Chicago International Film Festival Boasts Big Name Talent and Outstanding Global Films
The 48th Annual Chicago International Film Festival, held October 11- 22 2012, was attended by the staff of Sarah’s Backstage Pass. The coverage included opening night, screenings with talent, interviews, closing night, special events and more. Staff members Sarah Adamson, Jessica Aymond, Tyna Cline, Kay Eller and Laura Vogel attended the festival and together covered 37 films.
Kay Eller attended the CIFF opening night’s film, the world premiere of “The Stand Up Guys,” at the Harris Theater. Also in attendance were the movies’ stars – Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Christopher Walken and Jon Bon Jovi.
Other special events, covered by Jessica Aymond, were Chicago Film Critics Association meet and greet sessions with David Chase, director of “Not Fade Away,” and Robert Zemeckis, director of the closing film, “Flight.”
Sarah Adamson interviewed famed writer and director Phillip Kaufman in the Chicago Film Festival office and her interview can be found here: Interview with Phillip Kaufman.
Kay Eller attended “A Conversation with Philip Kaufman,” which included the viewing of Kaufman’s film, “The White Dawn,” followed by a Q & A led by Annette Insdorf, who also signed copies of her book, “Philip Kaufman.” Eller also attended “An Evening with Joan Allen.”
Helen Hunt graciously accepted the Silver Hugo Award giving credit to Chicago as her north star. Hunt’s new film, “The Sessions” was also shown.
Below you’ll find a list of written capsules describing the films we attended and those we also felt were noteworthy. All in all, the festival was a huge success, featuring quality films from around the globe and with many stars and directors in attendance. We look forward to next year’s coverage.
Flight (USA) Reviewed by Sarah Adamson
The film stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, a veteran airline pilot who has an alcohol and drug abuse problem. Robert Zemeckis, who brought us the “Back to the Future” films and “The Polar Express,” directs the film.
During the opening of the film we see Whip and his flight attendant girlfriend played by Nadine Velazquez after an all night party of mega amounts of booze. He shocks his system into action by snorting 2 lines of cocaine and he’s off for a day a work. Their flight takes off in a rainstorm that generates major turbulence, sending the plane into an uncontrollable high-speed nosedive. Whip acts on instinct and flies the plane upside down until it can glide into an open field.
Whip becomes a hero as only 6 people died in the crash that could have resulted in over 100 deaths, but trouble starts when the investigation team finds cocaine and alcohol in Whip’s bloodstream.
The opening scene is a real nail biter! Zemeckis does a fine job of creating terror in the cockpit. The film is a study of drug and alcohol abuse, which centers on Whip and his denial and constant lies. Washington’s acting is tremendous and he should be nominated for an Academy Award.
Director: Robert Zemeckis Cast: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Nadine Velazquez Rating: R
The Sessions (USA)
Reviewed by Sarah Adamson
The film is centered on the personal writings of journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, played by John Hawkes. The movie has received lots of buzz, as it took home the Audience and Best Cast award at Sundance Film Festival.
The setting is Berkley, California, 1988. Having survived a bout of childhood polio, Mark is confined to an iron lung for all but a few hours each week. Writer and director Ben Lewin was drawn to the story because, like O’Brien, he had polio as a child.
At age 38, Mark decides to lose his virginity with the help of a therapist (Helen Hunt) and the guidance of his priest (William H. Macy). The role is extremely physically challenging, and John Hawkes carried it off remarkably well. He’s in a horizontal position throughout most the film with his head tilted upwards.
Mark’s day to day life reminded me of Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in the 1989 film, “My Left Foot’ in which a painter can only paint by holding a paintbrush with his foot. Here, Hawkes types on the computer and dials a phone by using a long mouth-stick.
The therapy sessions with Hunt are heartwarming and compassionate and reminded me of Jane Fonda’s 1978 performance in “Coming Home” in which Jon Voight plays a paralyzed soldier returning from Vietnam.
“The Sessions” has Academy Award written all over it!
Writer/Director: Ben Lewin
Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
Not Fade Away (USA)
Reviewed by Jessica Aymond
Soprano’s creator David Chase reveals his feature film directional debut in “Not Fade Away.” This coming-of-age drama set in 1964 reflects on Chase’s life in the New Jersey suburbs. Douglas (John Magaro) reflects Chase during his youth, alongside his friends Gene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill). James Gandolfini, the familiar face who played Tony Soprano, stars as Douglas’s strict and often disapproving father. After much inspiration from the Rolling Stones and other artists from the day, these three best friends decide to form a rock band. The film captures the creative and artsy itch felt by many growing up in the ‘60s amongst a backdrop of rock n’ roll, drugs, politics and revolutionizing social dynamics.
