Previewing the 7th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival

I have a smashing time at every Chicago Critics Film Festival. Wait, I mean I tend to get smashed at every Chicago Critics Film Festival. Get together enough socially inept film critics under one roof with the promise of booze and film and the subsequent result is a little less than distinguished. Since their move from Rosemont’s Muvico (never forget your origin story) to Chicago’s Music Box Theater, the growth of this festival has been nothing short of remarkable. The year-to-year transition of seeing James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (with Ponsoldt at the screening) in a Rosemont theater with fewer than 20 people (in a theater designed to seat at least 150) to seeing David Wain’s They Came Together sell out the large auditorium (designed to seat 700) of the Music Box Theatre is staggering.

And it’d be so easy to dismiss it as another fixture in a litany of solid programming, but the films screened here – for the most part- are actually good. Last year was a particular highlight, where Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, my #1 film of 2018, was spotlighted with Schrader himself in attendance. And then there was Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls, Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. All in all, it was untoppable programming.

As a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, it is my expected duty to report on the excellence of the 2019 programming selections. It looks fine. A Danny Boyle film headlines the festival and it’s hard not to consider it anything but a step down after the Schrader-Bujalski-Decker-Burnham quartet. But I’ll try to keep an open mind. I’m eager to see Jennifer Kent’s follow-up film to The Babadook, The Nightingale. And despite persistent reservations on the work of Peter Strickland, I hope In Fabric will turn the tide on my opinion of the filmmaker. If the festival is lacking in the way of established filmmakers, there’s the promise of finding new voices all together. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a Sundance pickup by A24, looks especially promising.  

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 4th Annual Doc10 Film Festival

It’s my first year covering the Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival, and it should be noted that no other film festival in Chicago has amassed such a notable reputation over its brief four-year run. Much of it has to do with Chicago International Film Festival mainstay programmer Anthony Kaufman heading the festival’s curation team, where the selection of ten documentary films becomes an exploration in taste and temperament.  Simply refer to last year’s notable slate, which included the likes of Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap, Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17, and Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG – an eclectic selection that demonstrates Kaufman’s foresight in picking out culturally significant and socially relevant features well before they enter the mainstream conversation.

I had the opportunity to preview a handful of titles ahead of their Chicagoland premiere. Click below for capsule reviews of some of these titles, films that will likely be brought up again by the end of 2019 for year-end consideration.  Doc10 begins April 11 with a (sold out) screening of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documentary, Knock Down the House, and concludes on April 14 with a screening of John Chester’s The Biggest Little Farm. For additional ticketing information, click here.