Start the Car, I Know a Whoopee Spot
Where the city's cold, but cinema is hot! With the ticket counters opening and the new website premiering yesterday for the Chicago International Film Festival, we have officially arrived at one of my favorite periods of the year, and certainly the month when I am happiest to be a Chicagoan. Sure, I still dream one day of making it to Toronto, Telluride, or one of the European festivals, but the CIFF is a bonafide cornucopia and deserves much wider recognition than it gets. Then again, part of why its profile remains a little lower than those of some other festivals is that this one isn't a sales market and, despite wonderful Gala Presentations where I've met the likes of Laura Linney in the past, it doesn't host a lot of flashbulby premieres. What CIFF willingly forgoes in global press scoops it gains back tenfold in the privilege it gives to average moviegoers to enjoy the films, afford the tickets, and hobnob much more closely with visiting filmmakers than it's possible to do at a Toronto or a Cannes, with their phalaxes of studio scouts and frenzied, hierarchalized reporters.
This year's special guests will include Career Achievement Award winner Uma Thurman and her most recent director Katherine Dieckmann, Precious helmer and Artistic Achievement Award winner Lee Daniels, the same film's Breakthrough Performance honoree Gabourey Sidibe, plus Willem Dafoe, Lone Scherfig, Martin Landau (proving that the much-hyped but distro-seeking Lovely, Still still exists!), Virginia Madsen and her Emmy-winning mother Elaine, Ben Foster, Oren Moverman, John Woo, and Patrice Chéreau. Cinephiliac celeb-spotters could do a lot worse, and Special Presentations of The Yellow Handkerchief (from the where's-he-been director of My Son, the Fanatic) and of the Tennessee Williams-scripted and Bryce Dallas Howard-starring The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, directed by Safe ensemble member Jodie Markell, are promising guest visits without naming names. (A hint: it's probably not Tennessee Williams.)
Of course, the emphasis remains deservedly on the movies, and I've already bought tickets to a baker's dozen, being as scrupulous as I can to avoid imminent commercial releases, even the one's I'm dying to see. I fully expect to buy plenty more, particularly for movies from Iran, Mexico, Taiwan, the UK, Ireland, Israel, Chile, Syria, Australia, South Korea, France, Switzerland, Italy, the USA, and the Philippines that are unlikely to sell out, even though that Filipino entry, The 'Thank You' Girls (pictured left), is free one night if you show up in drag.
Of course, life always intervenes to dictate that I see slightly less than I intend, and my attendance last year got cut short by my sublime trip to the concurrent London Film Festival. Still, with only two days to enjoy last year's offerings, I filed early, elated reviews of Julia and Ballast, both of which surfaced on my year-end Top Ten list, which is surely the most you can ask of two days at the movies. The year before, I got my first looks at 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Taxi to the Dark Side, Yella, Silent Light, and Flight of the Red Balloon and told you at length everything to love and occasionally not to love about Michael Clayton, Hallam Foe (later released Stateside as Mister Foe), Stuck, Control, the since-unseen Mohsen Makhmalbaf film Scream of the Ants, and the entrancing Argentine dystopian comedy The Aerial/La Antena (pictured left), which scored two citations in my annual awards that year.
I can't say it more clearly: attend this festival, if you're anywhere near the Windy City. Where the Wild Things Are, New York, I Love You, and, God help us, Couples Retreat will all still be waiting for you after the two-week event wraps on October 22. Meanwhile, eye this space for CIFF09 dispatches, starting October 8!