April 16, 2012 by Dan Patton
WHEN A CELEBRATION devoted to Chicago’s film and arts community begins with an open bar at 6 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, the midnight scene features a lobby full of charming cinemistas, tipsy writers, sassy stylists and at least one spontaneous meltdown that rivals any act lighting up the screen.
Or so it did last year.
Whether or not this year’s Mofest achieves the same climax will be known on April 21st, when the event kicks off its seventh annual run at The Portage Theatre. Given the thrills dominating the warmup festivities, an encore seems inevitable.
“It’s all about everybody getting together and having a good time,” says Mo Wagdy, host, founder and namesake of the event. “You go to some film festivals, nobody knows each other. There’s like thirty people in the audience.”
Although the original Mofest drew roughly the same size crowd, it came with an uncommon twist: all the guests were friends. Meeting in a small conservatory, the group “drank Miller Lites while watching their old student film VHS tapes from 1998,” recalls Mo. “The creative bar was really low but it was a really nice night.”
The bar has risen considerably since then. Attendance this year is likely to exceed the six hundred who showed up last year. Half Acre and Fare Adventures will return to fuel the feast once again and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers Midwest will make their sponsorial debut.
Still, the emphasis remains on the film and arts community. “The night should be an experience in it’s own,” insists Mo. This dedication to the people working behind the scenes has strengthened the success of his professional career as well.
Mohab “Mo” Wagdy is a six-foot eight-inch two hundred and seventy-pound half-Egyptian half-Polish MBA-wielding former tax consultant who left the corporate luxury of beachside Florida in order to pursue a Midwestern film career back home in Chicago more than a decade ago. “I gave up this really nice salary and said ‘fuck it I’m gonna’ go into something creative,’” he recalls. Almost immediately, the decision landed him a long term gig as a real life unemployed miserable twenty-something on his parents’ couch.
“It was really uncomfortable,” he remembers. “I sent out one resume after another. Two business degrees. All this software experience. No one’s responding to me.” After nearly ten months, the grief ended with a life-changing epiphany: “my business education didn’t mean shit.” It prompted him to email a simple message to a handful of contacts: “I’m six foot eight, two hundred seventy pounds. I know you’re gonna’ need someone like me.”
The next day, Mark Androw of Story Company offered him a gig and Mo became a production assistant.
The workload of a production assistant combines long hours with short money. Mo’s experience was no different. “The bottom of the ladder,” he remembers. “Low pay. Flat rate. Anybody who needs help, you’re there.” In retrospect, he considers it “the most fun I’ve ever had in production.”
“On set I’m just a very amicable person,” he explains. “I like to talk to people. The crew. The director.”
It was during one of those conversations back in 2005 that a handful of PA’s decided, “Let’s have our own night where we show our own stuff and celebrate our own creativity.”
This year offers a sneak peak at “Bailout!” — Sean Fahey’s continental road trip through the aftermath of America’s mortgage crisis — on Friday night. Proceeds will benefit the Portage’s struggle to survive its own similar crisis. The cast features a group of drinking buddies who will fit right in with the crowd.