When Siskel Film Center re-opens tomorrow, they’re doing it with all guns blazing. The arthouse cinema on State Street took a month off at the end of the year to upgrade their seating and various audio functionalities. And with the new digs comes a new year chock full of independent, off-the-radar films and encore presentations worth bundling up for this chilly January.
Starting Friday, the Siskel’s Stranger Than Fiction documentary series features a selection of eight non-fiction films making their Chicago theatrical debuts. Running through February 1, the films selected for the series are:
- Keep Talking, directed by Karen Weinberg
- Bobbi Jene, directed by Elvira Lind
- Tokyo Idols, directed by Kyoko Miyake
- The Challenge, directed by Yuri Ancarani
- Beuys, directed by Andres Veiel
- No Dress Code Required, directed by Cristina Herrera Borquez
- Shadowman, directed by Oren Jacoby
- 42 Grams, directed by Jack C. Newell
If you can make it to all eight movies, you should go for it. Though production values vary and some are more captivating than others, every film in the series is interesting and edifying. From the high-stakes world of Chicago restaurants to wealthy Middle East sheiks and their falcons, the art of documentary filmmaking is on display to great affect here.
If life gets in the way, however, and you can’t make it to everything, here are a few highlights:
Tokyo Idols – A 2017 Sundance Film Festival selection, Tokyo Idols immediately immerses its American audiences in a foreign world, and not only because it’s a story set in Japan. It quickly becomes apparent that there isn’t anything quite like this cultural phenomenon in America, that of minor female pop stars, typically in their late teens and early twenties, amassing fervent and slightly-creepy middle-aged male fans via small club shows and meet-and-greets. It’s a fascinating look at the tenuous relationship between entertainment and intimacy.
Bobbi Jene – Ballet is a notoriously difficult industry in which to build a career, between the demanding physical expectations and the shrinking number of prestigious companies around the world. Bobbi Jene follows the eponymous American dancer who, in order to do just that, started her life over in Israel. For ten years, she starred in the Batsheva Dance Company (and also carried on a stereotypical affair with the older, more worldly artistic director). But now older (in her ancient early thirties) and hungry for more artistic expression, she decides to head back to the States. This thoughtful point-of-view documentary follows Bobbi Jene through love, life, dance and more as she figures out just what the next decade has in store.
No Dress Code Required – Perhaps the simplest production of the group, No Dress Code Required is nevertheless one of the most moving. Though it feels like we’re over the major hurdles to LGBTQ equality here in the U.S., countries all over the world are still navigating their way through these dicey political waters. In Mexicali, Mexico, Victor and Fernando have faced discrimination and rejection all their lives as gay men in a conservative Catholic nation. When they decided to marry, they have no idea the battle ahead simply to assert their rights as Mexican citizens. Filmed over more than two years, the camerawork is sometimes shaky and inconsistent. But the message is clear: love is love.
42 Grams – Chicago-based filmmaker and actor Jack C. Newell premieres his latest documentary about chef and restauranteur Jake Bickelhaupt, who trained under the likes of Charlie Trotter. When he’d had enough with the formal restaurant scene, he and his then-wife Alexa started hosting “underground” dinners in their apartment; he’d plan the meal, she’d pair the wine. It’s here that Jack discovers the pair and their renegade approach to fine dining, and begins following them through the ambitions and exhausting process of opening their own restaurant. It takes a special kind of ego to dream as big as Jake does, and our tastebuds are all the better for it.
Stranger Than Fiction runs at the Gene Siskel Film Center from January 5 through February 1. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online here.