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The CHIRP Blog

Entries on the topic of “Chicago International Film Festival” 15 results

KSanders writesCloseted Culture: Reviews of “Things We Dare Not Do” and “Summer of ‘85”

written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival

It's somewhat surprising to believe that anything good can be said about 2020, but the year at least gave us the Supreme Court ruling that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender. The news broke to many cheers, even while Covid cases were continuing to rise.

It could also be one of the last rulings to take place in support of LGBTQ rights now that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg--a liberal hero to so many--passed away last month and her replacement could swing the court into far right territory for many years to come. There is concern that the rights given to the LGBTQ population might be easily chipped away as a result.

The freedom we have in the United States doesn't always branch out to our LGBTQ community, and the rights they have fought so hard for have not been as easily acquired internationally. While the media presence of gays and trans people continues to grow, not every community widely accepts them.

Even though visibility has given many the courage to live out loud, there is still a danger in coming out. The Chicago International Film Festival has always been aware of how important it is to include LGBTQ films in their selection, as a way for us to observe how repression can still exist elsewhere around the globe.

Take for instance Bruno Santamaria's Things We Dare Not Do (Mexico). This documentary observes the small Nayarit town of El Roblito, where young Nono hides his love of dressing in women's clothing.

In a community where wild horses run as free as the children frolic in their free time, alternative lifestyles are not widely accepted, especially if you're male. Yet Nono is determined to live out his dreams, regardless of an environment not used to gender norms being defied. 

Defiance is what attracts teenage Alexis to David in Francois Ozon's Summer of '85 (France). Set off the Normany coast during the decade of excess, young Alexis finds himself capsized in the midst of a storm only to be rescued by charismatic David.

Alexis finds himself seduced by David's charms, and soon the budding friendship evolves into something more. It isn't long, however, that Alexis begins to question David's motives, and their relationship becomes something more strained as David's inner demons begin to emerge.

These queer-centric films handle their stories in different ways. For Things We Dare Not Do, Nono's cross-dressing is handled in quiet, secretive intimacy, as he only expresses himself alone, when no one else (other than the camera) is watching.

Otherwise the camera catches other goings-on, whether it's the children at school or at play, or the neighborhood coming together for an outdoor film viewing or school graduation. Nono is seemingly alone, at once part of the community and separate, like an outsider to everyone who loves him but does not fully understand him.

When it comes to Summer of '85, the queerness of Alexis and David is revealed without much subtlety, and their same sex attraction is barely hinted at before Alexis' narration makes it obvious. There is nothing explicit about their summer romance, but there is no intention to hide it either. 

The evolution of queer cinema would suggest there is no reason for these kinds of stories to hide anymore. What was at one time only suggested or hinted at, no longer needs to be read between the lines.

A film like Summer of '85 can be as blatant with same sex attraction as it wants to be, and yet there are films that still must deal with repressed community standards of masculinity, as seen in Things We Dare Not Do.

There's a continuous dichotomy of finding happiness as yourself but also gaining acceptance from the society to which you belong. It's a shared struggle found in every culture to this day.

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KSanders writesThe Ties That Bind: Reviews of “The Special” and “Gaza Mon Amour”

written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival

The human race is bound together by what we have in common, despite our many differences. Whether we are categorized by age, race, economic status, sex, or political affiliation, we all share the same struggles in keeping this world afloat.

For Americans, we're currently living through a political divide. Both sides--Democrats and Republicans alike--are just plain scared shitless for the future of our nation, and we think our particular political party knows what is best in moving forward.

With just a few weeks left before the presidential election, some minds have already been made up. What's left to ponder though, is what happens next once (or if) the dust settles.

International cinema provides us a glimpse to see what other struggles are out there beyond our borders, and more often than not, those struggles are relatively the same. Family arguments, career choices, communication failures, and hopeless longing are nothing new to our own experiences, but what the Chicago International Film Festival is great at providing, is fresh perspectives from other cultures.

In Ignacio Marquez' The Special (Venezuela), the family dynamic is in full focus: Chuo, a twenty-three year-old with Down Syndrome, lives with his father Jose, who can barely provide for his son let alone deal with the disappointing dreams of an unfulfilled career as a musician.

Too old to remain at a school for children with special needs, Chuo's father allows his son to work at a nearby graphic design studio, where a kindly employee discovers Chuo's passion for painting, and agrees to assist Chuo with applying for an exhibition for Down Syndrome artists.

