Previewing the 5th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival

The litany of film festivals offered within Chicago and its surrounding suburbs during the calendar year makes the very thought of covering each one a daunting, frankly impossible, task. Part of me, however, feels like I’ve neglected some of my duties in running Chicago Cinema Circuit, especially when it comes to highlighting some of the local festivals in the area that would otherwise go unnoticed on a national stage. Case in point: the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival. For the past five years, Michael Glover Smith has carefully programmed a small yet incredibly thoughtful festival that highlights local and national filmmakers. An emphasis is placed on providing a discourse between filmmaker and audience, with filmmakers frequently in attendance for post-screening Q&As. There’s an overwhelming quality to a lot of the larger film festivals in the area, where quantity tends to be valued over quality. With the Oakton PUFF, there’s significance placed on curation, on creating a fundamentally relaxed experience that values the film, the filmmaker, and its audience. That, my friends, is a fundamentally singular film festival experience.

The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival begins Tuesday, November 27 through Friday, November 30 at the Footlik Theatre. All screenings are free and open to the public. For additional information, click here.

Previewing the 54th Chicago International Film Festival

Write about this festival long enough and you run out of things to say. I complain every year about the Chicago International Film Festival and there’s plenty to complain about (Asako I & II, Burning, La Flor, Her Smell, High Life, Hong Sang-soo, 3 Faces, etc. are all immediately felt absences in a line-up filled with a lot of, to say it diplomatically, filler). Blasé inclusions aside (The Front Runner is your Closing Film? And why is our After Dark programming year in, year out always so terribly sparse?), I’m going to try to stay positive.

I’m glad that Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind are screening in, you know, a theater. I’m happy that Oliver Assayas’ new film, Non-Fiction, is screening. Same for the new Christian Petzold, Jia Zhangke, and Dominga Sotomayor. And the stuff that I’m going to see before the end of the year (staying positive), like Steve McQueen’s Widows and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite should benefit from a festival crowd. I don’t know what’s going on with their “Masters” programming, which is a hodgepodge of puzzling inclusions and equally perplexing exclusions (where’s the new Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jean-Luc Godard, or Frederick Wiseman?). But it does feature the new Hirokazu Kore-eda and Pawel Pawlikowski, so – positive.  

Look, I won’t pretend like I know the economics or the web of complex relationships required to manage and maintain a festival. I don’t have the constitution to even consider all the handshaking and endless series of emails required to get so-and-so film to screen, or the logistics necessary to get this or that filmmaker in attendance. All I know is that New York City and Toronto and Telluride have those resources and Chicago does not. But what I guess I want to know is… why not?

The 54th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 10 to October 21. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.  

Previewing the Chicago Critics Film Festival

Last year I was invited to join the rank and file of the Chicago Film Critics Association. As a Chicago-based quote unquote film critic, it is literally the highest distinction of its kind. I mean that mostly as a compliment. Or at least I try to think of it as such; I won’t deny that I get a certain measure of pride in seeing my name along a litany of other critics that I admire like Angelica Jade Bastien, Adam Kempenaar, Scott Tobias, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. It’s my self-effacing nature to wonder how I figure within the group. But for now, I’ll enjoy the perks and privileges that I frankly never imagined would have been afforded to me.

I’ve covered the Chicago Critics Film Festival as an audience member, member of the press, and now, in its sixth year, as a fellow critic. Over the past five years, the festival has screened the likes of James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, and Kogonada’s Columbus. These films, by filmmakers of limited stroke and cache, were major personal discoveries and provided Chicago audiences with an early glimpse into some of the more notable titles to come out of Tribeca, Sundance, and other American film festivals.

This year’s programming includes some especially intriguing titles like Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls, David and Nathan Zellner’s Damsel, and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. However, my most highly anticipated title is Paul Schrader’s new film, First Reformed, with the filmmaker in attendance for a post-Q&A session.

Below you’ll find links to select reviews of titles, updated throughout the duration of the festival. For schedule and ticketing information, refer to the Music Box website here.

Previewing the 21st Chicago European Union Film Festival

Over the past five years, the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival has programmed the likes of Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Bruno Dumont’s Li’l Quinquin, Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat, Terrence Davis’ Sunset Song, and Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. It’s an indispensable film education, with the Siskel Center’s programming team ambitiously taking on the kind of films that rarely screen on more than a half-dozen screens in the city (if at all).