Audiences will certainly enjoy becoming lost in the music with the characters throughout the film. The band plays covers of The Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, Sex Pistols, The Kinks and many more. “Not Fade Away,” which received its title from a song by Buddy Holly and later by The Rolling Stones, is amusing but its unconventional style may not agree with all mainstream audiences. The cast presents well-rounded performances and, while generally serious, they provide just the right amount of humor. Chase’s skillful direction is notable and reminiscent of his “Soprano” days.
During a Q&A following the screening, Chase talked about his nostalgic past in the Jersey ‘burbs, along with the extensive writing and directing process. He said he wanted to do a biopic about someone who didn’t make it big. He actually quit writing several times but once he envisioned Gandolfini as Douglas’s father, he went right back to work. Moving from TV to film, Chase said the entire experience was much more challenging, mentally and physically, than he originally thought. Audiences will be glad he took on the challenge.
Opens: Friday, Dec. 21 (Paramount Vantage)
Writer/Director: David Chase
Cast: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, James Gandolfini, Molly Price, Bella Heathcote
Any Day Now (USA) Reviewed by Tyna S. Cline
Awarded Audience Choice for Best Narrative Film
In this affecting film, two gay men, one a drag performer (Alan Cumming) and the other a closeted attorney (Garret Diallahunt), build a relationship with each other while simultaneously taking custody of an abandoned teenage boy with Down syndrome. Inspired by a true story and set in the late ‘70s, trouble begins for the newly formed family when authorities find out about the unconventional living arrangement.
Director Travis Fine has lived up to his surname, doing a fine job of capturing the time period while telling this love story about 3 people. The acting is also noteworthy, especially the performance given by Cumming. Since “Any Day Now” has thus far won 10 audience awards at various film festivals, chances are good you will enjoy this film.
Director: Travis Fine
Cast: Alan Cumming, Garret Diallahunt
Reviewed by Laura Vogel
In 1984, 17-year-old Ben “Benji” Wilson was a so-called “messiah,” symbolizing his divine gift as a basketball player who could bring hope and change to Chicago’s fabled turbulent South Side. Benji was a charismatic and driven high school senior on the brink of leading Simeon High to its second straight state basketball championship and seemingly destined for NBA greatness. But Benji’s epic potential was cut tragically short when he was shot and killed near his school in broad daylight. Interviews with family and friends take us back to that day and give insight to Benji’s life, illuminating one of sport’s most tragic “what ifs.”
This is a very well done documentary, sensitive to what is still an emotional event for so many people. It captured the essence of Benji’s almost inhuman talent as a basketball player but also his understandable ups and downs as a regular teenager. The fact that current and past NBA phenoms, rappers from Chicago, writers for the newspapers, family, friends, and many others from the community were willing to share their memories, still visibly moved by the unbelievable loss, is a testament to Benji’s resonating presence. He truly is one of the biggest questions left unanswered and quite possibly could have been one of the greatest players of all time. The film exposes the entrenched violence that remains a problem in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods and generated deep discussion with the directors during the Q & A session. It’s possible that this film will be shown in classrooms and one can only hope that the peace and ceasefire experienced after Benji’s passing will be revived.
Directors: Coodie and Chike
Cast: Interviews with and appearances by NBA stars Nick Anderson and Juwan Howard, Curtis Glenn, Common, R Kelly, Michael Wilbon, and many more
Tey (Original Title: Aujourd’hui) (Senegal)
Reviewed by Laura Vogel
It’s hard to imagine what you would do if you knew today was your last day on earth. “Tey” follows Satché (played by musician Saül Williams) who awakes one morning with the complete awareness of his imminent passing. Though an imposing and heavy state to accept, Satché embraces his finality with a graceful complacence. He wanders through the streets of his hometown, reminiscing with friends and family, and reflecting on choices he’s made, along with their consequences.
“Tey” took a non-traditional approach to exploring the notion of death by challenging what we think we’d feel on our last day alive. It is truly improbable that anyone can actually know what he or she would do unless put in that situation, but “Tey” introduces the novel idea of your last day being like any other. The film is extremely visceral but also understated as Satché has very little spoken dialogue throughout. The camera angles, pace, editing, and audio choices made by director Alain Gomis allow us to experience everything first-hand, embodying Satché. The essence of the film is that nothing particularly momentous happens, but the final shot leaves us with the weight of the finality. It’s a beautiful film with just the right balance between dialogue and unspoken messages.
