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Better Than Fiction

It's that time of the year again - the time when I go nuts trying to figure out my schedule for the Chicago International Film Festival. I have already spent two hours juggling films to come up with a line-up that includes almost all the films I want to see. Only one film didn't fit in - a last-minute entry by Kiyoshi Kurosawa called Retribution - and, oh, does that hurt! If you're a film geek like me, you understand the agony and ecstasy of this annual ritual. What's new for me this year is that I'm going to share my experiences with you. So I'll give you a rundown of how I make my choices, what you can expect, and how I think you might best enjoy the festival.

First, Opening Night. I'm not going. The films Cinema/Chicago shows on Opening Night are commercial Hollywood products destined for wide release that have big stars and reasonably big budgets. The festival nabs a first-look screening by honoring one of the principals of the film. This year, the film is Stranger than Fiction, and the honoree is a deserving Dustin Hoffman. Sadly, the film likely will open as the new Will Ferrell movie, and that's just not my cuppa. My philosophy of film-going is that I try not to see bad films, and I fear that's exactly what Stranger than Fiction is.


Of course, I could be wrong. The only year I attended an Opening Night was for The Human Stain so I could watch the film's director, Robert Benton, receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. I was excited to see Benton, who wrote the phenomenal Bonnie & Clyde, and I even enjoyed the film, which vanished quickly, unfairly, from screens across the country. Oh, well. Film choices are a personal decision, and we film geeks must trust our experience and our gut.

So what does my gut tell me this year? I've chosen an assortment of documentary and feature films. I'm drawn to political documentaries and documentaries about film, and this year's fest has a few tantalizing offerings. Buzz and Towards the Moon with Fellini cover two of my favorite film subjects - the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s and Federico Fellini. On the local political front, I chose Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing. I admire the anti-Bush stand that alienated this country group from its fan base, but to be honest, I'm seeing it because my favorite documentarian, Barbara Kopple (Harlan Country, U.S.A.), made it.

Among the features I've chosen is a Romanian comedy about the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest, that continues my obsession with the blackly humorous phenomenon that is Balkan cinema. For silent film fans, the 1927 Chicago - the first version of the Roxie Hart story - is a must-see because it's not available in home viewing formats, and it stars the dynamic Phyllis Haver as Roxie. I also found Manoel de Oliveira's Belle Toujours, the "sequel" to Luis Bunuel's classic Belle de Jour, irresistible, particularly since this Portuguese director is celebrating his seventh decade in the director's chair. Such a master deserves attention.

The CIFF, now in its 42nd year, is North America's oldest competitive international film festival. As such, I prefer it to other festivals. Yes, Toronto is bigger (too big, if you ask me), and New York is, well, New York. But neither of them are competitions. I don't know if winning a Golden or Silver Hugo in Chicago matters to the long-term longevity of a film, but I personally get a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing what the judges valued and why. I always see several films that are entered in the competition, and this year I'll be seeing three back to back: Spirit of the Soul (India), Ode to Joy (Poland), and Steel City (United States).

I've got a few others rounding out my selections. Oftentimes, a festival may be the only chance to catch some films, so I have tried to choose only films that are not currently scheduled for a commercial release. I have tried whenever possible to book the first showing of each film. My reviews will appear the next day in this space so that readers can purchase tickets to subsequent showings. (The Dixie Chicks doc and Chicago are special presentations that show only once; if you want to see them, buy your tickets now.) I hope you enjoy my virtual festival tour and treat yourself to a few surprises from the wide world of cinema.

Marilyn Ferdinand is the proprietor of Ferdy on Films, and the Beachwood's resident film critic.


Posted on October 5, 2006

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
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SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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