Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Still Not Stopping: Chicago Underground Turns Twenty-Three

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"Love Witch"

“Love Witch”

By Ray Pride

Among Chicago’s many, many film and video festivals small or large, three claim the greatest longevity. At Lake FX Summit and Expo last month, a “Festival of Chicago Film Fests” event welcomed programmers of more than thirty independent festivals to make a case for their mission. Of the three longest-running on display, Chicago International, in its fifty-second year, claims the title of “the longest-running international competitive film festival in North America.” Reeling, now in its thirty-fourth year, is the second oldest gay film festival in the world. And then there’s Chicago Underground, at twenty-three, the oldest underground film festival on the planet. (I’ve been an observer of the festival since its start and also present the annual “Bar Talks” series where extended conversations between filmmakers and audiences are encouraged daily.) I caught up with Underground co-founder, artistic director and programmer Bryan Wendorf after the schedule was completed in May. We talk about what “underground” means in this century, honoree Tony Conrad, special guest (and underground expert) Jack Sargeant, as well as highlights from the features and shorts programs.

Tell me a story from early on when you realized the festival would go on, if not on and on, and on and on and on.
When Jay Bliznick first approached me about being a part of the original team that organized the first festival, I put him off for several months. Deep down, I knew that if I committed to being a part of this, I would be in it for the long haul and be involved with it for years. Then as we were planning that first event in 1993, it became clear that one member of that team wasn’t pulling their weight and was avoiding calls from the other organizers. We met together in my dining room and basically fired that person. That was a huge step, because it was someone we were all friends with, but as a working relationship it was a disaster. Making that difficult decision was the biggest step in realizing that we were serious. The other big step that pointed toward the festival surviving for the long haul was in our third year, when we shifted our model away from the film-fan convention model that had inspired Jay, and more closely resembled other film festivals. We also managed to get Roger Ebert to write a substantial piece for the Sun-Times, which raised both our profile and attendance. That gave us the drive to continue. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Behind The Scenes Of The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival

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By Ray Pride

We met up at the Music Box Lounge on a sunny afternoon after a day of slush with the amiable if weary quartet behind CIMMfest, the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, the behemoth festival, now in its eighth year, that sprawls across Chicago with “99+ Films! 99+ Bands!,” as their promos banner. [The downloadable fifty-six-page program is here.]

Executive director Dave Moore, forty-eight, has been with CIMMfest for four years, and was not only a fan from the start, but was also the fest’s first passholder. Co-founder and artistic director Josh Chicoine, forty-two, and director at large Carmine Cervi, forty-eight, have been with the fest from the get-go. Creative and marketing director Gary Kuzminski, forty-eight, has been under the big tent for five years. (In addition to CIMMfest, Cervi has the production company BulletProof Film and Kuzminski teaches interactive advertising at Columbia.) We talked about their blend of programming, as well as the logistics of the epic endeavor at thirty venues across four days.

Opening night is five days away. Does time get away from you?

Josh: So many details.

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Reel Truth: Behind Doc10, Chicago’s Newest Film Fest

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Werner Herzog’s “Lo & Behold”

By Ray Pride

After two years of Docs at the Box, a spring showcase of new nonfiction at the Music Box, programmed by journalist-programmer Anthony Kaufman, a larger event, expanding the work of the nonprofit Chicago Media Project, will take its place. The quartet behind the long weekend, which will augment Chicago debut attractions with post-screening discussions, interactive events and panels, are Kaufman, CMP co-founder and board chair Steve Cohen, CMP co-founder and executive director Paula Froehle and festival coordinator Sarah Nobles.

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Preview: The 19th Chicago European Union Film Festival

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Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Chevalier”

By Ray Pride

“Taken all together, the festival represents a panoramic view of filmmaking across Europe, from West to East,” Siskel Film Center director of programming Barbara Scharres tells me about the nineteenth edition of the indispensable, jam-packed, month-of-March-long Chicago European Union Film Festival.

“As with every year, it’s a view [of European cinema] that’s incredibly diverse and ever-changing, and yet represents pronounced themes, trends and affinities from one year to the next.” But the EU Fest is not designed, like some standalone film festivals, as a platform to launch an upcoming art-house release. “Some films are special advance screenings of titles already acquired by U.S. distributors, and many are films that may not ever make it beyond Europe’s borders again. If you can view the festival as a kind of laboratory, it’s an intersection in a neutral space of films that [can be] enjoyed purely on the basis of their artistic merit. There aren’t so many opportunities for the filmgoing public to choose outside the commercial realm, and we believe the festival offers that experience on a significant scale.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The 27th Onion City Experimental Film And Video Festival

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By Ray Pride

We caught up with Josh B. Mabe, Onion City Film Festival director and programmer (and also program director of Chicago Filmmakers) about the institution’s goals at this point in the twenty-first century, in mid-February just as programming for the 2016 edition was nearly done.

