Previewing the 55th Chicago International Film Festival

Cinema/Chicago, the “presenting” organization of the Chicago International Film Festival, annually invite members of the press to a breakfast where they announce their festival lineup. Programmers remark on a handful of titles, logistics get figured out, and everyone flutters about the stale pastries before and after the event. Every year I mentally keep track of the different variants wherein organizers deploy the word “rebrand”, all while musing how something could be re-anything when there’s not much of an identity in the first place. It was also the first year where a few of the colleagues that I call friends didn’t show up to the breakfast. I sympathize with why. There’s a certain masochistic agony associated with these things, where my thoughts tend to gravitate toward the films that are missing rather than what’s there.  I’m not the only one who does this and I’m fairly certain that it’s not a healthy way of thinking, but it’s frequently unavoidable.

Part of me cites this disappointment out of some hope that it might inspire change? I’m grateful to be alive in a city that shelters such a passionate community of cinephiles; it’s a pocket of benevolence that engages with film in such a proactive and communal way. That kind of community is eerily out of sorts with the bill of goods sold by CIFF (or Chi Film Fest or whatever they want to go by now). Their preferred method of quote unquote curation is seemingly queued to arbitrary, with a particular preference for middlebrow Oscar-fare that has already had the benefit of being vetted and considered ad nauseam.  But whatever Cinema/Chicago is doing is clearly working for them (frequent sell-outs of premium-rate screenings) even if it’s not working for me.

The 55th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 16 through October 27. For a complete schedule, please refer to their website here. Below are some of the titles I had the opportunity to preview, updated regularly as the festival proceeds.

A Halfway There Checklist: The Best of 2019 So Far

The longer you’re there, the more estranged you feel with the real world. A psych ward, that is. Here’s an interesting fact about the one I was in: there were no clocks. The concept of time just doesn’t have the same applications. What you experience is something that saddles the line between real life and fiction, insofar that it provides a repetitive sensation – a minute-by-minute inferno of routine – that slices away at something inherently human in you. Days no longer have that clear distinctive quality that tells one apart from the other. You soon become keenly aware of your own unimpressiveness. So much so that whatever brought you there seems so minuscule, minor, and insignificant. Intended or not, it helps you recognize personal weaknesses. And the whole thing offered the valuable comfort of knowing that not all weaknesses can be overcome. We have breakdowns and that’s ok.

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