Filmmaker draws on Proviso East experiences

DVD explores race in Chicago through the eyes of a high school student

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By Jean Lotus


Eric Battersby, 42, grew up in Forest Park and his experiences as a white student in the 1980s at Proviso East High School changed how he felt about race from an early age, he said.

"Going to Proviso when I did, I got the chance to be in the minority for eight hours a day," he said. "That changes perspective quickly."

Battersby has just released Pyrite, a feature-length film on DVD that, he says, tackles the issue of racism in Chicago and the near suburbs.

Originally called Fool's Gold, Battersby said the film took two years to shoot and 10 years to complete. Battersby screened an earlier version at the Lake Theatre in 2010.

"We changed the name to Pyrite, which is the scientific name for fool's gold," Battersby said. "A romantic comedy had just come out called Fool's Gold and it was very poorly received."

Battersby wrote, directed and produced the film while working full-time for IBM in the computer industry.

"I was an independent filmmaker, part time, just like all the other software engineers in the world," he joked. He's finally retired from his day job of 19 years to work full time as a filmmaker.

The film follows a recent high school graduate, Curt Swain, as he struggles with the clash of his ideals and his family's racial prejudices. His life intersects with a Chicago single mother, Tomika Banks, who is trying to raise her two boys in a housing project and keep them away from a friend-turned-dealer who now runs the neighborhood.

Battersby and a crew of friends filmed on location in Forest Park, Oak Park and in Chicago outside the abandoned Cabrini Green housing project between 2005 and 2007.

In Forest Park, he filmed at his family's old home at 533 Marengo Ave., which had been purchased and remodeled. The new owners allowed the crew to work in the house for local scenes.

Battersby cast several Proviso East students in the film: Justin Williams played Swain's best friend, and Terron Carter and Jeremy Porter had small roles as well. Williams just graduated from Beloit College, Battersby said.

In 1989, when he was a senior at PEHS and headed to University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, he spoke to a forum of Forest Park Middle School parents and students about misperceptions of Proviso East.

According to the Forest Park Review coverage of the time, he told parents he was initially intimidated by the fact that [at the time] Proviso was 80 percent African American. He said he never encountered any problems with other students, black or white. According to the paper, only 10 percent of Forest Park students attended Proviso East at the time.

Battersby still remembers the forum 24 years later.

"Growing up in Forest Park as I did, Proviso was still dubbed this 'scary place,'" he said. "When I wound up going there and found out it wasn't, it pissed me off. It made me mad that Forest Parkers were depriving kids of a good experience based on fear and fear of someone's skin color being different than ours," he added.

The perspective stayed with him when his parents moved to Arizona and he followed them.

Now that he's finished the film at last, he said he's heard from old high school friends.

"Especially my black friends. They're proud of me for taking the path I did and for speaking out like I have," Battersby said. "It felt like an honor to be standing up for the right thing."

He wrote his first screenplay for Pyrite, in the mid-1990s. That version had to be cancelled mid-production when the project ran out of money.

By the time Battersby had re-written the script and raised more money, he said film technology had become cheap enough to make the project happen.

"The democratization of media finally kicked in and we could afford to get it done," he said. "The technology evolved to a point where I could buy a camera for less than it previously cost us to rent one for the weekend."


The film features music by Oak Park composer Phil Doyle, now director of Jazz Studies at Eastern Washington University. Other local Oak Parkers on the crew included co-producer Jonathan Lacocque and assistant director Jason Madoc. Set-builder John Severson of Oak Park constructed a mock el platform in a Forest Park backyard.

Pyrite was released Nov. 19 on DVD by Hollywood 27 Films and has been entered in several independent film contests, Battersby said, adding that he has also developed high school and college curricula exploring racism to go along with the film.

His next project is with a nonprofit documentary film company, Change the World Films, which will explore current events through the "Walk a Mile" project.

See the trailer for Pyrite at

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Reader Comments

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Bill D.  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 11:13 AM

Yeah, Pee. Typing too fast risks making one's writing "incorrherant" - like your thought processes.

Edward P from Long time Forest Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 8:41 AM

Billy boy, the slip of your fat fingers have revealed themselves many times in your postings, but as usual your suggestion to slow down should be embraced by none other than you.


Posted: December 3rd, 2013 5:12 PM

@ Sharon, let's not hijack this article from Eric..since you asked though...I feel compelled to tell of my history..I love poetry, a glass of scotch and of course my best friend Billy here..(we attended college together, same frat, I lettered in Rugby, he in Cheerleading) oh and I have many leather-bound books and my home smells of rich mahogany ;)

Bill D.  

Posted: December 3rd, 2013 2:25 PM

Eddie! Eddie! Slow down, son. Breath a moment, then use your spell check. "incorrherant writing" and "corrherant thought"? No wonder you have understanding MY writing.

