By Mitch Hurst
By Mitch Hurst
Joshua Handler was 3 years old when his father showed him the original Star Wars. While he was too young to fully process it, Handler says it planted the seed that would grow into a lifelong love—or obsession, it might be safe to say—with film.
Decades on, Handler now runs New York-based Picturehouse441, a live, virtual Q&A series with film industry professionals that is dedicated to promoting film literacy through events centered around essential cinema. The Q&A events run for an hour and delve into the art of filmmaking. It all started on the North Shore.
“I grew up in Northbrook. I lived there from when I was about 2 until I was 18. That was where my love of film began,” Handler says. “And it was really nurtured by the North Shore. I’ve lived in New York for over a decade, but my home will always be the North Shore of Chicago.”
Handler says he’s grateful for the opportunities he was offered in Northbrook to be exposed to movies, and it’s something he never takes for granted. The Northbrook Public Library was an essential part of his youth.
“I’ve been very vocal about how the Northbrook Public Library was instrumental in providing me with films. They still have thousands of movies in their film section on the third floor,” says Handler. “That was my first film school. I was there all the time, and I probably drove my parents crazy with how much I went to the library.”
Though there was a video rental store in town, Handler says it “didn’t hold a candle” to the library’s collection. His dream was to be a filmmaker, then in college that notion went by the wayside, so he found another way to carry on his film fandom.
“It’s not necessarily a career that is always the most stable or the easiest to navigate and support, but my parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders and I am just grateful to them for supporting me,” he says.
Film can take you to places that no other medium can, and in the most immersive way. As the late, great Roger Ebert once said, “film is like an empathy machine.” As Handler’s gotten older, it’s a quality that he’s appreciated more about the art form.
“I like the fact that it can really put me inside other people’s experiences,” he said. “That’s one reason why I’ve always been drawn to documentary cinema because you can really experience somebody else’s life in a way that, that no other medium can bring.”
Picturehouse441 is sort of a virtual version of the old PBS Inside the Actor’s Studio, the show made famous by the legendary host James Lipton. Handler says he gets the comparison often, and he takes it as a compliment. The bug to create programming started with the Film Club at Glenbrook North High School.
“I continued to pursue my love of film when I was at Glenbrook North. I was part of the film club the first year. There was somebody else running it and he showed me such amazing essentials of American cinema,” Handler says. “We watched Cool Hand Luke, Being John Malkovich, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon. Movies that continue to be favorites of mine now.”
He eventually took over the Film Club and ran it for his last couple of years in high school. He says his faculty sponsor, Robert Gallivan, who he’s still in touch with to this day, gave him control of the programming, within reason, over what films the club watched.
The inevitable question for a film buff such as Handler is what one film had the most impact on him and contributed to his current vocation. While as a boy it was Star Wars that got it all started, it was another film that truly inspired him.
“The one movie that immediately pops into my mind is It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a movie that I loved. I saw it relatively late; I think I saw when I was 13 for the first time and it just profoundly impacted me,” he says. “The character of George Bailey to me is just one of the most righteous, one of the most beautiful human beings ever created for film.”
While Handler initially wanted to be a filmmaker, in college his focus shifted, and he decided to focus on programming.
“When I do one of my Q&As, once or twice a week, I find the best ones to be when it’s not just me asking a question and somebody providing an answer,” Handler says. “When it becomes more of an easy going conversation, I think that is when it’s the best.”
Handler has always loved interviewing filmmakers and talking with people about their lives, and he thinks it’s fascinating to interview people who are particularly great at what they do. When he was in college, he says, he interviewed a number of filmmakers for a blog series he called “From The Mouths of Filmmakers.” It was about promoting the importance of independent and classic cinema. He’s carrying on the idea with Picturehouse441.
“We are very craft focused. We are here to explore, examine, and celebrate the craft and celebrate these great films with regards to getting actors or filmmakers to participate,” says Handler. “We’ve had a great run so far. I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done, and I’m really excited for what we have upcoming.”
Upcoming Picturehouse441 Q&As include conversations with Brokeback Mountain screenwriter Diana Ossana on April 17 and Lion King director Rob Minkoff on April 20. Tickets to the events cost $6. For more information, visit picturehouse441.com.