Chicago Film Festival zeroes in on local talents for tentpole spots
BY BILL STAMETS October 9, 2012 10:36PM
48th Chicago International Film Festival
When: Through Oct. 25
Where: River East 21, 322 E. Illinois (with three
Tickets: $14; $11 for Cinema/Chicago members, seniors and students (with ID); $5 for weekday matinees through 5 p.m.; $10 after 10 p.m.
Info: (312) 332-FILM; chicagofilmfestival.com
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:11AM
For its 48th edition, the Chicago International Film Festival brings it back home.
“This year’s fest truly puts the ‘Chicago’ in the Chicago International Film Festival, because for the first time ever, the opening night, centerpiece and closing-night films are all made by directors born in Chicago,” said Michael Kutza, the festival’s founder and artistic director. “Stand- Up Guys,” which kicked off the festival at the Harris Theater, is directed by actor Fisher Stevens. “Cloud Atlas,” the centerpiece film, is by Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy, and their German co-director, Tom Tykwer. Robert Zemeckis, whose “The Polar Express” was the 2004 closing-night film, brings “Flight” starring Denzel Washington.
Running through Oct. 25, with 125 features, the city’s ace spectacle of cinema boasts auteurs Leos Carax, Bahman Ghobadi, Abbas Kiarostami, Carlos Reygadas, Ulrich Seidl and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Stars include Juliette Binoche, Alan Cumming, James Gandolfini, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Lawrence, Ewan McGregor, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Naomi Watts and Elijah Wood. And actor Dustin Hoffman directs “Quartet,” a comedy about retired opera singers. Purists take note: only 18 titles will be projected on 35mm celluloid.
Among the actors appearing for Q&A sessions are actresses Joan Allen and Viola Davis, Chicago native and director Philip Kaufman and Chicago-based documentarian Steve James.
Lesser-known folks merit mention: some 260 volunteers and interns who join the festival’s six year-round staffers. This coterie of cineastes always add to the fest’s vibe.
Films about film, for them and other insider-style fans, include documentaries about a late Egyptian actress revived via VHS clips, Swedish actress Liv Ullmann and auteur Ingmar Bergman, and five obsessives who over-interpret Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
All screenings are at River East, unless otherwise noted.
“Otelo Burning” (South Africa), 6:15 p.m.: For her first drama, director Sara Blecher, who previously made a documentary about Zulu surfers atop Soweto trains, offers a coming-of-age tale set in 1989, as a 16-year-old experiences freedom surfing on ocean waves amid political terror in his neighborhood. Coming-of-age here applies to teens exiting adolescence and a nation abolishing apartheid. Also, 1 p.m. Oct. 14 and 3 p.m. Oct. 18.
“Beyond the Hills” (Romania), 8:15 p.m.: Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) bases his intriguing film on a 2005 incident. Two young women who originally met at an orphanage come together at a wintry monastery. The bond of these dear friends is more like a desperate grip. One is a nun, the other has sins to confess from the Orthodox Church’s list of 464. Mungiu’s cynical, secular take on a St. Basil-style exorcism gone wrong is nailed in a final shot through a cop’s windshield splashed with slush. Also, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 15.
“The Final Member” (Canada), 9:15 p.m.: Co-directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math document the curator of the Icelandic Phallological Museum — the world’s only penis museum — in his quest for a human specimen. Two men compete for this honor. One is near death; his penis is shrinking. The other makes plans to amputate his appendage. These men are fools, for the most part. Especially the American who tattoos Old Glory on the head of his manhood nicknamed Elmo. Yet their obsession with the male organ leads from snickers to a sobering take on mortality. Also, 3:15 p.m. Oct. 14.
“Winter of Discontent” (Egypt), 4 p.m.: Ibrahim El-Batout’s plot centers on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. He links a conflicted Cairo television reporter and a cruel state security officer to an activist computer programmer (played by Amr Waked, a juror for this year’s festival and the sheik in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”). Scenes shot at Tahrir Square recall the Grant Park sequence in “Medium Cool” (1969). Striking statistics cap the end of this exceptional film: 371 demonstrators lost their eyes and the military inflicted “virginity exams” on 27 women. Also, 5:45 p.m. Oct. 14 and 3:45 p.m. Oct.16.
