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The Chicago International Film Festival: This year’s spotlight is on Chicago

Thu, Oct 11, 2012

The camera is rolling and Chicago is in place for its closeup in the 48th Chicago International Film Festival as various feature films celebrate the contributions of Chicagoans to the film industry from Opening Night to Closing Night.

“This is a remarkable year for Chicagoans in the film industry,” said Michael Kutza, founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival. “Not only are Chicagoans behind three of the most anticipated films of the fall movie season, but they are also behind some of the most intriguing documentaries and independent feature films of the festival. As a native Chicagoan, I am proud to celebrate our local filmmakers’ contributions to the art of the moving image.”

“Stand Up Guys”

This celebration of excellence in Chicago cinematography will kick off on October 11 with the Opening Night World Premiere of Stand Up Guys, produced by Chicagoan Tom Rosenberg (Academy Ward ® winner, Million Dollar Baby) and directed by Chicagoan Fisher Stevens (Academy Ward ® winner, The Cove) and featuring an all-star cast including Academy Award®-winners Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Emmy® and Golden Globe®-winner Julianna Margulies. All will be present Opening Night at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph Drive).

Stand Up Guys is a tough but touching action comedy about retired gangsters who reunite for one epic last night. Their bond is as strong as ever, and the three reflect on freedom lost and gained, loyalties ebbed and flowed and days of glory gone by. “Bringing the world premiere of Stand Up Guys to Chicago is a tremendous honor,’ Rosenberg said. “[Pacino, Walken and Arkin] are a powerhouse trio on screen – audiences are truly in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“Cloud Atlas”

Chicagoans will also shine as a result of the Festival’s Centerpiece selection, Cloud Atlas, directed by Chicagoans Lana and Andy Wachowski. The film will be screened on October 17 at 7 p.m. at the AMC River East 21 (322 E. Illinois St.). Based on David Mitchell’s celebrated, best-selling novel, the powerful epic drama explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, present and future.

“We are thrilled to welcome Lana and Andy Wachowski back to their beloved hometown,” said Kutza. “Cloud Atlas promises to be one of the most imaginative and dazzling movies of the year.” The film will open nationwide on Friday, October 26. The Wachow-skis previously teamed as writers/directors of the groundbreaking Matrix trilogy, which earned more than $1.6 billion, combined, at the worldwide box office.
And to put a glorious cap on the film fun, the festival will conclude October 25 at 7 p.m. with the Chicago premiere of Chicagoan Robert Zemeckis’ latest film, Flight starring Academy Award ® winner Denzel Washington. Zemeckis will be in attendance.

“Flight”

In this action-packed mystery thriller, Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously crash-lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane.

In addition to these three high-profile films, take the time to catch the smaller, yet highly impactful, screenings and events. The Chicagoans, a series of master classes and screenings with native Chicagoans who have left a mark on the film industry, is a great start. This year’s guests are Joan Allen, Steve James, Philip Kaufman and Ken Nordine.

Join Illinois native and Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Joan Allen on October 14 as she receives a Career Achievement Ward during “An Evening with Joan Allen.” That night, she will also participate in an intimate discussion about her extensive career and various accomplishments on both stage and screen.

Other Chicago-themed events will include:

* Screening of Philip Kaufman’s 1974 film The White Dawn on October 16 at 6 p.m. Kaufman (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) will take part in a Q&A with Annette Insdorf, director of film studies at Columbia University and author of Philip Kaufman.

* On October 23 at 6 p.m., Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), one of America’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers, will discuss his films, his ties to Chicago and the state of documentary film in general.

* The City & State program: this is a showcase of the best features, documentaries and short films produced in Illinois. Films to look out for include: As Goes Janesville (shows the impact the shutdown of a GM plant had over the citizens of Janesville, Wisconsin), The Believers (tells the story of Martin Fleischmann’s and Stanley Pons’ discovery of “cold fusion”), Benji (explores one of sports’ most tragic “what ifs”: the death of Chicago Simeon High basketball star Ben Wilson in 1984), Consuming Spirits (a spell-binding cutout, pencil-drawn and stop motion animation techniques that took Chris Sullivan nearly 15 years to complete), F*ckload of Scotchtape (a “neo-noir musical crime drama”) and Mr. Sophistication (a Richard Pryor-like comedian is given a second shot at big time).

* Adopted Chicagoan Vince Vaughn contributes his voice to sister Valeri Vaughn’s documentary Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland, which examines how street art tells the story of Northern Ireland’s history.

And while the locals are sure to be thrilled with the spotlight gleaming on the beloved Windy City, let’s not forget about the healthy competition that is the essence of the Chicago International Film Festival. The five competition categories include the International Feature, New Directors, DOCUFEST, After Dark and Short Film.

Associate Programmer Penny Bartlett made particular note of a few notable films that will be part of the horror-themed After Dark competition, which is only in its second year as an official competition. “Maniac, starring Elijah Wood, is a remake of the 1980’s low-budget horror film. And then there’s the ABC’s of Death, which is 26 alphabetized segments in which 25 well-known horror directors and one unknown competition winner were commissioned to make films about different bizarre ways in which you can die. It’s really fantastic,” she said.

