The Chicago International Film Festival, one of North America’s oldest film events, will launch its 41st edition October 6th, with 100 features and 42 shorts from 34 countries slated to screen through October 20th in the windy city. The lineup includes three world, 11 North American and 34 U.S. premieres, and will open with Cameron Crowe’s Toronto ’05 feature “Elizabethtown,”starring Susan Sarandon, Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst and Alec Baldwin. Sarandon will be given a Career Achievement Award as part of the opening night gala at the Chicago Theater, with critic Roger Ebert hosting onstage. Crowe will also attend the event.
“Elizabethtown” is the story of Drew Baylor (Bloom) who is fired after causing his company to lose millions of dollars, and is subsequently dumped by his girlfriend. Depressed, Baylor travels to Kentucky following the death of his father, but finds a new lease in life after meeting a flight attendant on the way home (Dunst) and begins a romance. CIFF world premieres include Lisa France’s drama about friendship, “The Unseen,” starring Steve Harris (“The Practice”) and John Gulager’s comedy/thriller, “Feast,” which is the third installment from Project Greenlight. Also making its world debut at the fest is Second City alumnus Mike Meiners’ comedic look at Chicago’s “diverse economic spheres” in “The Trouble with Dee Dee.”
Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s drama “Bee Season,” starring Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche and Kate Bosworth, will screen as CIFF’s centerpiece on October 15th. The film depicts the downward spiral of a seemingly idyllic family as the father pours his attention into his daughter’s pursuit of spelling bee triumph at the expense of his collapsing marriage.
Nineteen films will screen in the festival’s international competition this year, including the U.S. debut of South Korean director Hur Jin-ho’s “April Snow” (Oechul), about two people who meet in a hospital after their respective partners’ car accident. The man and woman learn that their spouses have been cheating on them and subsequently begin their own affair. The U.S. premiere of Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” follows the story of two women who begin a road trip together after circumstance brings them together. Hanna Laszlo won the best actress award at the Festival de Cannes earlier this year for her role in the film. Additionally, CIFF will screen 17 films as part of its World Cinema section. The festival’s New Directors competition includes 15 titles by first or second-time directors. Argentine director Anahi Berneri’s Berlinale ’05 Teddy Award-winning film “A Year Without Love” (Un Ano Sin Amor) is the story of a dying writer who searches for a cure to AIDS and human interaction in the hospitals and sex clubs of Buenos Aires.
CIFF’s Docufest section has eleven films slated to screen, competing for the festival’s Gold Hugo prize. Jessica Sanders’ “After Innocence” is an emotional look at wrongly convicted men freed following DNA evidence proved their innocence as they struggle to transition back into society. The film won a documentary special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “Protocols of Zion” by Marc Levin investigates a surprisingly widely-held view by some circles around the world that Jews were responsible for 9/11, while Rupert Murray’s “Unknown White Male” is the true account of Doug Bruce, who woke up one day in Coney Island with no memory of a day in his life.
Three Chicago-area critics have each chosen a film to screen in the fest’s Critic’s Choice program. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert picked Errol Morris’ 1980 documentary about a California pet cemetery, “Gates of Heaven,” while the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum curated Jhang Ke Jia’s “Platform” (2000) about a group of amateur theater troupe performers. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Wilmington chose Max Ophuls’ “Lola Montes” (1955), the tragic story of the person of the same name who stopped being the attraction of her circus following affairs with high-profile men.
Closing the Chicago International Film Festival October 20th is the Chicago debut of Gore Verbinski’s (“The Pirates of the Caribbean”) “The Weather Man,” starring Nicolas Cage, who will introduce the film. The film centers on a Chicago weatherman who is conflicted by an offer to take a job in New York City.
“We’re so thrilled and fortunate to have such a quality group of films this year, some of the best feature and short films, I might add, that we’ve had in our 41 years. We truly bring the world of film to Chicago,” said festival founder and artistic director Michael Kutza in a statement. “What’s even more gratifying is the opportunity to have so many enriching events, which plays into our educational theme to provide Chicago with a behind-the- scenes look at filmmaking and the medium.”