” (written by Dena Altamore and Shelly Dorani; Directed by Dena Altamore; produced by Stefan Rorick)
  • “Stevie Bullets” (written, directed and produced by James Forni)
  • “Everything All at Once” written, directed and produced by Gavin Michael Booth)
  • “KAD (Korean Adoptee)” (written, directed and produced by Katharin Mraz)
  • “A Cloudy Moon” (written by Aaron Hill; directed and produced by T.J. Hill)
815HORTS is slated for Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, at the RPL Nordlof Center in downtown Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

815HORTS Prime Time

  • THIRSTYGIRL” (written and directed by Alexandra Qin; produced by Brooke Goldman, Alexandra Qin and Esteban Pedraza)
  • “Are You My Mommy” (written by Paula Jean Hixson; directed by Gavin Michael Booth; produced by Paula Jean Hixson, Neil Napier and Sarah Booth)
  • “The Last Step” (written and directed by Nick Snow; produced by Don Hatton)
  • “Barefoot Empress” (directed by Vikas Khanna; produced by Doug Roland; executive produced by Deepak Chopra)
  • “What the Hands Do” (directed by Bing Liu; produced by Laura Wagner; edited by Collin Kriner; music by Casey Wayne McAllister)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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