This year will mark the 57th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival, the oldest festival of its kind in North America. It will also mark my seventh year in attendance – and my first with press credentials.
As witnessed this tweet when I first heard the news (shameless self-promotion, and it won’t be the last!), I was extremely excited to be covering, in an official capacity, an event that quickly became my October tradition . Call it… “fall bro movie”.
While this may be my most comprehensive CIFF coverage, it won’t be my first time writing about the festival for The Observer. In 2019, we ran 600 meager words on my experience at the 12 day event. But listen to what I saw: “Marriage Story” with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, “The Irishman” by Martin Scorsese, “Jojo Rabbit” by Taika Waititi and more. The films I’ve seen racked up 24 Oscar nominations in 2020 – two even won gold. And that’s not to mention the movies that I couldn’t see, like “Knives Out” by Rian Johnson, “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, “Just Mercy” with Michael B. Jordan and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire. “, the ultimate winner of the festival’s first prize, the Gold Hugo.
All of this to say that CIFF is a fantastic opportunity to engage not only with independent, foreign and arthouse films, but with mainstream films that are sure to cause a stir. Next week I hope to cover it all, which reminds me: The festival runs from October 13-24, which is almost the exact length of Notre Dame’s fall vacation. For those of us from the Chicago suburbs (and honestly, who isn’t from the Chicago suburbs?) It’s also a way to participate in art, participate in the city, and participate in community.
The 2020 edition of CIFF, like almost everything in that cursed year, took place in an online-only setting, with a few exceptions. For example, the film Closing Night, a special presentation of the future winner of the best film “Nomadland”, was screened at the ChiTown Movies drive-in in Pilsen.
But this year, the festival welcomes the return of in-person screenings with new health and safety guidelines that reflect the persistence of the pandemic. Guests must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend any event, and masks must be worn at all times during screenings, except when eating or drinking.
In addition, CIFF has extended its screening locations beyond its usual location, AMC River East. In addition to ChiTown Movies, select festivals will be shown at the historic Music Box Theater and Gene Siskel Film Center. All CIFF theaters will operate at 80% capacity to account for social distancing, and many films will still be offered online.
“But Aidan,” you plead, “What are the movies? I’m glad you asked!
Opening Night is the highly anticipated “The French Dispatch”, the eclectic author’s love letter to journalism; At the same time, “The Velvet Underground” by Todd Haynes will open the ChiTown drive-in, while “Halloween Kills” will launch the After Dark program right after. The closing night is “King Richard,” the story of Serena and Venus Williams told from the perspective of their father and coach, played by Will Smith.
The centerpiece of the festival is Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon”, a black and white comedy-drama starring Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix. Gala presentations include Kenneth Branagh’s blockbuster ‘Dune’ and ‘Belfast’, in which the acclaimed (and knighted) comedian will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Special presentations include “The Last Duel” by Ridley Scott, “Spencer” with Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana and “Passing”, Rebecca Hall’s first film, for which she will receive an award for artistic excellence.
The International Competition will screen 13 films with productions spanning 21 countries, including “Petite Maman” by Céline Sciamma, after “Portrait of a Woman on Fire”. 27 documentaries will be shown, including “Mayor Pete” about South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg. Additional programs include Black Perspectives, Women in Cinema, Shorts, City & State, and the OutLook competition for LGBTQ + films.
Other screenings include, but are not limited to: Andrea Arnold’s first documentary, “Cow”; “Meeting” with Riz Ahmed; “Happening”, winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Mostra; “The Harder They Fall” with Idris Elba and Regina King; “Memoria” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with Tilda Swinton; “Parallel mothers” by Pedro Almodóvar; “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion with Benedict Cumberbatch; Cannes escape “The worst person in the world”; and in a way, even more.
Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. Be sure to check out The Observer’s website during the fall break for reviews and articles from Chicago, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for coverage from the front lines of the festival.
I’ll see you at the movies!