Screens Monthly: What to See and Do at the Cinema in September

This month, with summer blockbusters (thankfully) behind us, film festival season kicks into high gear. While yours truly jets off to Toronto International Film Festival for a week (dispatches to come!), there’s plenty of interesting, unique film to seek out right here in Chicago throughout September. No fewer than three film festivals begin this month, plus a couple very unique events built around film and the first of the year-end awards bait starts to pop up in theaters, too.

Smallest Show
Image courtesy of Chicago Film Society

Here’s what’s worth making time for:

September 3 (through December 15)

Chicago Film Society – presented by a small but dedicated group of film purists (like, actual film; everything is presented on the real thing, 16mm or 35mm), Chicago Film Society has quietly been screening gems of a bygone era for years, and their new season starts on September 3 with a screening of 1957’s The Smallest Show On Earth, a British comedy about a projectionist in a small cinema. Additional screenings this month include City Girl (1930), a silent film accompanied by live organ at Music Box Theatre; The Lost One(1951) directed by Peter Lorre and literally not available to see anywhere else; Pretty Poison (1968) and Other Men’s Women (1931). Get more on the whole season here.

September 12 (through November 14)

Asian Pop-Up Cinema: Season 7 – The only film series in Chicago dedicated to presenting films from across Asia, a new season of North American, Midwest and Chicago premieres begins on Wednesday, September 12, with Adulthood, a Korean film about a young girl and her con man uncle flung together when her father dies and the uncle becomes her legal guardian. Screenings are mostly weekly (though the series does go dark around October’s Chicago International Film Festival), with most featuring filmmakers in person for post-film Q&As. Also in September is Smaller and Smaller Circles, directed by Raya Martin (whose earlier film was at Cannes); and Sad Beauty, from Thailand. The full series, plus info on guests and tickets, is all here.

Sound of Music
Image courtesy of Music Box Theatre

September 14-27

70MM Film Festival @ Music Box Theatre – The programming team at Music Box Theatre bring out the big(ger) screen about once a year for this week of special screenings, though it changes location on the calendar now and then (a few years ago, it was built around Tarantino’s year-end release of Hateful Eight; and once around the summer opening of Nolan’s Dunkirk). The theater actually does install a special screen for the occasion, giving these massive prints their due. The latest lineup includes a handful of stand-bys (if you’ve never seen West Side Story, Lawrence of Arabia or The Sound of Music in 70mm, you’ve never really seen them), as well as a few unexpected ’80s favorites (The Thing, Year of the Dragon, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). And they’re the only joint in town screening 2001: A Space Odyssey from a new print Christopher Nolan had restruck from the original, a sort of “unrestored” new version. The entire schedule and ticket info is here

September 20-30

Reeling Film Festival – Chicago’s LGBTQ+ film festival presents its 36th year of films and events at the tail end of September, including some impressive special guests and programming with a historical bent. Rupert Everett (you know him as Julia Roberts’ sidekick in (the Chicago-set My Best Friend’s Wedding) is scheduled to attend with his directorial debut The Happy Prince, about an aging Oscar Wilde, while several films focus on the LGBTQ+ era of days gone by, including Wild Nights With Emily about poet Emily Dickinson and Studio 54 about the infamous disco of 1970s New York. The festival opens on September 20 with a screening of Chicago-made Freelancers Anonymous, described as “a screwball lesbian comedy.” And who can’t appreciate that? Discover the full slate of more than 30 feature films and a whole bunch of shorts here.

September 21

Life Itself – Awards season starts earlier every year (apparently, Academy voters have already received their screener copies of RBG!), and the buzz is strong for Life Itself, written and directed by the creator of “This Is Us.” Starring Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac, the film follows a love story over the course of generations, weaving in family drama, current events and more to tell the story of a life. Premiering at Toronto a few weeks before its big screen bow, we’ll know soon enough if this first human drama of the fall film season lives up to all the hype. Check out the trailer below.

September 28 (through October 7)

Chicago South Side Film Festival – I hate to admit that it wasn’t until researching events for this column that I came across this festival; though I’m cutting myself a bit of slack as it turns out this is only the second year for the program presenting a diverse slate of films on the city’s south side. As of publication, there’s little information on this year’s event aside from the dates, but judging by the social media presence and their plans for a Cinema Social on September 21, organizers have another cool event in store. Keep an eye on this one here.

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone