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Even in the age of Netflix, there are many people who still enjoy seeing movies on the big screen. For them, October 7 marked the beginning of a 14-day tribute to movie-going: the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). Celebrating its 46th year, the event is the oldest competitive film festival in America and has given a start to countless successful directors and famous films.
The film festival can be a bit overwhelming, showing over 150 films in two weeks at the AMC River East 21 cinema downtown. Organizers bring the best, brightest, and most unconventional movies, documentaries, and short films, some of which may not make their way to mainstream theaters in the U.S. otherwise.
Showing foreign films in more than 10 languages, CIFF offers examinations of on minority persecution, historical dramas, and even controversial titles such as Big Tits Zombie (in 3D, by the way). There really is something for every movie viewer’s taste, whether it be quirky or condescending.
Opening the festival on the 7th was Stone, director Josh Curran’s psychological examination of the division between criminality and criminal justice. The story follows parole officer Jack Mabry (Robert DeNiro) and inmate Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton), intertwining the dark pasts of the two men in a way that causes viewers to question their perceptions of good and evil. Norton and Curran both attended the premiere.
Of the many documentaries being shown at CIFF, filmmaker Lucy Walker’s Waste Land is one of the most anticipated, coming from Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival with a slew of awards. Walker follows Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist, to the monumental landfill outside Rio that serves as the site and inspiration for his projects. The moving film shows the capacity of art to find beauty, even in a mountain of trash, and to touch even its inhabitants. The film will be shown on October 10 and 11, with Walker attending the first showing.
Following the success of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, his first collaboration with Matt Damon, Hereafter is another hot ticket, thanks to positive advance reviews. It’s hard to remember the last time Damon was in a flop, and he keeps his streak going by playing a middle-class American struggling with an unsolicited ability to connect with the dead. His “talent” will bring him into contact with two strangers: Marie, a French journalist, and Marcus, a young Londoner. Although the characters exist separately for the majority of the movie, their eventual meeting will transform them forever. French actress Cecile de France plays the role of Marie exquisitely and will attend the film’s showing on October 14.
The Chicago International Film Festival also offers lighter fare. One of the highlights of the comedic options is Brother and Sister (Dos Hermanos), showing October 10, 17, and 18. The film received acclaim and box office success in its native Argentina for the clever, biting exchanges of its two main characters, an aging brother and sister preparing for retirement. Produced by Daniel Burman of The Motorcycle Diaries fame, who will also be in attendance at the festival, the shrewd dialogue of the meddling sister is funny and relatable—even when translated into English subtitles.
On October 21, the festival will close with the Best of the Fest, awarding the best films shown over the previous weeks. The final film will be 11/4/08, a “participatory documentary” by Jeff Deutchman, featuring footage of the historic election of Barack Obama shot by 20 cameras across the world.
Be sure to check out special events; celebrity guests always attend, and tickets are often available to hear filmmakers and actors speak. Festival-goers are sure to be surrounded by an atmosphere set on preserving, innovating, and hopefully improving the classic movie theater experience, regardless of how unhealthy the butter on the popcorn may be.
Tickets for most shows are $10 for students, and matinees before 5 p.m. are $5.