The Russian Woodpecker
By Ray Pride
While it’s never been a more fertile time to produce innovative, powerful, even poetic documentaries, the marketplace is another matter. Even a movie that cost a few thousand dollars has to find a way into the distribution pipeline, gain a little awareness, to get the attention of just a few more eyeballs at a time, maybe recoup a fraction of its cash outlay. Netflix, HBO, fantastic festivals around the world: but what about on the big screen at a theater near you? Several distributors, notably Magnolia (“Life Itself,” “Iris,” “Muscle Shoals”) and Radius (“Citizenfour,” “The Great Invisible”) are combining theatrical and video-on-demand releases for their films, but there’s so much more for audiences to explore, with only a fraction of the nonfiction getting farther than the spreadsheets of programmers and the notebooks of festival critics.
Longtime film journalist (including a stint as founding film editor at Time Out Chicago) and Chicago International Film Festival programmer Anthony Kaufman returns to the Music Box with his curatorial fervor for a second round of “Docs at the Box” in June, presenting five films that represent “the full spectrum of current nonfiction filmmaking, from archival-driven and vérité to avant-garde” each Tuesday night. Read the rest of this entry »
“L For Leisure”
As moderator of the festival’s fourth edition of “Bar Talks,” I can’t formally review what’s in store in the five days of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, but I’d like to indicate the goals of the annual “Bar Talks,” four extended filmmaker/audience conversations, especially in light of the notably consistent focus on atmosphere, mood and elusive narratives in the feature and shorts programming at the twenty-second edition of CUFF, the world’s longest-running underground film festival. The “bar talks,” taking place in the Logan Lounge at the Logan Theatre, are informal gatherings of local and guest filmmakers, with conversation the intention without the ping-pong of panel-like proclaiming. The talks may run an hour, or even an hour-and-a-half, depending on how much everyone has on their mind. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Coinciding with the City of Chicago’s jam-packed Lake FX Summit & Expo, the seventh year of CIMMfest (Chicago International Movies and Music Festival) lavishes their most expansive, ambitious programming yet, a bold first flush of spring movie festivals (Chicago Underground) and music festivals (You don’t have tickets already? Sorry.) We asked CIMMFest executive director Dave Moore about the scope of this year’s edition.
CIMMfest, especially combined with Lake FX, is starting to look like South by Southwest, which now sprawls across several weeks in Austin.
What’s inspiring about SXSW is the vast number of creative people together in one place, allowing for collaboration in artistic pursuits as well as connecting them to help on the business end. CIMMfest should continue to grow toward those goals. Like SXSW, we support as much local art as possible while bringing in great films and musicians from around the world. In short, supporting artists and creating an inspiring weekend for artists and their fans is where we want to be like SXSW. Read the rest of this entry »
Running each Tuesday through spring, Doc Films presents “Frederick Wiseman: An Institution,” ten features from the documentary elder’s expansive library. (The remaining titles are 1969’s “Law & Order”; from 1975, “Welfare”; 1977’s 174-minute “Canal Zone”; “The Store” (1983); “Blind” (1986); “Aspen” (1991); “Ballet” (1995); “Public Housing” (1997) and 2001’s “Domestic Violence.”) Behind the effort are local film critic and Odd Obsession alum Ben Sachs, thirty-two, and his wife, Kat, twenty-six. “Like Robert Bresson or Andy Warhol, Wiseman challenges viewers to look and listen harder. His films are famously devoid of identifying titles, on-camera interviews, and nondiegetic music. In giving up these staples of documentary cinema, Wiseman achieves a profound sense of immediacy,” the Sachs write. It’s their fourth curatorial enterprise since mid-2014. Ben answered a few questions about the intentions of the series, shown entirely on 16mm.
So these particular films are from Wiseman’s substantial back catalogue?
For a while now, I’ve considered Wiseman to be America’s greatest living filmmaker. In our essay for the Doc Films website, Kat and I compare him to Warhol and Bresson; and like them, Wiseman has the power to transform hard and fast reality into something wholly cinematic. His movies, for us, represent cinema in its purest state. One benefit of watching multiple Wiseman films in close succession is that you start to look beyond the subject of each one and become more aware of his methods—how he builds individual scenes and overall structures, how he transforms real people into characters.
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The city’s most teemingly eclectic film festival attains its majority with its eighteenth edition: sixty-one new features from twenty-seven countries. Highlights include the Oscar-submitted films from six nations, including Hungary’s expressive canine fable, “White God” and entries from Austria, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Spain. New work by established directors like Ettore Scola, Jessica Hausner, Bruno Dumont and Christian Petzold are scheduled. Other highlights: “The Life Of Riley,” which may not be shown otherwise in Chicago, the final film by the great Alain Resnais, released when he was ninety-one, is another one of his meta-theatrical, semi-surrealist japes. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Kutza/Photo: Emily Oscarson
By Ray Pride
Michael Kutza could be the longest-serving head of a film festival—anywhere on earth?—but it isn’t a topic he’d ever dwell on.