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KSanders writesThe Most Dangerous Men in Comedy: Reviews of “Belushi” and “For Madmen Only”

written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival

Comedy, like a documentary, is always better when it's honest. There's truth in comedy as there is truth in documentary, so I guess making documentaries about comedy legends would seem like the right thing to do.

Coincidentally, both men happen to be groundbreaking legends of the comedy world, having ties to the same Chicago institution where they even shared the same space for a moment in time. They also both died way too soon.

What these men also have in common is their extremely complicated dark sides that contrasted with their bright improvisational talents.

Belushi opened this year's Chicago International Film Festival, and is about the late Saturday Night Live veteran. Acclaimed filmmaker R.J. Cutler (The War Room, The September Issue) weaves audio interviews with some of Belushi's most common collaborators (including Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, and the late Harold Ramis) to narrate his rise and fall, from his Albanian upbringing in Wheaton, Illinois, to his early start at Second City and the National Lampoon Radio Hour, to his eventual rise to stardom in comedy classics like Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Behind his anarchic and unpredictable persona, however, hid a vulnerable, erratic individual who only felt comfortable on stage rather than off it.

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KSanders writesStrife Imitating Art: Reviews of “Apples” and “And Tomorrow the Entire World”

written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival

The year 2020 feels like something out of a movie, and that's because there are so MANY movies out there that seem to have predicted our current reality: a global pandemic affecting millions of lives, social upheaval charged by political conspiracies, and an overall "us vs. them" vibe plaguing our every corner.

It's no surprise then that some of the films screening at the Chicago International Film Festival this year involve such matters that seem eerily prescient.Two of those films are Apples (Greece/Poland/Slovenia) and And Tomorrow the Entire World (Germany).

Directed by Christos Nikou (a frequent collaborator with Yorgos Lanthimos), Apples gives us an all too familiar scenario involving a mysterious pandemic facing the world; however, the infected don't develop fevers and coughs, they develop amnesia.

One of the seemingly afflicted victims is Aris (Aris Servetalis). After awaking on a bus without any sense of his identity, he's taken to a rehabilitation program called "Learning How to Live." This place returns him to the world not with a face mask in tow, but a Polaroid camera.

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KSanders writesKyle Sanders Goes to the 56th Annual Chicago International Film Festival

by Kyle Sanders

Well...it's been quite the year.

The whole world has nearly collapsed under the strain of Covid-19, especially here in the United States. In 2020 alone, we've dealt with a string of racial injustices, nervously wondered who will fill the vacant seat of one of the most respected (and most "notorious") Supreme Court Justices we've ever had, AND on top of all of this, we are just weeks away from what has already been a tumultuous presidential election.

But as the old saying goes, c'est la vie: "life is life."

And that's the attitude the Chicago International Film Festival has taken this year, going "on with the show" so to speak. They're providing a new roster of international titles for their 56th annual film festival--with a few added changes, of course.

This year, CIFF is providing theatergoers with on-demand streaming, appointment screenings, and in-person drive-in theater presentations with virtual filmmaker Q&As and Industry Days that will be completely online. All films screening in person will be showcased at Chitown Movies in Pilsen (2343 S. Throop Street).

As always, I'll be your festival reviewer, taking in some of what the cinema world has to offer. I'll be checking out what's part of the international competition, but also including an array of genres, such as Black perspectives, documentaries, and queer cinema--all from the comfort of my couch!

We might be rounding out one abysmal year, but let's allow the Chicago International Film Festival to help us escape our lives for a life beyond the border! To find out when and how to check out this year's films and to download a convenient festival guide, check out the festival Web site for more information. The 56th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is going on now through October 25th.

See you (virtually) at the movies!

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KSanders writesFathers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (“Extracurricular” and “Tremors”)

written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2019 Chicago International Film Festival

Fatherhood can be hell. While parental responsibilities continue to change in our ever progressing sense of parenthood, the role of the father still tends to be looked upon as a source of security, to provide that "everything will be alright" feeling when the going gets tough. But sometimes even a dad can't guarantee that, because they might not be alright themselves.

The movies have given us plenty of father figures, some good (Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird), and some way, WAY bad (Jack Torrance in The Shining). There are also those who are flawed yet mean well. And at the Chicago International Film Festival, we get two prime examples in Extracurricular (Croatia) and Tremors (Guatemala/France/Luxembourg).