In addition to the five competition categories, the festival presents films in seven out-of-competition sections, including Special Presentations, World Cinema, Black Perspectives, Cinema of the Americas, City & State, Documentaries, OUTrageous, REELWOMEN and Spotlight Middle East.

“The films in our various competitions demonstrate an acute concern with how we inhabit our world today – how technology inflects the ways in which we live and love, the meaning and bearing of revolutions of all kinds, the consequences of natural and manmade disaster and how the long echo of the past reverberates in the present,” said Mimi Plauché, programming director of the Chicago International Film Festival. “Whether by daring debuting filmmakers or celebrated auteurs, as a collection the program presents a brilliant kaleidoscopic snapshot of the state of world cinema today.”

The Spotlight Middle East Program is of particular interest this year because it is part of the second year of the World Cinema Spotlight Program, supported by a three-year grant from the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Spotlight Middle East features the innovative works and exciting new voices from this region including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.

Spotlight Middle East Highlights include various filmmaking debuts (The Last Friday – Jordan, Meeting Leila – Iran, Off White Lies – Israel, Out in the Dark – Israel/USA, Sharqiya – Israel and The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni – Lebanon) as well as a program of shorts from the region. Films will be shown at the AMC River East 21 and will also be presented at “community outreach screenings at the Logan (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and The New 400 Movie Theater (6746 N. Sheridan Road) and to the Chicago Public High Schools through the Festival’s Education Outreach Program.

The World Cinema Spotlight program furthers the Chicago International Film Festival’s mission of exhibiting world-class international and independent film to festival audiences by presenting films in contexts that foster discussion and understanding.

For the 48th Chicago International Film Festival, 120 feature-length films were selected, representing 53 countries and 6 continents. These films were chosen from a total of 1,300 film submissions. 50 short films were accepted out of 2,100 submissions. A complete schedule and list of films in each category can be found at www.chicagofilmfestival.com.

The Chicago International Film Festival has also made it a priority to support the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system through the Cinema/Chicago’s Education Outreach Program, providing nine complimentary screenings to CPS students on weekdays beginning at 10 a.m., October 12 – 24 as part of its year-round Education Outreach Screening Program.

“The selection of films for the Education Outreach Screenings during this year’s Festival is fantastic,” says Rebecca Fons, education program manager at Cinema/Chicago. “The titles we’ve selected for Chicago Public School students present a wide range of stories, cultures and ideas from across the globe. Our screenings provide students with access to films they would not otherwise be able to see, and we frame the films and post-screening discussions so that the student audience can relate the content of the films to their classroom, their community and their world.”

For each film, study guides are prepared and distributed to teachers for use in the classroom with students both before and after screenings. These guides provide background to the cultural context of the film, highlight themes and historical references and introduce questions that encourage in-depth and personal examinations of film subject matter.

“[The study guides] relate the themes of the world to what the lifestyles and experiences and challenges are of being a student in Chicago today,” said Fons. “So a film from Columbia might not seem like a perfect fit, but there are a lot of themes from that film that tie into what it’s like to be a 17-year-old living on the South Side of Chicago.”

Discussions with students will be conducted after each screening with visiting filmmakers and moderated by local film critics and arts-community leaders. The featured films include: Otelo Burning, War Witch, La Playa D.C., Benji, Day of the Crows, Off White Lies, International Short Film Program and Cine Youth Festival “Best of the Fest.”

The goals of the Education Outreach Screenings are not only to give students from across the city and of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to view one-of-a-kind films but also, in the process, to transform them from passive audience members to active, engaged viewers and thinkers.

“And as we have for over 20 years, we provide the bus transportation, the teacher support, the theaters, the seats, and the study guides entirely free of cost. So that’s a really great way for teachers and students and schools who have very limited budgets to be exposed to the arts,” Fons said. “We’re very proud of this program [and] it’s as vital as every program in the festival.”

Be sure to check out the full list of special events, which include fun happenings such as the Opening Night Reception on October 11 at the Chicago Cultural Center or the After Dark After Party on October 12 at Reggie’s (2109 S. State St.). And there are also plenty of free panels for those on a tight budget, such as Black Perspectives: Voice and Authenticity in Black Cinema on October 14 or Spotlight Middle East: The Politics of Creativity on October 18, both at AMC River East 21. Find the full list of special events at www.chicagofilmfestival.com.

Tickets for the Festival can be purchased online at the Festival Store: http://www.chicagofilmfestival.com/catalog/; via Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com/chicagofilmfestival; by phone at 312-332-FILM (3456); or by visiting the Festival box office at AMC River East 21 (332 E. Illinois St.).

To close, Plauché eloquently stated, “Whether [the films] are by daring debut filmmakers or celebrated auteurs, or whether they’re already multi-award winning or they’re making their world premieres here in Chicago, I think the program represents a brilliant kaleidoscopal snapshot of the state of world cinema today.”

By Brittany Langmeyer
Prepared Materials

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