Sharon Daly from Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 3rd, 2013 2:11 PM

transparency is...your opinion that there are enemies of the state/PTB commenting on a newspaper site? i do not think that word means what you think it means. also, your post is severely stupid, and opaque.


Posted: December 3rd, 2013 10:06 AM

@ Sharon, you want transparency? OK let's start with you and the Bill n Bill show. I think Edward nailed it, you three are nothing more than rabid political operatives, bent on furthering your agenda. Gina was also right - one dimensional. Bob Cox has done plenty of good work, do you give him any respect? No...if someone in the enemy camp did something good, you wouldn't acknowledge it anyway.

Edward P from Long time Forest Park  

Posted: December 3rd, 2013 7:19 AM

Being hypocritical does not involve identifying oneself. Hypocracy is exhibited in the very positions that Bill D, Bill L and Sharon have taken over a long period of time in under cover and now somewhat exposed identities. Their quest for identifying others is perplexing yet indicative of their approach to serve/act as a attack dog at best. How many time will we read Bill D's incorrherant writing about others not being able to cast a corrherant thought? Oh my bad how about now! Come on now Billy

Sharon Daly from Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 10:26 PM

so, observer, lay out your work history and political proclivities and we will judge your right/ legitimacy to post here. proof, please, mr. anonymous for-the-wife-and-children's sake.

Bill D.  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 9:21 PM

Sorry you're so disenchanted with the critics, Gina. But, personally, I'll lay off the "same tired, old crap" when, and only when, I finally stop having to watch the same tired, old crap come out of D209.

Gina Thomas from Forest Park  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 9:06 PM

It's funny to me that the people who are trying to find a way to elevate Proviso are dismissed as "apologists" and the rest of you are "legitimately pained"...I think we're all pained by it. Don't flatter yourself by thinking you are the only one that sees the issues. Our differences are in our approach. Lost cause versus potential. You guys are so damned one dimensional! Also, nice job hijacking this wonderful piece about an artist's work with your same tired, old crap.


Posted: December 2nd, 2013 8:33 PM

I'm not a journalist, reporter nor have I ever been employed by a news organization. I'm not accountable to the viewing public, I just find it dishonorable that these two individuals, seasoned journalists with an agenda, continue to sneak around message boards.At least Bill D has recently owned up to it..doesn't diminish the duplicity though..I would have more respect for them if they signed off as, Bill D former FPR employee,etc. Bill L. I know your famously "watching", do the same you coward.

Observer is a hypocrite  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 7:33 PM

Observer, how dare you call out others and then not disclose who you are. Exactly who the f**k do you think you are? You are the lowest of the low.

Bill D.  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 7:28 PM

Lord, you're such a wipe, Obstrudy. I'm not "John Q. Citizen"? Oh, darn! And you are? You don't have the guts to put your name to the nonsense you post here, but you want other people's political and work histories.


Posted: December 2nd, 2013 6:35 PM

@ Bill D & Bill L (Watcher) I think in fairness to the readers "here" (not on the FPF) you should both disclose that you are former "journalists" once employed by the Forest Park Review. You both have very biased opinions and are known to be harsh critics of the current Forest Park village administration & local D209. As much as you both pretend to be John Q citizen, neither of you are,. Why don't you both give us a little bio on your work and reveal your political proclivity.. ;)

Bill D.  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 4:21 PM

Hold on there a moment, Watcher! I think it's become pretty clear that the only commenters here who have to provide any detailed facts to back up their opinions are D209's CRITICS. D209's APOLOGISTS are allowed to spout outraged platitudes and vague remembrances of the high school golden age in place of reality. Then people- read parents- who are legitimately pained by the choice that D209's stupendous mismanagement and corruption has forced on them, those parents get criticized. Ah, Proviso.

watcher from FoPa  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 2:55 PM

@Diane, Eric, Bob Cox (et al.) When was Proviso ever rated as an excellent high school? Maybe you can provide some evidence of this often made claim. I've looked and can't find this golden age. There is a reason the area has so many private high schools with long histories. Proviso has never been known for its academics. It was a good vo-tech school, but most of the trade oriented classes were replaced by remedial focused curriculum. The bottom half of the feeder schools will not raise scores.

Bill D.  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 2:09 PM

"@ Bill Dwyert ;) enough...when we agree on topic I'm your frat buddy, when we disagree I'm a troll?" Where did you get the idea I was ever your "frat buddy," troll? Apparently you need yo manufacture things to make a point. You're a troll, Obstrudy, with little to add to any conversation. And that's whether I happen to agree or not with what ever poorly articulated point you may make. We ain't friends, pal.


Posted: December 2nd, 2013 9:30 AM

Diane, I believe the Maywood of today is different than the Maywood of the 70s. I don't claim to be a sociologist nor do I have access to crime data from that period but I would think the environment from which students are being drawn to PE these days would be a big factor in the decision not to send your child to there. More FP residents sending their children there would not change that aspect.

