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Ronn Pitts: Gone But Never Forgotten

Ronn Pitts, who passed away on Sunday, September 22, 2013, personified what Columbia College and our department are all about. He was a man of uncommon humor, courage, and compassion, a fine cinematographer, and an excellent teacher.

Pitts first taught cinematography workshops to students when all of Columbia College was housed in a single building at 540 Lake Shore Drive more than forty years ago. He challenged and broke color barriers throughout his life, including the segregated Chicago television and filmmaking industries. Pitts rubbed shoulders with Muhammad Ali AND Andy Warhol, and was alongside people like Huey Newton as they authored important parts of our history. When iconic filmmakers Haskell Wexler and Andy Davis came to the department, Ronn was the person they most wanted to see.

We mourn Ronn Pitts' passing but celebrate his extraordinary life and work:  He really is the spiritual father of several  generations of Columbia College film students.  

Bruce Sheridan, Filmmaker
Professor & Chair Cinema Art + Science
Columbia College Chicago

The department will screen Four Days in Chicago on October 16 at 12:30 pm, Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor. A celebration of Ronn Pitts' life will be held on October 17, 2013.

In May of 2012, CA+S alums teamed up with current faculty, staff and two-time Academy Award winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler on his recent documentary, Four Days in Chicago. The feature chronicles Wexler's return to his hometown of Chicago to document the demonstrations against the 2012 NATO Summit. The project was a reunion for many of the filmmakers who had filmed in Grant Park during the volatile 1968 Democratic Convention, including Mike Gray, Ronn Pitts, Andy Davis, and Peter Kuttner.

Wexler, who had worked with Suree Towfighnia (MFA '06) in 2004 on his documentary Who Needs Sleep, contacted her last spring to help coordinate the group of disparate filmmakers and interested helpers who worked to make the project possible. "Spending the days in the streets with Haskell Wexler shooting was a dream come true", says Towfighnia. "Medium Cool, American Revolution, The Murder of Fred Hampton...these films are models of the amazing power documentary has in presenting people's movements in times of oppression. I was humbled to be able to shoot next to these legends in cinematography and film."

Alongside Towfighnia was adjunct faculty and staff member Larry Kapson (BA '99), who took stills of the events happening around town. Legendary cinematographer, filmmaker, faculty and staff member Ronn Pitts was there to document, lend insights that are present in the final film, and to provide perspective as to how the NATO protests compared to what was happening in the 60's in Chicago. Stephen Combs (MFA '05) shot for the film and worked as assistant editor coordinating the over 70 hours of footage that was gathered during the week of shooting.  Most of the film was shot in and around Columbia College during the week in May when most of the South Loop was deserted and buildings boarded up their windows in anticipation of what the media was dubbing 'the violent protests.'  Wexler's film shows an alternate story other than what mainstream media presented that week.

View the trailer.