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.