Director: Alain Gomis
Cast: Saül Williams, Djolof Mbengue, Aïssa Maïga, Anisia Uzeyman, Thierno Ndiaye Doss
Kay Eller saw 31 films and has reviewed the following 20 noteworthy ones. She noticed a recurring theme of love in many of the films, in particular, during the coming of age and in the elder years. Her reviews and recaps follow:
Holy Motors (France/Germany – subtitles)
Awards: Gold Hugo for Best Picture; Silver Hugo for Best Actor (Denis Lavant); Silver Hugo for Best Cinematography (Yves Cape and Caroline Champetier)
Director Leo Carax shows us a glimpse into a bizarre night of the elusive and strange roles of Monsieur Oscar as he travels the streets of Paris in a white stretch limousine. The interior of the limo is more like a mobile dressing room with unlimited theatre supplies, from props to costumes. All are needed to transform his character into the next appointment’s request. Cèline, his aging chauffeur does much more than just drive, he helps out with the transformations.
The facial make up required for some of these mysterious missions was quite remarkable! It was like watching brief clips from a really dark and weird version of someone’s “Fantasy Island” trip, but directly to their location of choosing.
Lavant’s versatile acting talent is extraordinary and watching the process of the physical altering during the makeovers gives viewers a first hand look at special effects. The film provides entertainment and education plus an unusual insight into an “actors” process, all topped off with stunning cinematography.
Director: Leos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes, Édith Scob
Flowerbuds (Czech Republic)
Winner of the Silver Hugo Award in the New Directors Competition
This is an inside view of a family in a small Czech town in the winter of 2011. A father whose gambling addition will ruin the dreams of the whole family: a wife, son and daughter all trying to escape in different ways to follow their own beliefs.
Director Zdenek Jirasky was at the CIFF and introduced the film as a “little bit of depressing, some elements of humor.” The story slowly draw you in, with hopes that the father will beat his addiction and the wife just might win a dance contest after waiting 25 years for a 2nd chance, while the son seeks true love and the daughter tries to make the right choice.
Director: Zdenek Jirasky
The Scapegoat (UK)
Charles Sturridge directs this dramatic film, with Matthew Rhys playing a dual role as teacher John Standing and businessman Johnny Spence. The film is based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. Set in 1952, two men, who are not related but almost identical in looks, meet by chance in a bar. John has just lost his teaching job and Johnny has lost the contract that would have saved his family’s failing glass business. After drinking at the hotel all night, John wakes up to find Johnny has stolen his wallet and has switched places with him.
The family chauffeur mistakenly takes John to Johnny’s family estate. Before he can explain what’s happened, he becomes involved in the family’s drama and they think their brother/son/husband/father/lover has suddenly developed a heart and conscience. When the real Johnny returns home you just may be on the edge of your seat trying to figure out how it will all play out.
There’s always a British film that makes it to my top favorites list and “The Scapegoat” is it! On all levels, this film entertains with mystery, drama, love and betrayal… even a peppering of humor. Rhys’ dual role will make you hate, love and disbelieve he’s the same actor!
Sturridge and Rhys were in attendance for a Q & A after the film. I noted that Rhys used hysterical facial expressions in the film, and asked if he had used some type of sense memory and where he had trained. Sturridge said it was his great directing and they laughed. Then, Rhys charmingly, almost a bit shyly, answered, “It was so crazy playing dual roles, and I did become confused at times, which came thru in the character’s expressions.”
Director: Charles Sturridge
Marie Krøyer (Denmark)
This movie is about Marie, wife of one of Denmark’s most highly regarded 19th century artists, P.S. Krøyer. It is beautifully filmed with great attention to detail, from costumes to vibrant landscaping, recreating the era.
The film starts with the funeral of her husband, then takes us through the last few years of Marie’s life with P.S. before his death. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman, highly recognized and considered a celebrity as the artist’s model. We are shown what the outside world didn’t know, that Marie, who shared a deep love and admiration for her husband, was destroyed beyond repair after his frequent episodes of manic depression. At times, P.S. physically threatened her life as well as their daughter’s. This torment eventually led her to find self worth and love in the arms of another, but with a cost higher than she ever imagined. This film kept me totally captivated and left me wanting to know how this extraordinary woman lived out the rest of her life.
Director: Billie August
A Royal Affair (Denmark – subtitles)
This historical, 18th Century drama focuses on Denmark’s mentally ill King Christian VII. The film also centers on the romance between Queen Caroline and the royal physician, Struensee. Together, they fought for improved conditions and laws for the Danish people.
The film gives thought provoking detail, providing a fascinating look into the life of a Queen as she shares it with an insane, child-like king. It also portrays the ultimate sacrifices of her love for Struensee and their idealists’ quest for freedom of speech and rights in Denmark.
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
“Quartet” marks Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. In Beecham House, a retirement home for opera singers and musicians, we meet Jean (Dame Maggie Smith) as the incoming celebrity resident. This caused uproar, as Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred (Billy Connolly) and Cecily (Pauline Collins) are her estranged former singing partners along with an ex-husband in the “quartet.”
