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Highland Park's Queen Directs Vodka Foible

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Looking for a date-night movie rental low on the chick-flick quotient but high on social and moral subtext?

May we suggest "Highland Park Hood Footage Vol. 1"?

The film is shot documentary-style by the self-described "Queen of Highland Park" and first-time filmmaker Joe'i Chancellor. She provides a moderately disturbing but always fond look at the notorious North Side neighborhood.

Equal parts "Cops," "Good Times," war-zone documentary and family portrait, the film documents Highland Park's trash talk, street crime, mob violence and cornershop philosophers — all unfiltered and without whitewash.

"It's a lot of negative stuff in there, and I say all negative stuff has a chance to change to a positive," says Chancellor, who grew up in Highland Park and considers herself a neighborhood advocate. "What we need is opportunity — that's all."

With no specific narrative, Chancellor establishes continuity by providing generous screen time to a woman named Yvette, described as "bipolar, schizophrenic and claustrophobic," who's a "straight-up, stand-up and sit-down comedian all in one."

Yvette wears a shower cap. She's also frequently indecipherable, and when she's not, she's unprintable. Always funny, Yvette is also sometimes wiser than you'd give her credit for.

Another segment spotlights a confused woman holding a nearly empty fifth of Smirnov vodka. Seemingly too inebriated to walk, she spends the better part of two minutes slowly circling the ground seeking the best way to reach an itch on her ankle. She succeeds, but at the expense of the contents of her vodka bottle.

Tragedy is common in Highland Park, Chancellor says, and she makes no attempt to hide it. "It is a tragedy, but that's what we see every day, all day," she says.

Among the film's highlights is a segment titled "Young Spitters," featuring two aspiring freestyle rap artists.

One member, Cat — whose freestyle efforts flow with a slightly off-kilter but hypnotic rhythm — is revealed to have survived a gunshot wound to the head. His best friend died in the same incident.

Chancellor's selling $15 copies of the film at her brother's neighborhood store, Simpson's Market on Meadowbridge Road, but plans to sell the film through her MySpace page too.

Additional volumes are in the works, she says,.

"God gave me the talent, so I just go with it," says Chancellor, 34, who first picked up a camera in July. "Now I'm going to do as many as it takes to spark some change." S

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