Legendary jazz musician John Coltrane continues to inspire fans with his music, but also with the way he lived his life, with all his ambitions and imperfections. It’s that story that will be on display in Chicago theaters when award-winning director John Scheinfeld’s documentary film “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary ” opens this month.
The beauty of this film, according to critics and those involved with the documentary, is that it’s accessible for all audiences, not just jazz aficionados.
“It’s really a great story about a human being trying to do something good, trying to make good with music,” says Producer Kathleen Ermitage. “I think anyone can identify with that — trying to live a better life and trying to contribute in a positive way. It’s not necessarily a scholarly look at his catalogue.”
The film, with Denzel Washington speaking the words of Coltrane, offers performance clips and photographs of Coltrane throughout his musical career. In fact, some of the photos in the film showcase Chicago’s Downbeat Festival in 1965 where Coltrane performed. Interviews with Coltrane’s family, colleagues, and fans, including Bill Clinton, Carlos Santana and Sonny Rollins, offer rare insight into life of the iconic sax player.
For writer and director John Scheinfeld, best known for his work on “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” and “Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talking about Him)?,” these May screenings will bring the film to the Chicago area where Scheinfeld was born and spent the first four years of his life (Highland Park). Ermitage grew up in Arlington Heights. Both Scheinfeld and Ermitage have ties to Northwestern University , where they received advanced degrees.
So far, the film has racked up accolades as an official selection of both the 2016 Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals. Distributed by Abramorama, “Chasing Trane” received rave reviews in New York and Los Angeles. Chicagoans can see the film when it opens at The Landmark Theatres’ Century Centre Cinema  (2828 N. Clark St., Chicago) for a weeklong run starting May 5 and at the Studio Movie Grill  (210 W. 87th St., Chicago), also for a week, from May 26 to June 1.
Scheinfeld and Ermitage are teaming up again to produce another documentary called “Think Big Start Small,” which will follow U.S. kid-entrepreneurs as they learn how to start a business and experience the challenges and successes of earning, saving, spending and giving. The kids take a portion of their profits and make micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries (India, Guatemala) and in the United States. The loan recipients, in turn, start their businesses.
Ermitage was inspired to make “Think Big Start Small” after reading “One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference,” the story of a West African boy who receives a small loan to buy a hen. The children’s book chronicles the boy’s transition from poverty to a large poultry business owner who creates jobs for others. The film has already begun to raise funding. Ermitage envisions the film spurring social action.
“We’re not interested in just making a film for people to see and then go home,” Ermitage says. “Anyone who is interested in an inspiring and upbeat depiction of generosity and then the economic themes of building a positive and inclusive economy will be interested in the film.”