By Lynn Venhaus
Dateline June 8, 2019 and now
A wonderful night that I only attended because the film school professors chose to name an award in memory of Tim that year.
Three years ago seems like a lifetime ago.
During a meeting they arranged with us in January 2019, when Charlie and I were up in Chicago to move Tim’s things out of his apartment, three professors from DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts told us they wanted to honor Tim in some way. Which really was incredible after knowing him such a short time — but he had made such an impact on them — so of course I had to be there when they gave out the Tim Venhaus MFA Thesis Feature Screenplay three years ago.
I was fortunate to meet the winner, James Gosling, and his lovely wife, Janna, and they could not have been nicer, indulging me with their time. I ask him to send me the script, and he has terrific potential. He earned his MFA, is living in Chicago, and has written several more screenplays. I’ll be paying attention.
As I sat in the audience at the Music Box, I watched all the student filmmakers celebrate the end of their school year with the annual festival. There is always so much passion, energy and camaraderie with creatives, and I wondered if I had been here for normal reasons, who would Tim have introduced me to, and if he would have had something in the running.
Those dreams died with him. but his classmates have moved on to pursue theirs. I was fortunate to meet some of them in January and at this event, and I hope they are pursuing their passions. They had to navigate the pandemic, so some have been delayed in finishing projects and degrees.
I enjoyed watching the student works, and even voted on the Audience Award.
I had never seen Tim as happy as the day he was accepted into the DePaul MFA Screenwriting Program in March 2018. He had painstakingly complied with all the requirements – submit an essay, a 3-page screenplay using “two strangers in a car, Fourth of July” and recommendation letters. And links to his previous work. He made the cut for a finalist interview, and after the Skype face-to-face, he was notified that afternoon. It was one of his life’s best moments.
When he had told me he was thinking about going back to school for an MFA in screenwriting, I had encouraged it. I didn’t think the coasts would work out for him, so I suggested DePaul, because I had heard good things — and it was Chicago. Bingo! It really was a perfect fit.
He moved there Labor Day Weekend, sharing an apartment with an old friend in Logan Square. When he was home on holiday break, he was on fire talking about the classes he was going to take the next trimester, which would start Jan. 5, 2019. He was looking for his grades online, talking about his professors and classmates in reverent tones. He was proud of his screenplay, “Dad Eat Dog,” which was the hit of the class table read and he knew he had received an A.
He had been hired by a performing arts high school in Naperville to teach filmmaking in an after-school program, to start in January. He was so very excited about what’s ahead. But he did not live past Dec. 9, 2018, a week after his 34th birthday.
Among the phone calls I had to make after Christmas was to let DePaul know he wasn’t coming back, and I notified those professors he had spoke so highly of — an outpouring of glowing tributes and touching words of comfort, and to reach the high school that had hired him. What might have been. It was hard to imagine the life he would have been living at that time. I can’t let myself wonder what might have been.
Of that period of putting his life in the past, I spoke to many people and received touching notes. in the But it makes my heart happy to hear from Tim’s fellow filmmakers on what they’re up to, and their kind words. One SIUC grad sent me some of his student films that Tim had acted in, and it was like he was so present. Another DePaul student told me “he was a real gift to that class.”
Never underestimate the kindness of strangers in tough times — it’s like a ‘god wink.’
I must look up what some of those kids who won that night three years ago are up to — and DePaul was such a great program, I can’t speak highly enough.
Life goes on, and art is forever.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.