In the opening scene of Extracurricular, we see fumbling hands wrapping up a Barbie-esque doll in wrapping paper meant for a birthday gift, spliced with scenes of children being dropped off at school. Immediately, we understand these gruff-looking hands must belong to a father hastily preparing a gift for his young daughter. Blaring over the sequence is an intense musical score, foreshadowing a situation that's about to erupt.

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KSanders writesBattle of the Sexes: “Initials S.G.” and “Instinct”

written by Kyle Sanders as part of his coverage of the 2019 Chicago International Film Festival

A good on-screen chemistry can make a film. It can really amp up the timing of a romantic or screwball comedy (think Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam's Rib or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday) or build the tension of a suspenseful thriller (think Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs or Michael Douglas and...well, any given actress in those late '80s/early '90s thrillers he used to churn out every other year).

What makes this kind of formula work? Is it simply a yin and yang balance the film requires, an easy camaraderie of the two stars, or just really really good acting? Perhaps a little of all three?

Two films that borrow from the aforementioned genres (a little bit of comedy, a little bit of suspense) are included in this year's roster of films at the Chicago International Film Festival: Initials S.G. (Argentina/Lisbon) and Instinct (The Netherlands).

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KSanders writesOne More for the Road: Reviews of “The Road Not Taken” and the Chicago International Film Festival

In October. CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders attended the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and reported on what he discovered there...

If you haven't been paying attention, I love cinema. It's one of the easiest activities to do, and requires very little effort other than sitting down and looking at what's on the screen in front of you. And while our modern toys provide us many different formats to consume it, I will ferociously argue and strongly recommend that the only way to truly experience a film is at the movie theater. It might be easier to Netflix 'n chill in the comfort of your own home, but the cineplexes have upped their game and provide you dinner and plush recliners. Even the smaller theaters have added a little panache, providing lounge areas and full bars to take the edge off of the power of 35 and 70 millimeter motion pictures. And for what reason? Well, to reference one of the best horror films of all time, "it's all for you."

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KSanders writesLiving Out Loud: Reviews of “Mario,” “Rafiki,” and “Sauvage”

This month CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders attended the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and reported on what he discovered there...

In a volatile political landscape, minorities such as the LGBTQ community are often the ones finding themselves in a vulnerable position. As a group that is finding more awareness and representation in the pop culture they consume, it's comforting to see LGBTQ films from around the world play at the Chicago International Film Festival.

This year's event included the high profile premiere of Boy Erased, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. However, I found the films outside the American mainstream to be quite more telling about queer culture around the world. Those films include (due to festival restrictions, the following are capsule reviews only):

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KSanders writesA Series of Unfortunate Events: Reviews of “Boys Cry” & “Volcano”

This month CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders attended the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and reported on what he discovered there...

Sometimes life throws a wrench in your gears. A cosmic event so out of left field you can't explain it or figure out how to overcome it. How you respond could alter the rest of your day, your week, or even the rest of your life.

It's a common narrative device in storytelling, especially in films. Two films that include this device are Boys Cry and Volcano, both of which screened at the Chicago International Film Festival (due to festival restrictions, the following are capsule reviews only):

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KSanders writesGrowing Pains: Reviews of “Flammable Children” & “Guie’dani’s Navel”

This month CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders attended the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and reported on what he discovered there...

Childhood sucks when you're a kid. There's so much of life that you're unaware of and when you try and find the answers, oftentimes you're provided the wrong information from the wrong kind of sources. As a minor, your thoughts and feelings are irrelevant, your choices and decisions are undermined by those who think they know best. You're often shut down with the words "Because I said so." Life moves at a glacial pace, to the point where you think you'll never be able to escape the hell of being a kid.

Yet even when you're living under the thumb of authority, you never realize just how much freedom you have until you reach adulthood. At this year's Chicago International Film Festival, two films highlighted the wacky and weary world of adolescence: Australia's Flammable Children and Mexico's Guie'dani's Navel.

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Kyle writesThe Call of the Wild: Reviews of “Core of the World” and “Sibel”

This month CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders attended the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and reported on what he discovered there...

Man vs. Nature/Nature vs. Nurture--humanity can't seem to shake these concepts. We try to rise above nature, yet find ourselves called back to it time and time again.

