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Chicago International Film Festival Creates Roger Ebert Award

Chicago International Film Festival Creates Roger Ebert Award

It’s been nearly a year and a half since the death of Roger Ebert, but his influence seems to only be growing. First Steve James’ Ebert documentary “Life Itself” opened to wide acclaim, and now the late critic is getting his own award just in time for the 50th Chicago International FIlm Festival

The Roger Ebert Award will be presented to emerging filmmakers with “a fresh and uncompromising vision.” All films eligible will also take part in the Festival’s New Directors Competition. The award honors Ebert’s habit of supporting new talent wherever he found it, which often brought films like Gregory Nava’s “El Norte,” Ramin Bahrani’s “Chop Shop,” and Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams” to the attention of film fans all over the world, not to mention helped kick-start the careers of filmmaking giants like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. The festival has special significance with regards to the latter, whose debut “Who’s That Knocking At My Door” premiered at the festival under the title of “I Call First,” where it received a glowing review from Ebert.

Ebert continued to be a jury member and presenter at the festival in the years up until his death, and festival Founder and Artistic Director Michael Kutza says the award is “one more way to keep his memory, and his contributions, alive.” The award will be presented during the Festival’s Awards Night on Friday, October 17. The films competing for the Roger Ebert Award are listed below:

 “Ablations” France/Belgium (Director: Arnold de Parscau) — After waking up to discover one of his kidneys has been removed, a pharmaceutical salesman sets out on a strange and unsettling journey to piece together what happened. Like a mix of David Lynch and Park Chan-Wook, this surrealist thriller shows how one man’s obsessive quest leads to his own undoing. Virginie Ledoyen co-stars, along with Philippe Nahon (Gaspar Noe’s “I Stand Alone”) as a menacing senior citizen. North American Premiere
“The Boss, Anatomy of A Crime” Argentina/Venezuela (Director: Sebastián Schindel) — A hard-working man is allowed to run his own butcher shop, but his sleazy boss subjects him to a series of escalating exploitations and abuses that build to a violent climax. Assured new director Sebastián Schindel expertly captures beautifully understated performances with a naturalistic, unobtrusive camera, while detailed close-ups of meat being ground up underscore this incisive story about the unfair treatment of the working-class. North American Premiere
“El Cordero” Chile (Director: Juan Francisco Olea) — When Domingo, a mild-mannered, highly devout Catholic, accidentally kills his secretary, he suffers… from a lack of remorse. Tormented by not feeling a sense of guilt, he sets out, ironically, on a spree of unlawful and increasingly bloody acts in order to recover his moral compass. “El Cordero”—which literally means “the lamb”—is a pitch-black comic character study and skillful inquiry into the double standards of Catholic guilt and repentance. North American Premiere
“A Few Cubic Meters of Love” Iran, Afghanistan (Director: Jamshid Mahmoudi) — In a shantytown encampment comprised of sheet metal and abandoned tires, Sabar, an Iranian worker, and Marona, the daughter of an illegal Afghan laborer, meet for chaste romantic encounters in a shipping container. But faced with the threat of Marona’s deportation and the prejudice of their communities, can their dreams of marriage be realized? This year’s breakout film from Iran’s Fajr Film Festival is a bittersweet tale of pure love and racial tolerance. North American Premiere
“A Girl at My Door” South Korea (Director: July Jung) — Doona Bae (“Cloud Atlas”) and newcomer Kim Sae-ron deliver electrifying performances in this penetrating drama about a complicated relationship between two young women. Taking up post at a small seaside town, policewoman Lee Young-nam finds herself coming to the rescue of Do-hee, a local girl damaged by abuse at the hands of family and peers. As the two form a close, controversial relationship, Young-nam confronts a broader tapestry of social discrimination and destruction. U.S. Premiere
“Next to Her” Israel (Director: Asaf Korman) — Chelli is the sole caretaker for her mentally disabled, self-destructive sister Gabby. When Chelli begins a romantic relationship with the kindly Zohar, a fascinating triangle develops between the threesome, as Chelli loses her controlling grip on her vulnerable sibling. With stellar performances and startling plot twists, “Next to Her” is a compelling, complex and affecting drama about co-dependency and learning to let go. U.S. Premiere
“Paris of the North” Iceland/Denmark/France (Director: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson) — Relocated from Reykjavik to a dilapidated rural fishing village, former alcoholic Hugi spends his time teaching elementary school and attending AA meetings. His path to recovery, however, is derailed by the arrival of his philandering, beer-guzzling dad. A droll and gentle character study, “Paris of the North” is a captivating account of fathers and sons mending their stunted relationships while finding the courage to push forward with their own lives. U.S. Premiere
“Pink Noise” Colombia (Director: Roberto Flores Prieto) — In the dilapidated small town of Barranquilla, Colombia, amid rolling electrical blackouts and torrential downpours, Luis, an elderly repairman, and Carmen, an aging hotel-worker, briefly come together and rekindle long dormant passions. Bolstered by its exquisitely framed compositions and two amiable characters, Pink Noise is a beautiful and bittersweet portrait of aging, loneliness, and love, as gently paced as its characters’ tender lives. North American Premiere
“Still” UK (Director: Simon Blake) — A powerhouse performance from Irish actor Aiden Gillen (“Game of Thrones”) fuels this dramatic thriller about a photographer, reeling from the death of his teenage son. One day, a chance encounter with a street gang sends him down a dangerous path. In his breakout debut film, director Simon Blake paints a gritty, menacing portrait of North London’s cruel urban environs, where the dividing lines between evil and innocence are blurred. North American Premiere
“Supernova” The Netherlands/Germany/Belgium (Director: Tamar van den Dop) — Frustrated with her isolated, rural existence, 15-year-old Meis spends her days thinking about exploding stars and reveling in erotic fantasies, while she and her family live in fear (and hope) that a car will come careening through their front window, and reinvigorate their torpid lives. With everyday events portrayed on a cosmic scale, this sexy coming-of-age film sumptuously chronicles one girl’s sexual awakening within the context of the larger universe. North American Premiere
“La Tirisia” Mexico (Director: Jorge Pérez Solano) — Set amid the surrealist cacti-filled landscapes of Oaxaca, Mexico, this sensual, subtle drama follows the interwoven stories of two women, impregnated by the same uncaring man and unsure of whether they want to keep their babies. Driven by its beautiful cinematography and evocative imagery, “La Tirisia” is both a melancholic portrait of rural Mexico and a poignant tale of feminine pain and triumph. U.S. Premiere
“Titli” India (Director: Kanu Behl) — In the cutthroat environs of Delhi, a young man named Titli struggles to escape from his brutal and abusive family. But his plans are complicated when his criminal brothers instigate an arranged marriage, bringing the unsuspecting bride Neelu into their domestic rat’s nest. Acclaimed at its Cannes 2014 premiere, this outstanding debut film is a gritty and absorbing drama ripped straight from the hardscrabble mean streets of contemporary India. North American Premiere
“Underdog” Sweden/Norway (Director: Ronnie Sandahl) — A financially strapped, disaffected young Swede lands in Norway in search of employment. When she begins work as a housekeeper at middle-class Steffan’s home, neither anticipates the impact she will have on their lives and his family. Ronnie Sandahl’s emotionally satisfying debut features an urban modern-day romance while tackling issues of class, privilege and the changing balance of power between Sweden and Norway. North American Premiere

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