Less commercially inclined than their Chicago International Film Festival counterpart, I frequently considered the Chicago European Union Film Festival to be the city’s true cinephile attraction; the kind of festival that remedies CIFF’s glaring omissions and bloated filler selections. With such inclusions as Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghostd, Bruno Dumont’s Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, Kornel Mundruczo’s Jupiter’s Moon, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, this year’s European Union Film Festival offers Chicago’s cinephiles with an all too rare opportunity to catch up with some of Europe’s most dynamic films, all within the comforts of the Siskel Center’s renovated theaters. Given how barren the winter movie months can become, the European Union Film Festival emerges as a cinephile’s oasis.

For a complete schedule, screening times, and ticket informationrefer to the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website here.

Previewing the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival - Week 2

The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival concludes Thursday, October 26 with its Closing Night selection, Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Other significant screenings occurring during the second half of the festival include Dee Rees’ Mudbound, Martin McDonough’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, Hong Sang-soo's On the Beach At Night Alone, and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.

The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival runs from Thursday, October 12 to Thursday, October 26. For a complete schedule of films and ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.

Previewing the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival – Week 1

“It’s all we have” said a film critic and friend following a press briefing with Cinema/Chicago, the parent organization that hosts the Chicago International Film Festival.  It’s the sort of remark that Chicago cinephiles begrudgingly utter when confronted with the difficult realities that comes with being the Second City with a struggling film festival. Yet things are changing: Festival founder Michael Kutza is no longer at the helm, remaining on-board in a consultant role. Replacing him is festival stalwart Mimi Plauche as Artistic Director. With her comes a distinct and promising sense of change in the festival’s programming initiative. 

The inclusion of new films from Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Phillipe Garrel (Lover for a Day), and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (The Day We Vanish), all conspicuous absences from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival programming, is a significant artistic get that forgives some of the more dubious Special Presentations featured in the program. That’s in addition to rare sightings of Hong Sang-soo (On the Beach at Night Alone), Aki Kaurismäki (The Other Side of Hope), Agnes Varda (Faces Places), and Valeska Grisebach (Western). And compounded with vital new films from local filmmakers, including Stephen Cone (Princess Cyd) and Anahita Ghazvinizadeh (They), and you have one of the more impressive lineups in recent memory.  

Meanwhile, Anthony Kaufman’s documentary programming remains a festival highlight. The former critic turned documentary maven already programs Chicago Media Project’s DOC10 festival during the Spring and brings with him an expertise and legitimacy behind his selections. Some notable highlights in this year’s programming include Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki’s El Mar La Mar, Jem Cohen’s new documentary short The Birth of a Nation, and the aforementioned Agnes Varda/JR collaboration Faces Places.

And finally, there’s a few Special Presentations worth your consideration. Notable selections include Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, Ruben Östlund’s Cannes-winner The Square, and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. As it were, the Chicago International Film Festival may be all we have. And by the looks of it, it’s getting considerably better. 

The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 12 to October 26. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.

Previewing the 5th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival

The 5th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival kicks off this Friday with a screening of Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours. The prime festival slot has become a placeholder for whatever quote unquote breakthrough Sundance comedy emerged from earlier in the year, with past selections including David Wain’s They Came Together, Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire, and Chad Hartigan’s Morris from America. We’re a long ways from when Sarah Polley opened the festival with Stories We Tell. But the shift would appear to a be a wise (commercial) programming decision; Wain’s film sold out the Music Box’s large auditorium in a feat that would’ve seemed inconceivable during the festival’s initial run. In programming The Little Hours, one can assume the aim is to capture that same massive audience, as director Jeff Baena. along with actors Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci, will be in attendance.

Elsewhere, in what’s the festival’s most significant coup, is a screening of David Lowry’s A Ghost Story. The film won’t see its nationwide premiere until July, making this early screening an especially appealing prospect. Other notable films include Eliza Hittman’s sophomore film Beach Rats, the Harry Dean Stanton starring-vehicle Lucky, and a revival screening of Southland Tales with director Richard Kelly in attendance.  

I’ll be covering the festival throughout its run from May 12 to the 18th. For a complete schedule of films and ticket information, please see the Chicago Critics Film Festival’s official site here. Below you'll find a selection of capsule reviews for films screened during the festival.

Previewing the 20th Chicago European Union Film Festival

Year in and year out, the Gene Siskel Film Center programs the best film festival the city has to offer. The Chicago European Union Film Festival, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, showcases a slate of fêted and U.S.-premiering films from all 28 EU nations, highlighting an impressive 62 features throughout the month of March. This platinum anniversary features a number of high-profile Chicago premieres, including Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes' The Unknown Girl, and Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay, in what's certain to be Chicago's cinematic event of the early year. 

For a complete schedule, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website here.