It's gonna be a long October. For this movie lover, pouring over the 50th Chicago International Film Festival's press kit is like getting a peek at Santa's checklist--and wondering if there's enough space for all the amazing things coming down the chimney.
To use another childhood analogy, last Monday's press breakfast was like the roll-out of a summer reading list: opening night isn't for another few weeks, but those covering screenings, red carpet events, and special guest appearances already have a mountain of homework to scale before a single marquee gets switched on.
(Considering the picture I chose to accompany this piece, I should probably have a cute food analogy at the ready. How's about, "I can't wait to bite into the Chicago International..." On second thought, let's move on.)
Let's be frank: CIFF isn't sexy like Toronto, Cannes, or even New York. But it is a sprawling, multi-week event that draws attention to films from around the world. Some will struggle to find distribution long after planning has begun for round fifty-one, while others are destined to be the subject of retrospectives at the seventy-fifth and one-hundredth-anniversary celebrations. Venues across the Windy City will come alive as cast and crew from dozens of productions show up to make their mark, and legends return home to greet the fans that put them on the map.
As a film critic with a non-film-critic day-job, CIFF is doubly daunting. It's tricky enough slotting in weekly reviews of mainstream and independent releases; deciding between screenings and screeners of films I'm unfamiliar with is a gauntlet of moviegoing multiverses. Will I regret seeing the German drama about a 14-year-old Catholic girl's obsession with religious purification (Stations of the Cross) over an Argentinian look at open gay relationships (The Third One)? Do I eat up half a Sunday by venturing downtown to see Oliver Stone present a double-bill of Natural Born Killers and his three-and-a-half-hour Alexander: Ultimate Edition--or do I stay home with Algren, Tir, and Evolution of a Criminal?
Should I take a morning off to attend one of the many screenings CIFF hosts for Chicago Public Schools, in which students and teachers watch films from the festival that tie thematically with their curriculum (and occasionally include discussions with the filmmakers afterwards)? Or is it better to sneak out at night for the "After Dark" program's eleven-movie descent into madness?
Is it logistically possible to squeeze in family time, a ten-hour work day, and a 35mm print of an Isabelle Huppert film at the Music Box? And don't get me started on the Highlander-like challenge of choosing only one mega-event to try and cover: Liv Ullman's opening-night film, Miss Julie (starring Jessica Chastain); the closing-night Reese Witherspoon odyssey, Wild; or one of the two Centerpiece Films, Richard LaGravenese's The Last 5 Years (starring Anna Kendrick) and St. Vincent, starring Chicagoans Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.
Of course, I'll also need to set aside some mental "wild card" room for all the documentaries, shorts, exhibits, and panels.* At least I don't have to go through this alone. Tickets are now on sale, and you can view the packed lineup for the 50th Chicago International Film Festival (which runs October 9-23, by the way) at the festival's official Web site! Be sure to check back here in the coming weeks for news, reviews, rants, and raves.
See you at CIFF!
*All things considered, these are awesome problems to have.