The 50th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival ended last night with the screening of Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar hopeful, Wild. With the marked improvement in both audience experience and programming over the years since I first started attending in 1999, I think we can happily expect another 50 years of this essential Chicago cultural event. Here are my thoughts on the final set of films I saw this year.
I’ve been derailed from posting on the films I’ve seen at the Chicago International Film Festival by a major customer proposal I’ve been working on in my day job. But rest assured though that nothing has stopped me from spending my evenings and the past weekend at AMC River East 21. It’s been a smooth, uneventful festival experience for me; I think both the festival and I are growing old gracefully together (and nope, I don’t miss the whacka-doodle logistics when screenings were spread out all over the city in the early ‘naughts). And what a treat it has been to see my idols Kathleen Turner and German director Margarethe von Trotta, and the rest of the 50th film festival jury sitting with us the audience in the movie theaters, hopefully as awestruck or as frustrated as us depending on the film, something I’ve not seen other festival juries do all these years I’ve been attending. Here are my thoughts on several more films I saw during the fest:
I just got through the first weekend of the 50th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival and I’m pleased to report that everything is running like a well-oiled, gently-humming machine. Volunteers are everywhere, lines are orderly, and everyone is just excited to see the films (and after talking to several folks in line, I was surprised at the number of people this year seeing two to four films a day). The most excitement I had was when I was small-talking with a cute volunteer and told him that I’ve been going to the film festival since 1999, to which he casually replied, oh yeah, I was four years old then. Oy! Actually, that deserved another Oy! Here are my thoughts on the first set of films I saw.
It is the first day of October, and other than wondering truly where the year had gone (it seemed just like yesterday that we were calling the Polar Vortex the worst thing that had happened to Chicago since Mrs. O’Leary’s frisky bovine sashayed around in her barn and knocked a lantern over), I’ve been busily wearing out my thumbs going through this year’s Chicago International Film Festival schedule. If you’ve followed my blog through the years you know to expect that in the month of October there will be a spike in film-related posts and a semi-hiatus on theater-related ones. It’s the Film Festival’s 50th anniversary (it is indeed the granddaddy to the more prestigious New York, Toronto, and Telluride festivals), and I’m proud to admit that except for 2011 when I was travelling every week for a client, I haven’t missed any of it since 1999 – I can’t imagine how my life would have been less colorful if I didn’t see the outrageous Hungarian film Johanna in 2005, the Joan of Arc tale reset in a mental hospital and told as a musical, or the bewildering Isabelle Huppert starrer The Piano Teacher in 2001, making a comeback to the Festival this year in the exciting Huppert retrospective, sure to remind all of us again what the best way is to clean up used tissue paper left behind in gloryholes (yeah!). The 50th anniversary program is terrific (kudos to founder Michael Kutza and his hard-working Programming team); composed of around 150 feature-length films and 65 short films from 50 countries, with some very big, prestigious gets from the festival circuit. Below I talk about some noteworthy films, and some of the ones I’m sure to see and write about this month.
When I started going to the Chicago film festival in the late 1990s, the child prodigy Mark Zuckerberg was just learning computer programming via Atari software (does anyone even remember this?). During those golden festival days, there was no social media, everything was just, well, social – chatting up your fellow moviegoers as you wait in line for the Lars von Trier or pre-Hollywood Alfonso Cuaron film, talking about which films moved you, which ones you’d like to see come back as a “Best of the Fest “ screening, which ones you walked out of (yep, walkouts have been a film festival staple since I can remember). This year, there are still lots of in person chatter inside and outside the theaters (one thing that hasn’t changed through the years as well is that these festivalgoers continue to be an opinionated bunch!) but there is also a lot more activity online which are then fed onto the filmfest’ s social media board developed in conjunction with Cultivate Studios, on prominent display in AMC’s second-floor lobby. I thought this was one of the most valuable new features of the filmfest, an essential tool for increasing audience engagement throughout the two weeks – I loved seeing what people were tweeting about the movies they saw and what Instagram photos they were posting (#chifilmfest). Of course I was also alternately pleased and horrified to see my twitter photo come up on the board several times – especially after I just trashed the Polish gay film in 140 characters! Ooops! Here are my thoughts on the last set of films I saw.
If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning, you know that by the time the second week of the Chicago International Film Festival comes along, I’ve turned into a cantankerous, bleary-eyed, semi-coherent mess after standing in too many lines, eating too much stale popcorn, hearing too many inane talkback questions, and, especially, watching too many plodders about Argentine farmers or Hungarian small-town thugs or, during one year, cross-dressing teenage boy mediums (with a side of Amazonian Indian dancers called the Space Triplets thrown in!). But this year, I’ve felt energized going into the second week and not just because the lines going into the films have been smooth and orderly and the talkbacks have been valuable with many of the directors coming into Chicago to talk about their work, but also because the films have been excitingly accomplished and refreshingly anti-Hollywood (the AMC River East popcorn, on the other hand, continues to be stale but nothing an additional swish of butter couldn’t take good care of). It’s either, with the Film Festival’s new-found prestige, it has been able to program the crème de la crème of the festival circuit, or after 13 years, I’ve been getting better at choosing films to see. Maybe it’s a little of both. Here are my thoughts on some of the films I saw this past week and weekend.