A native of South Carolina, Mabe, thirty-five, moved to Chicago in 2007, co-founded the Nightingale with Christy LeMaster and co-programmed the Chicago Underground Film Festival one year with Bryan Wendorf. The Experimental Film Coalition handed the reins of Onion City to Chicago Filmmakers in 2001, headed until 2003 by Rebecca Meyers and until 2015 by the highly regarded, exacting programmer Patrick Friel. “So,” Mabe says, “this is my first year in charge. In many ways Onion City operates a lot like the Reeling LGBTQ+ Festival, which Chicago Filmmakers also runs, but at a smaller scale.” Read the rest of this entry »

Picking “The Flick”: A Film Critic On Annie Baker’s Steppenwolf Play

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By Ray Pride

“Flicks” is an ugly word, but “The Flick” is a lovely play.

The Newcity film section style sheet has four or five stylistic oddities. “Flicks” is roundly prohibited. “Fucks” is how the longtime body type of the paper, Meta, renders those letters. Another is just how homely and condescending a word it is, how demeaning it sounds. The superior-sounding name of Gene Siskel’s column of capsules at the end of his career was “Siskel’s Flicks Picks.” So awful. “Film.” “Movies.” Even “flickers” sounds better! But as the name of a struggling, Worcester, Massachusetts (population 182,000) cinema, it’s got a ring in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning play, as the last local theater, one of the last in the region, makes a last stand against digital projection sometime in 2012.

The Steppenwolf set is a down-at-the-heels 140-seat set, directly facing the actual seats inside the black box space. Read the rest of this entry »

Healing After Hate Crime: “Waking in Oak Creek” Film Screening and Discussion to Consider the Tragedy in a Wisconsin Sikh Temple

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One year after the hate attack, the Oak Creek community comes together at The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

One year after the hate attack, the Oak Creek community comes together at The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

Patrice O’Neill has followed hate crimes since reporting twenty years ago on the ground in Billings, Montana. “One town can learn from another’s tragedy,” she observes. As The Working Group’s “Not In Our Town” executive producer, she will show their documentary short “Waking in Oak Creek” as part of the Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago on December 10. Produced in 2014  in conjunction with the Department of Justice COPS Office, “Waking in Oak Creek” profiles efforts made by local law enforcement, faith leaders, community members and youth to rebuild trust, connection and understanding among Sikhs and other members of a suburban community in the wake of a horrific crime. On August 5, 2012,  a lone gunman attacked worshippers preparing lunch just before services at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The gunman, tied to white supremacist groups, took his life and the lives of six worshippers, after injuring several others, including a local police officer who was shot fifteen times. “We can’t just be sad, we can’t just be mad, we have to do something during hate crime tragedies. That’s the message of ‘Waking in Oak Creek,'” she says.

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Preview: “I Lost It At The Video Store”

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web-coverIn “I Lost It At The Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era” (The Critical Press, $25), Tom Roston’s lozenge-sized history covering three decades of an all-but-vanished era, filmmaker-conversationalist Kevin Smith puts it as unromantically as you can imagine. “I’m a movie lover at heart, so the quickest, easiest way you can get it to me is A-okay. I need it in me. I just need the movie in me.” But Smith is trumped by Quentin Tarantino, who says in a flurry of words, “I like something hard and tangible in my hand. And I can’t watch a movie on a laptop. I don’t use Netflix at all. I don’t have any sort of delivery system.” Tarantino adopted his very own videotheque atop his vast collection of 35mm prints. “I have the videos from Video Archives. They went out of business, and I bought their inventory. Probably close to eight thousand tapes and DVDs. I have a bunch of DVDs and a bunch of videos, and I still tape movies off of television on video so I can keep my collection going.” There are more morsels within the generous white space of Roston’s 153 pages. Read the rest of this entry »

Partly Like It’s 1999: The Twenty-Five Years, Four Hours And Forty-Seven Minutes “Until The End Of The World”

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UEW06cWWSBy Ray Pride

“Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me. I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day…” are words sung in an emotional crescendo near the end of “Until The End of the World,” a Kinks song sungalong in the middle of the night on the bottom of the planet at what a raft of characters believe is already of the end of civilization as they know it, as Wim Wenders and his co-writers Peter Carey and Solveig Dommartin anticipate. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: OUT 1

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Never lost, but seldom seen, Jacques Rivette’s “Out 1,” the justifiably legendary twelve-hour-fifty-five-minute epic of post-1968 Paris has been digitally restored, supervised by cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. Previously seen only via a single 16mm print circulating to cinémathèques (including a Memorial Day weekend Siskel showing in 2006), it is now being shown around the country prior to a January 2016 Blu-ray release. Its extended form, divided into eight episodes, anticipates the phenomenon of “binge-watching” by decades, and that 2007 showing in the company of a raft of cinephiles old and young was a fantastic communal experience. Read the rest of this entry »