Diane Cotsirilos from Largo, FL  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 8:39 AM

I too went to Proviso East, class of 1977, and the ratio then was 65-35, and I totally agree with this article's point of how Forest Park parents deprived their children from a whole experience by allowing them to attend Proviso. I was familiar with African Americans because my family had a car lot on the west side of Chicago, and I was one of the few whites who had Black friends. I feel if people had not given up on Proviso, it would have remainded the excellently rated school that it had been.


Posted: November 29th, 2013 11:52 PM

@ Eric here is 2 of 2 of the now controversial & infamous Connie (OPRF grad?), kids attend separate private schools? must be nice....diatribe, enjoy..:


Posted: November 29th, 2013 11:44 PM

@ Eric her it is 1 of 2 links:

Eric Battersby  

Posted: November 29th, 2013 6:26 PM

There is obviously a lot going on still on the Proviso front, and I am more than happy to step in anywhere I can help. Can someone please post links to the pieces by Connie that keep getting referenced here so I can read them?

Sharon Daly from Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 29th, 2013 10:08 AM

@ Edward. ah, i was just being thanksgiving-y cause 1) i don't think i've ever responded to a post of yours and 2) seemed like Observer was pushing for "New Rules" which were intriguingly 'new.' not to worry tho as Festivus is right around the corner :) Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all.


Posted: November 29th, 2013 9:08 AM

@ Bill Dwyert ;) enough...when we agree on topic I'm your frat buddy, when we disagree I'm a troll? You don't find it reasonable to "ask" Connie to explain in more detail why exactly she chose expensive private schools over PE or moving away? That makes me a troll? Seriously Bill, are you OK? Think it over before you type away, that should help you appear less cartoonish.

Bill Dwyert  

Posted: November 29th, 2013 8:07 AM

"Old and tired" best describes your sophomoric comments, Ob. But by all means, post all the opinions you care to. No one's stopping you. Just refuting you. Deal with it.

Edward P from Long time Forest Park  

Posted: November 29th, 2013 12:04 AM

@Sharon, heehee is right, it seems as though you did not read both stories, go back and read. Connie and Eric each offer stark differences about Proviso. You're an all around athletic star why don't you hit the high school for some in depth coverage of the place and report back on what you find, heehee.

Sharon Daly from Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 8:46 PM

@ Observer. "..she never mentioned what exactly she did to formulate her opinion, no mention of any direct contact with the place...Since ________ wrote the FPR, it would be great if she could answer the questions." Yep, that sure would be great. "Mr. Edward P, please tell us exactly how you came to such an illustrious opinion." (heehee)


Posted: November 28th, 2013 11:40 AM

@ Bill, The troll comments are old..tired..I was a big fan of Connie when she first publicly addressed the PE situation..after her second public article, I grew less enamored. In my humble opinion, she left some important details out..That's me Bill..exercising my right to post an opinion. We have also learned not everyone agrees with Connie. You are the master of duplicity. When you run out of ideas, resort to name calling...hopefully the tryptophan will calm you down ;) Enjoy your day.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 11:03 AM

Ignore the trolls, Connie. You made your point, well and clearly. Trolls just have a deeper seated need to verbally arm-fart and bleat out poorly articulated comments in lieu of any meaningful contribution.


Posted: November 28th, 2013 10:18 AM

@ Edward, you do make a good point. In all of Connie's eloquent writing, she does have some dramatic flair ..she never mentioned what exactly she did to formulate her opinion, no mention of any direct contact with the place, was it ranking, discipline?, She made it clear that her kids attend elite expensive private schools. Again, a nice luxury when you can afford it, most FPrs with more than one child move away. Since Connie wrote the FPR, it would be great if she could answer the questions ;)

Edward P from Long time Forest Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 11:28 PM

@Eric, can we get you to visit Connie Cutardo? You seem to offer a different opinion about our public high school than she does. Not certain if she attended or even visited Proviso but sounds like you might be able to open her eyes. Wadda you say buddy ,

Eric Battersby  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 4:39 PM

Thanks for the nice article Jean! We actually just released a brand new MLK focused trailer today over at ( if anyone would like to see it. And if you'd like to keep in touch, sign up to our Email List on-site and we'll keep you posted on future showings, etc. Thanks everyone!

Nancy Fioramonti Mennella from Batavia  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 10:21 AM

Great film idea! I'd love to see it! I went to Proviso East in the 70's and loved it as well! I thought Pyrite was a play on words because we were the Pirates!! :-) The best of luck to you on this and future projects!!

Nancy Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 9:52 AM

I'd like to see this film. It would be great if the Lake could screen it.

Steph Max from Maywood   

Posted: November 27th, 2013 8:26 AM

It's always nice to see and hear of others life experiences; I hope it helps to build better relationships between other cultures.

Dre from Forest Park  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 11:06 PM

Looks like a cool project.

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