By Ray Pride
No matter even if you truly wanted to, there’s no way a single viewer could give you an overview of an international film festival with more than a hundred events: you can surmise all you want, based on what festival films have played or have been reviewed at already, or the filmmakers’ reputation. Even festival programmers miss out on sections they’re not part of. I’ll be curious to see statistics after this year’s CIFF to see how many programs the average, but dedicated moviegoer, is able to attend. It’s tough even if you’ve been to a few prior festivals, seen a fistful of advance screeners, availed yourself of advance screenings. But, as luck, fortune or programming may have it, Chicago International has more programs of note in its second week, and a growing number of them have further distribution in the near future. (Disclosure: I was a program consultant for this year’s Docufest section.)
Among the raft of panels features this year, Saturday October 15’s “New Models Of Distribution” might offer a more expansive discussion that I hint at in the opening paragraph. How the movies get to the viewer, in theaters, on video, and video-on-demand, and how that is shifting by the day, will be discussed by reps from veteran mini-indie Strand Releasing and The Weinstein Company, which has just hired a couple video-on-demand figures away from Magnolia Pictures. Brit critic David Robinson talks silent film on Monday October 17, while former Chicagoan Braden King talks on Sunday about his films, including his road-movie-romance showing “HERE” and installation art. (At Sundance, I admired its ambling, aleatory quality as its couple traverses a gorgeous, little-populated landscape. Their nuanced emotional and sexual grappling is marked by suddenness and surprise, as fleeting as clouds, as inevitable as dusk and dawn. It’s as intimate as conversation, as flickering as a smile, as tender as a crushed heart. On October 19, I’ll moderate a discussion with Chicago’s Joe Swanberg, the prolific director of a half-dozen or so films in the past year, including “Autoerotic” (co-directed with Adam Wingard). Chicago and sex may be two primary subjects for discussion.
Eighty-one-year-old documentarian Frederick Wiseman extends his streak of studies of the human form after “La Danse” and “Boxing Gym” with “Crazy Horse,” a look behind the scenes of Paris’ longstanding nude revue. Turning from flashes of skin to thundercracks of sternest asceticism, Bela Tarr’s great, harsh “The Turin Horse” shows again, his final feature, he claims; he’ll be teaching students in Croatia how to find their own inner hard-ass. Another kind of hardliner shows in Xan Aranda’s “Andrew Bird: Fever Year,” which puts a fraught production history behind itself with its stylish but intimate look at the multi-instrumentalist’s history as a tour is set in motion. (Whistling is held to a minimum.)
Dark stuff: Australian serial-killer tale “Snowtown” has stirred up censorious talk in that increasingly conservative and culturally retrograde county for its effective thriller turns. Also from down under, Julia Leigh’s “Sleeping Beauty” earns its “Jane Campion Presents” credit with a story of an eccentric form of sex for sale. Long-absent Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin” has Tilda Swinton at the center of a tale about a mother’s love for her bad, bad seed of a teenage son; John C. Reilly co-stars. Modest yet captivating, Robbie Pickering’s eccentric road movie “Natural Selection,” a favorite at SXSW 2011, makes intergenerational quirk seem as logical as the way your own relatives behave, which to say, is not very logical at all. One of the week’s most confident bursts of beauty will be the first showing of Wim Wenders’ “Pina,” a 3D documentary about the late German choreographer Pina Bausch’s work, encompassing her dances, the faces and voices of her dancers, and the topography of Wuppertal, the city where her Tanztheater troupe remains. Musing on its origins, Wenders has written, “How many stories can be told without saying a single sentence!” Extended takes and studiously composed wide views of the bits of performance we see provide an exemplary opportunity for subtle use of the stereoscopic format. Still, it’s his close-ups, his head-and-shoulders stills-in-motion of the dancers, thoughts flickering across their features while their remembrances of Pina are heard on the soundtrack, that reveal his craft. A face, a thought. That’s dance, too.
The 47th Chicago International Film Festival continues at River East until October 20, chicagofilmfestival.com
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.