And why is that? Authors like Jack London or Stephen Crane would tell you that nature is indifferent to everything, including the human race; but then again, civilization can be just as cold and harsh. Two films presented at this year's Chicago International Film Festival showed us two characters who took a walk on the wild side to find themselves (due to festival restrictions, the following will be capsule reviews only):

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KSanders writesTo the Criminal Belongs the Spoils: Reviews of “Ash is the Purest White” & “Birds of Passage”

This month CHIRP volunteer Kyle Sanders is attending the 2018 Chicago Interntional Film Festival and reporting on what he discovers there...

Crime never pays. Oh sure, it can give you a taste of power and riches, but there is always a constant struggle to maintain such control: you're always having to watch your back or sleep with one eye open to fend off anyone trying to knock you off the throne, be it the authorities, a rival crime lord, or even your own friends or family. It seems the higher you rise up, the further you descend into a hell of your own making. Is there a way out? Is there a way to start over? It can depend on the choices you make for yourself. Two films that provide us possible options screened at this year's Chicago International Film Festival provide us two different outcomes (due to festival restrictions, the following are "capsule reviews" of said films):

Ash is the Purest White: A devoted girlfriend lands herself in prison after covering for her Jianghu crime lord boyfriend. Five years later she is released, only to find that her lover has moved on and the gang world she was comfortably living in has very much changed. Determined to survive, she will use her tenacious wit to climb back to the top. Jia Zhangke directs this gripping crime drama that has surprising moments of humor and stunning cinematography showcasing China's metropolitan and rural landscapes.

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KSanders writesCHIRP Radio Goes to the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival!

written by Kyle Sanders

Movie critic Roger Ebert put it best when he said "We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds." It's a quote I've unknowingly followed for years, specifically when it comes to movies. I love movies. And when you've seen as many films as I have, you tend to venture outside your comfort zone and search beyond the familiar to find a flick you've never seen before. Personally speaking, that which is unfamiliar to me are foreign films.

Of course, I've seen many of the classic international motion pictures that every film studies course recommends as essential viewing: The Grand Illusion, Seven Samurai, La Dolce Vita, Black Orpheus, Raise the Red Lantern and so on and so forth. But just like today's new releases of American cinema, who's to say what current foreign films will end up a classic? This is why each year during the month of October, I look forward to the Chicago International Film Festival.

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KSanders writesScenes from the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival

by Kyle Sanders

Every year, it's a guessing game. Those eyes--those wide, darkened pupils--belong to someone but I can't figure it out who. Do they belong to Bridgette Bardot? Catherine Deneuve? Marlene Dietrich? Or how about Jeanne Moreau? Giuletta Masina? Anna Magnani? The longer I stare, the more impatient my questions become: WHO'S EYES DO YOU BELONG TO? WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN? WHAT STORIES CAN YOU TELL?!

In case I've completely lost you, I'm referring to the eyes that have become synonymous with the Chicago International Film Festival, an annual celebration of foreign film that was held at the AMC River East Theater in downtown Chicago October 17th through the 27th. The festival's alluring logo features a set of soft, mesmerizing eyes belonging to a feminine black and white shape.

This set of eyes suggests to hold plenty of life experiences, such as love, hope, and desire, much like my own eyes or even yours. It's why I come to this event every year--to see these familiar stories told from another set of eyes in a different world unlike my own.   

I have seen a lot of movies, more so than the average movie enthusiast. I own a book entitled 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and so far I've seen 700 of those titles (plus hundreds of others not included on that list), and at least half of them have been foreign films. Within the past ten years, I've become comfortably acquainted with the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michael Powell, Satyajit Ray, Agnes Varda, Peter Weir, Andrei Tarkovsky, Pedro Almodovar, Michelangelo Antonioni, Yasujiro Ozu, Jean-Luc Godard, and countless others.

While I feel like I've reached the point of desensitization, I still yearn to find a film that will enthrall me, leave me motionless in my seat as the end credits roll, numb to the visceral feeling I've just experienced. The CIFF is where I come to fulfill such hopes, and more often than not, that mission is accomplished. The best part about the CIFF is the audience: film lovers young and old (mostly old) who talk about nothing other than their love of film, conversations that rattle on 450 words per minute. Yes, the extensive ramblings of the film lover can sometimes be tedious and annoying, but one thing is for certain: they know to shut the hell up once the movie starts rolling, and remain silent until the lights go up.

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