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Filming at the Edge of the World

This past weekend has been one long adrenaline crash. Two weeks of film festival is about all this film geek can take. The constant air of excitement, the frustration of missing a screening, the high of talking with other audience members or, better still, the creators of a film, take their toll. In a city like Chicago, where there is a film festival of one sort or another about every week, the pace could be suicidal.

The Chicago International Film Festival seemed like a festival in flux this year. Programming seemed a little weak, the popular Critics Choice films were notably absent (perhaps because Chicago's most famous critic, Roger Ebert, has been out of action), and I can't remember a time when I saw so few guests of the fest. Attending for the first time as a member of the press, I found little support for me to do my work and missed one sold-out film I desperately wanted to see (the South Korean horror film The Host) because, as press, I was lowest on the totem pole of priority seating. But the CIFF has always had peaks and valleys over its 42-year history. I have no doubt that it will bounce back strongly.

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Regardless of some of the difficulties, I would never willingly miss a CIFF. The chance to choose from around 100 films that may never be released in this country - or possibly help a film to be released by showing would-be distributors that there is an audience for it - is unlike any other cinematic experience. It's a chance to see that filmmakers in other countries and the United States are producing some interesting stuff on the edges of the entertainment/information business. That knowledge gives me hope that individual voices are still sounding and will be heard.

I've had some life-enriching experiences at the CIFF as well. This year, attending Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, I got the chance to meet one of my idols, Barbara Kopple, who nearly took a bullet for her art while making the documentary Harlan County, U.S.A. A festival brings people of many countries together when foreign-born residents of the city come out to see a movie in their native language. When I make a film "buddy" from another country, I get the opportunity to understand a film from inside the culture and sometimes obtain more accurate, full translations than the subtitles can provide. This year, I had a wonderful conversation with a French woman at the screening of the marvelous French film The Comedy of Power and learned more about the disillusionment that French citizens feel toward their country. We have more in common with the inventors of "freedom fries" than many of us thought.

So now it's over, and I am slowly getting back my everyday routine. In the months ahead, I'll be interested to see which festival films show up at the cinema art houses in the city so I'll have another chance to pick up some I missed. Already, Requiem has a date with the Music Box (November 17-23). I'll also attend some other festivals - hopefully, if he's well enough, Roger Ebert's always superb Overlooked Film Festival in Urbana/Champaign and the always-rotating fests at Facets and the Gene Siskel Film Center. But the CIFF is a cultural treasure the city doesn't always recognize. I hope my coverage encourages some of you to step out of the multiplex routine and into the teeming realm of world cinema.

Marilyn Ferdinand is The Beachwood Reporter's resident film critic, and the proprietor of Ferdy on Films. Here is a wrap-up of her exclusive Beachwood coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival:

* "Better Than Fiction," her opening guide to the festival.

* "Corruption and Comedy," a review of The Comedy of Power, a French New Wave film whose themes will be instantly recognizable to anyone with even the sketchiest knowledge of Chicago politics.

* "Soul in Flames," a review of Requiem, a remarkable film about modern-day possession and exorcism.

* "A Talent for Torment," three reviews in one (Spirit of the Soul, Ode to Joy, Steel City) from a disappointing day at the festival.

* "Deep in the Heart of Dixie," a review of Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, the inside story of the Dixie Chicks' political and personal journey as Southern girls ashamed of their Texan president.

* "Boot Straps and Black Boys," a review of Shoot the Messenger, a British film that challenges standard racial notions in part by featuring a character who might best be described as a black Joe Lieberman Republican.

* "The Elusive Quality of Truthiness," reviews of three films, including the Austrian film Slumming, La Terra from Italy and the Romanian comedy, 12:08 East of Bucharest.

* "And the Hugo Goes To . . . " This year's Hugo Award winners are announced.

* "The Chicago Way," a rare view of the beautifully restored 1927 original.

* "Love and the Dirty Old Man," a review of Venus, the festival's closing film, a Miramax vehicle with Peter O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave that is superbly written and well-cast.

* "Guest Stars," a fondly written reminder that the chance to meet a film's director at a festival can result in magical - and powerful - moments.



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Posted on October 23, 2006


MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
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POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - Locked Out And Loaded.

BOOKS - Foxconned.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Don't Let Your Pet OD.


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