One warm September afternoon in an empty boardroom in the festival’s Loop offices, the Wabash Avenue El rackets directly below and street music rises up the eight floors like the soundtrack of the opening scene of “The Conversation.” Kutza says offhandedly, “He knows five songs,” including the Flintstones theme song. “Then someone gives him a couple of bucks and he starts the cycle again. He has one seasonal one for Christmas.” He pauses meaningfully. “At three o’clock, the saxophone player arrives.”
The founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival knows a thing or two about arrivals and departures. For forty-five minutes, we dished about personalities, considered whether film festivals have changed across the decades, and what fifty years in the biz means to him. Read the rest of this entry »
“Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
By Ray Pride
Along with a hundred-plus features and shorts from around the world, the fiftieth edition of the Chicago International Film Festival includes notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of “Roger & Me,” a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, “Hope For Film,” and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of “Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander: Ultimate Edition,” a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Claire Denis’ “White Material,” both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic “Mountains of the Moon” before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.
Notable locals include the world premiere of Chicago filmmaker Michael Caplan’s long-in-the-works “Algren” bio, as well as up-and-coming local auteur Stephen Cone’s “This Afternoon,” mingling his favored themes of sex and religion. Read the rest of this entry »
Xavier Dolan by Clara Palardy.
Oft-expressed concerns about the “mainstreaming” of gay characters and subjects and how that would affect gay film festivals may be misplaced in the tectonic economic shifts of contemporary filmmaking and distribution. By advance word and by the range of subjects, the thirty-second edition of Reeling, like many other recent film festivals, looks like we may be in a brave new world of possibilities. A few I’ve liked: “Lilting,” with Ben Whishaw as a young gay man mourning a lover whose Cambodian mother did not know he was gay is low-key and touching, even more so in the light of Whishaw recently coming out. The intense psychological thriller, “Tom At The Farm” was made just before “Mommy,” the latest over-the-over-the-top melodrama by twenty-five-year-old Xavier Dolan, who shared a Cannes Jury Prize with eighty-three-year-old Jean-Luc Godard. While it lacks the peacock vainglory of the Québécois wunderkind’s fantasticated “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom” toys with the kind of ambiguous psychological turns that many French masters have done so well, including Clouzot and Chabrol. Read the rest of this entry »
By Brian Hieggelke and Brandie Rae Madrid
Forty-one-year-old media arts organization Chicago Filmmakers is soon pulling up stakes from their rented space in Andersonville and moving to their very own firehouse on Ridge Avenue. Brenda Webb, the organization’s longtime executive director and founder of its centerpiece event, Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival, explains how the organization is able to focus more on their mission and building ties in the community by having her scale back her role in Reeling. In our conversation, she explains how the new space will allow for a more diverse programming, addressing the needs of its surrounding community. As the Reeling Film Festival approaches next week, Webb tells about the genesis of that endeavor and the changes it has undergone in the last few years, including its return to the Lakeview neighborhood after a brief run in Logan Square.
Were you there at the beginning of Chicago Filmmakers?
I was friends with one of the founders. She and I were roommates when we were students at Columbia. There were five founding members, although Chicago Filmmakers was really started by Bill Brand and another person. It was founded because they were students at the School of the Art Institute and they wanted to show their work outside the university setting. As artists are wont to do, they become validated by not just showing their work within a college or university, but by having a legitimate place where they can show their work. If you’re a painter, there are any number of galleries you might approach. But for filmmakers [in that era], there was no place to go. They essentially created Chicago Filmmakers as a place to show their work and other work by filmmakers like them, as well as to invite experimental filmmakers. The roots of the organization are in experimental film. I just started coming to screenings because my roommate was one of the founders, and she was there every Saturday night tearing tickets and doing that whole thing. That was my first exposure to experimental film, which for me was a real eye-opener. Read the rest of this entry »
By Brandie Rae Madrid
Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson walk onto a film set, but it’s no joke. It’s “Hogtown,” partaking of both classic and experimental movie traditions. Showing at Black Harvest Film Festival, it’s the second in a trilogy of quiet, mostly black-and-white films about isolation within a larger community by writer-director Daniel Nearing. After moving to Chicago from Canada in 2001, Nearing wrote for television and worked as a documentary filmmaker for hire before deciding that his “real heart is in writing something very personal.” Over a cup of coffee, he talked about his newest film and learning to face the things that scare you the most. Read the rest of this entry »