Dispatch: Chicago Film Festival Opens With a Week of Tributes and Films, Both Live and Virtual

This is the first weekend of the 58th Chicago International Film Festival, with films on view at AMC River East 21 and the Gene Siskel Film Center—plus one at the Chicago History Museum. There’s also a virtual selection of films and shorts available via the festival’s streaming platform. Three special tribute events this week will honor Kathryn Hahn with a Career Achievement award, Anna Diop with a Rising Star Award, and Jonathan Majors with an Artistic Achievement Award. Full festival info is here and tickets for in-person and streaming films are available here.

Hahn’s award will be made Tuesday, October 18, at the 8pm program that will feature the screening of the Centerpiece film, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Hahn portrays Claire Debella, Connecticut governor running for the US Senate. She is currently working on the Hulu limited series, The Beautiful Things, based on the novel of that name hy Cheryl Strayed.

Diop, a Senegalese-American actor, brings nuance and depth to her performance as Aisha, an immigrant in New York, in Nanny, Nikyatu Jusu’s thriller, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Nanny will open theatrically in November. The tribute presentation and film screening will be at 6pm Friday, October 21, at AMC River East 21.

Majors will receive the Artistic Achievement Award Saturday, October 22, with the screening of Devotion, in which he plays the first Black man in US Navy history to become a fighter pilot. Majors came to attention in the 2019 film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and then in the HBO series, “Lovecraft Country,” as well as Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. The tribute presentation and screening of Devotion are at 7:45pm Saturday at AMC River East 21.

The virtual festival offers a selection of 20 features and nine short films to audiences across Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana via the festival’s online streaming platform and festival apps for Roku and Apple TV. Virtual screenings are ticketed, and streaming films will be viewable through 11:59pm on Sunday, October 23. Virtual tickets are available on the ticketing page.

Here are a few brief reviews of films to see this week.

How To Blow Up a Pipeline

A group of young environmental activists/eco-terrorists (depending on where you stand on certain environmental issues) come together from different parts of the country to a Texas oilfield with plans to blow up a major pipeline and disrupt the price of oil to call attention to their cause. Director Daniel Goldhaber (Cam) stages his film like a heist thriller, complete with flashbacks for each of his characters to give a better understanding of what sparked them to want to take action, ranging from pollution actually giving one of the activists a rare, fatal disease to the government using eminent domain to seize property from a family that has been on its land for generations. They even devise a means where only a couple of them take the fall for the crime, should they pull it off, which is never a guarantee considering how green everyone is in terms of committing destructive acts at this scale. Perhaps more unnerving, How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Inspired by the book of the same name by Andreas Malm), as the title implies, feels like an instructional video you might find on the internet, making us wonder if this movie might inspire young activists to up their destruction game as well.

Standout players include group leader Xochitl (Ariela Barer), the ill player with nothing to lose (Sasha Lane), and Dwayne, the slightly older Texan who just wants to keep his family’s land (Jake Weary). There also are a few nice twists and unexpected elements to the film involving the FBI that probably weren’t necessary, but do add something substantial to the overall plot. The film is meant to feel overly righteous and tends not to judge the players, their motives or their actions. This is a solid, surprising thriller. (Steve Prokopy)

The film will screen at 7:45pm today, Saturday, October 15, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and at 8pm Sunday, October 16, at AMC River East.

The Lost King. Image courtesy Chicago International Film Festival.

The Lost King

Based on the true story of Philippa Langley (portrayed here by Sally Hawkins), The Lost King follows a Scottish woman’s quest to find some purpose in her life, after she is once again passed up for a promotion at her job. Lacking a certain amount of confidence, recently separated from her husband John (Steve Coogan), and suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, Philippa attends a production of Richard III with one of her young sons and is intrigued by how Richard seems to be cast as a villain by Shakespeare simply because of his disability (he had a curvature of the spine), triggering a feeling in her that she is often dismissed for being somewhat physically fragile. In her spare time, she begins to dig in Richard’s true history to discovered that he didn’t do most of the things he’s accused of by both Shakespeare and revisionist Tudor historians, and that in fact, he likely didn’t usurp the throne and kill his nephews as is commonly believed. Before long, she stops going into work and devotes herself full time to this study, bringing her into contact with many like-minded folk as well as some detractors. But key to her research is finding out where Richard was secretly buried, so that his body can be properly interred as a legitimate king of England.

Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) reunites with his Philomena writers Coogan and Jeff Pope. He adds a few fantastical touches to The Lost King by portraying Philippa having visions and conversations with Richard (in the form of the actor she saw perform in the play), who gently encourages and guides her through her search for, well, him. The film is mostly lighthearted but Philippa’s search through 500 years of twisted history is taken quite seriously, despite an army of academics, bureaucrats and historians attempting to discourage her (at first) and then eventually stealing credit once her work starts paying off. But it’s also about a women finding the strength, in both mind and body, to stand up for herself and her work, and that’s where the film excels in its storytelling. (Steve Prokopy)

The film screens at 3pm Sunday, October 16, at AMC River East.

Alis

Alis is a documentary about Arcadia, a shelter for teenaged girls in Bogota, Colombia, made up of brief interview clips with about 20 girls. But in a larger sense, it demonstrates the personalities and troubled pasts of these girls and their hopes for the future. When they’re asked to imagine a new girl named Alis, they start with superficial descriptors, like “she’s blonde, she’s white, she’s pretty,” and then move on to respond to questions about boy friends and girl friends. Alis is bisexual and some of the girls fall in love with her; they love music and dancing too. The interviews are punctuated with everyday scenes of the girls’ lives, brushing their teeth, dancing, or sorting out donated clothing. 

Directors Clare Weiskopf and Nicolás van Hemelryck skillfully increase the intensity of the questions, asking about Alis’ family, her drinking, drug use and family life. As the girls talk about how Alis is abused at home and has to live in the street and prostitute herself, you realize the girls are reflecting their own lives in Alis’ stories. One girl says that Alis’ mother was raped and Alis was the rapist’s baby, shunned by her family. Another says, “her uncle raped her when she was 11,” and her tears show you how hard this was for her to say. When the girls are asked to look ahead to Alis’ future, there’s a faint glimmer of hope in this heartbreaking film, a moving portrait of girls on their way to becoming women. (Nancy Bishop)

Alis screens at 8pm Thursday, October 20, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and at 1pm Friday, October 21, at AMC River East 21.

Third Coast Review Staff
Third Coast Review Staff

Posts with the Third Coast Review Staff byline are written by a combination of writers, credited by section within the article.

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