This film will have you laughing, crying, applauding and believing in second chances, as long held secrets are released. You may even find yourself longing to retire in such a place.
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Coming of Age (Austria – subtitles)
Set in the ‘80s, Rosa and Bruno, whose paths cross by what seems like destiny, fall madly in love. Here’s the catch – he’s married and she’s soon to succumb to cancer. This is a poignant story that shows that the heart overrides at any age.
This film delivers an insight into the elderly, love, loss of independence and children who don’t understand their own parents need to feel alive and useful. You just might smile through the tears, as I did.
Directors: Sabine Hiebler and Gerhart Ertl
The World is Funny (Israel – subtitles)
Four stories are featured within this film, some true to life and some not. The film starts with Zafi who is taking a writing class, and uses her cleaning jobs to find stories of real families for her tales. Her topics are intertwined from estranged siblings, to a son who wakes after 8 years in a coma, to a radio host, to a travel agent.
This film, despite the sad circumstances of the characters personal dilemmas, will have you laughing and feeling a true connection to each one of their tragic problems. It will leave you with a sense of hope in the strength of love and family.
Director: Shemi Zarhin
As the film opens, Jane, a 21-year-old actress, is buying a thermos at 85-year-old widow Sadie’s garage sale. The two form a unique friendship as Jane’s curiosity grows with the findings inside her purchase.
This film is fresh, funny and heartwarming with an unexpected story line that’s unraveled. Secrets emerge as their continued friendship grows. Jane’s roommates also raise the bar in dysfunction to complicate matters.
Director: Sean Baker
A Monkey On My Shoulder (France – subtitles)
This film stars Mila (Juliette Binoche) and Javier (Édgar Ramírez) in a tale of passion shared by a successful heart surgeon team. We are shown the last ten years of extreme loving, drinking and partying, which has caused alcoholic Javier to lose his job. He convinces Mila to keep their unplanned baby, starting a tragic chain of events in their life.
The film’s title is a phrase centering on addiction, At first you’re drawn into the thirst they share for living ‘life in the fast lane’ but, as it unravels, you’ll wish you could stop their speeding motorcycle ride into a journey neither expected.
Director: Marion Laine
Meeting Leila (Iran – subtitles)
This film puts a comedic spin on the addiction to cigarettes. Leila demanded her fiancé to quit his chain-smoking habit before their marriage. First problem, he only gets his creative ideas for his advertising job when he smokes, proving relationships and promises are no easy task to keep.
This film gave me an unexpected insight in understanding how hard it must be to quit smoking. The lengths he goes to sneak cigs and to hide his failings to Leila is comical and you’ll be cheering for them both. Director Adel Yaraghi is also an actor in the film. He admitted in the Q & A that he was and is a smoker again!
Director: Adel Yaraghi
King Curling (Norway – subtitles)
This uproarious comedy follows a curling team that has reunited to pay for an operation to save their former coach. One major glitch is getting their former star player, Truls, back from his over medicated fog and OCD condition that caused his breakdown years ago, during their last competition.
You don’t have to enjoy “curling” to love this crazy, laugh-out-loud film, from Truls controlling wife-guardian who treats her dog better than him, to his dysfunctional teammates’ quirky habits, to a rival curler that thinks he’s absolute man candy.
Director: Ole Endresen
Color of Sky (India)
A modern fable about teaching a criminal a new life, this film has humor, meaning and beautiful cinematography.
A look into a modern day life in Havana, a young couple with diverse backgrounds is in love and trying to make it on their own, against his parents’ warnings.
Post Cards from the Zoo (Indonesia)
A fable of a girl infused with only life living in a real zoo until she ventures on her own to find love and life outside in the world.
A fish merchant gets an audition on Italy’s version of “Big Brother.” This is a satire on what the possibility of fame can do to a person.
Night Across the Street (Chile/France)
The final film from Raùl Ruiz follows Don Celso, a soon to be retired office worker, through both real and imagined memories.
Sea Shadow (United Arab Emirates)
A 16-year-old boy in Dubai tries to woo a girl with gift in this coming of age story. If give insight on the restrictions of relationships between teens in the UAE.
Paradise: Love (Austria/Germany)
The first of a trilogy in what we’d refer to as cougars seeking love, vacationing on the beach in Kenya where “Beach Boys” are legally aloud to escort these affection starved women.
The Last Sentence (Sweden)
This movie is based on the true story of Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt’s life. He lived on the edge through his affairs and campaigning through journalism against the Nazis, while Sweden was neutral in the war.
Sarah’s Backstage Pass© November 15, 2012