“Empire Builder” (USA), 4 p.m.: Chicago indie Kris Swanberg, who once ran a local ice creamery called Nice Cream, conceived this sketch of a young mom just after the birth of her son Jude. He plays the baby of a Chicago mom (Kate Sheil) who disembarks from an Amtrak train at West Glacier, Mont., to get to her family’s old cabin. Before her husband, played by Swanberg’s real husband Joe, joins her, she risks domestic bliss with a Montana hunk. A lithe score by Orange Mighty Trio animates this 70-minute escapist treat. Also, 5 p.m. Oct 16 and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23.
“Out in the Dark” (Israel/Palestine/USA), 8 p.m.: Michael Mayer effectively dramatizes political tensions through gay love. A Palestinian psychology grad student and a liberal Israeli lawyer deal with intelligence agents, armed militants and underworld operators to escape lethal homophobia. Also, 6 p.m. Oct. 14 and 6:15 p.m. Oct. 21. (Note: the Oct. 21 screening is the Logan Theater, 2646 N. Milwaukee, as part of the OUTrageous and Spotlight Middle East programs.)
“Clip” (Serbia), 9:45 p.m.: Dispiriting realism is found in many overseas entries this year. Most icky is Maja Milos’ look at a high school girl. Jasna dances while aiming her cellphone’s camera at herself. A classmate uses his cellphone to record her submitting to his sexual humiliations. Naked and whimpering, she walks on all fours with his belt around her neck as a leash. This inquiry into working-class misery works in a reference to apoptosis, the biological process of cell death, to imply it is natural for our anti-heroine to debase herself in video clips sent by email. Also, 7:45 p.m Oct. 14.
“Something in the Air” (France), 3:30 p.m.: Olivier Assayas offers a luminous autobiographical look back to 1971, as an artistic high school senior experiences a Soft Machine light show, Gregory Corso poems, LSD, Molotov cocktails, Situationiste tracts and a few broken hearts. From debates about revolutionary 16mm syntax to a lowly job on the Pinewood Studio set of a sci-fi film with Nazis and dinosaurs, we see an exemplary French filmmaker re-create something like his past. Also, 8:20 p.m. Oct. 17.
“The Central Park Five” (USA), 5 p.m.: In April 1989, a woman jogger was beaten senseless and viciously raped in New York’s Central Park. David McMahon, Ken Burns and Sarah Burns investigate the coerced false confessions of five innocent teenagers that put them in prison. Fatigue was a factor: the suspects just wanted to go home. So did a holdout juror. The sociological and moral insights are astute. Exonerated in 2002 by DNA evidence and a valid confession, the Five are suing New York City, which is issuing subpoenas for the filmmakers’ outtakes.
“Sharqiya” (Israel), 4 p.m.: A 2005 incident about a bomb at an Israeli checkpoint inspires this charged story by Ami Livne. A Bedouin guard employed by Israelis has a sideline of fixing TV sets. This may let him get on the news and block authorities from demolishing the tin shacks on his ancestral land. The fest’s Spotlight Middle East outreach program screens this title first at the New 400 Sheridan Theater, 6746 N. Sheridan. Also, 8:15 p.m. Oct. 17 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at River East.
“Day of the Crows” (France), 4:45 p.m.: Jean-Christophe Dessaint presents a marvel of inventive animation that feels inspired by Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki in style and sentiment. An ornery dad has raised his son alone deep in a forest populated with special deer, crows and other critters for pals. Dad instills dire fear of the beyond in his boy, but that is just where the half-wild lad must go to get him medical help. He will meet a girl and learn about his mother’s life. For kids unafraid of subtitles, this is a must-see title. Also 1 p.m. Oct. 19 and 12:15 p.m. Oct. 20.
“La Playa, D.C.” (Colombia), 8:30 p.m.: Juan Andres Arango observes Tomas, a black teen making it on the mean streets of Bogota. His mom co-habits with a surly white security guard. His younger brother is in a deep mess with drugs and dealers. His older brother is making another attempt to work abroad without papers. Flashbacks to their father’s political murder shed little light, though, on Tomas’ bootstrapping turn as a curbside barber cutting stylish designs. Also, 8:15 p.m. Oct. 15 and 3:30 p.m. Oct. 17.
Bill Stamets is a locally based free-lance writer and critic.