Film

Dispatch: The 55th Chicago International Film Festival Delivers a Strong Final Weekend

Have you made it out to the Chicago International Film Festival yet? Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve seen (and what you thought)! We’ve been in the thick of things, and enjoying every minute of it. Our own Steve Prokopy even moderated the post-film Q&As for Knives Out with writer/director Rian Johnson and star Michael Shannon (who’s well-known in Chicago for his theater work). The whodunnit opens in theaters November 27.

Steve Knives Out

Image courtesy Chicago Int’l Film Festival

There are a few days left of film screenings and special guests (the festival officially closes on Sunday, October 27), including the annual Awards Night on Friday, where the best of the festival will be announced, and the Closing Night event featuring the world premiere screening of The Torch, a documentary about Chicago’s own Buddy Guy (who is scheduled to be in attendance).

Here are a few final recommendations for what to see in the festivals second—and last—weekend.

The Apollo

It’s almost impossible to imagine a documentary about the world-famous Harlem institution The Apollo Theater not being fascinating from top to bottom, and thankfully director Roger Ross Williams’ film hits all of the right notes, from its earliest days as a showcase for top black performers to later years when the televised “Showtime at the Apollo” threw a spotlight on some of the finest African-American comedians and rap artists who simply weren’t being booked on talk and variety shows aimed at white audiences. The movie doesn’t shy away from some of the institution’s lean years, when audiences and artists were withdrawing from attending, but a more recent resurgence is represented by a staged reading of a Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir by the likes of Angela Bassett, Common, The Roots’ Black Thought, and others. Using stunning archival footage, we’re able to see performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, all of the first-generation of Motown artist, and of course, James Brown, who recorded on of the finest live albums of all time at the venue. The Apollo also includes sections about how vital the audiences were to the success (or failure) of newcomers on the venue’s do-or-die amateur nights. The film tells the bigger story of expanding black cultural milestones, as well as very specific stories of those that made the venue so vital. (Steve Prokopy)

The Apollo screens on Friday, 10/25 at 6pm, and Saturday, 10/26 at 12:15pm. Producer Lisa Cortés is scheduled to attend. 

Babyteeth

Image courtesy of IFC Films

Babyteeth

Based on a play by Rita Kalnejais, Babyteeth is filmmaker Shannon Murphy’s feature debut, and it’s quite the arrival. Set in present-day Australia, the whole thing plays as a bit of Yorgos Lanthimos-lite, just weird enough to keep you guessing with a profound heart at its center. The story revolves around Milla (Eliza Scanlen), a teenager facing all the normal hiccups of that phase of life with the added complication of a serious illness. Her parents, dad Henry (Ben Mendelsohn, who is fantastic per usual) and mom Anna (Essie Davis), do their best to keep her healthy and keep her spirits up, ill-equipped as they may be with their own vices and short-comings. When Milla falls hard for Moses (Toby Wallace), a small-time drug dealer a few years older than her, the whole family has to navigate this newcomer’s impact on their already fragile state. With the help of clever chapter titles that move the narrative along while keeping the audience in its place as observers of the action, Babyteeth is a quirky (and sometimes heavy) take on the traditional coming-of-age story with moving performances that elevate it into the unexpected. (Lisa Trifone)

Babyteeth screens Saturday, 10/26 at 9pm and Sunday, 10/27 at 3:30pm.

Cunningham

Revealing a facet of the professional dance world that I never knew existed, director Alla Kovgan’s Cunningham looks at the life and influence of modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, whose knowledge and creative vision was so strong that he set out to evolve—some say destroy—the elements of dance that had been in place for decades. With an array of both archival footage and newer re-stagings of his most iconic works, Cunningham talks about the visual components (in terms of costumes, production design, etc.) and the ever-confounding soundscapes, usually created by musician John Cage, that combine to reinvent modern dance’s potential forever. The documentary is presented in 3D, which quite often brings us on stage with the performers, allowing audiences to further appreciate the sometimes breathtaking, sometimes grating experimentations on display. Cunningham showed the world that in order to prove you love something, you sometimes have to tear it down and rebuild from the ground up. It’s a fascinating examination of the power and perils of being an innovator in any field. (Steve Prokopy)

Cunningham screens on Friday, 10/25 at 5:45pm, and Saturday, 10/26 at 6:30pm. Director Alla Kovgan and producer Derrick Tseng are scheduled to attend, with guest moderator Bonnie Brooks. 

Deerskin

Image courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Deerskin

For those familiar with the works of French musician and filmmaker Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, Wrong Cops), his latest oddball pursuit Deerskin shouldn’t feel like much of a departure. For the rest of you, prepare to be as confused as you are amazed at his ability to make the strange and surreal seem commonplace as he spins the tale of a sad and lonely man named Georges (The Artist’s Jean Dujardin, almost unrecognizable here) who acquires a new suede jacket and becomes so obsessed with its uniqueness that he gives it a voice in a prime bit of schizophrenic behavior. Eventually the jacket enlists Georges in a mission to eliminate all other jackets from the world, so he re-invents himself as a filmmaker making a movie much like the one we’re watching, in which his deerskin jacket is the central character, and humans must declare their loyalty to it by denouncing their own outerwear. But soon the quest to create a jacket-less society leads to bloodshed and death as Georges begins to take his assignment a bit too seriously.

Seeing the usually confident and lively Dujardin take on a role like this deranged (and unknowledgeable about how movies are made) character is revelatory, and pairing him with the great Adèle Haenel (soon to be seen in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, here playing a local bartender in the secluded town where Georges eventually lands) only makes Deerskin more of a draw. There’s a nasty but amusing streak that runs through the icy heart of this movie that keeps us on edge while we giggle as the pure insanity of the endeavor. It may not be for everyone, but if you harbor a black heart, welcome home. (Steve Prokopy)

Deerskin screens on Friday, 10/25 at 10:45pm, and Sunday, 10/27 at 12:30pm.

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