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CIFF 2016: an A to Z preview

August 26, 2016



Just as I was starting to wonder when we’d begin to hear what films will be coming to town for the Chicago International Film Festival, I received a notification that lists the first film selections to be announced. The 52nd edition will run from October 13-27 at AMC River East, where it’s been for years now and is the place to see a variety of films from different countries and from right here in Chicago. Additionally announced is director Peter Bogdanovich who will appear as a recipient of the Festival’s Gold Hugo Lifetime Achievement Award and A Tribute to Steve McQueen (also in attendance) in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of the Festival’s Black Perspectives program. There will be more films announced soon, but right now there are twenty-five feature films listed alphabetically below….

Among the films announced recently are the North American premieres of “One Week and a Day”, the Israeli black comedy by Asaph Polonsky that screened in Cannes’ Critics’ Week earlier this year; and “Are We Not Cats”, the sweetly bizarre romance from Xander Robin that arrives in Chicago immediately following its debut at the Venice Film Festival. Pablo Larraín’s “Neruda”, the fictionalized story of a secret agent intent on capturing Chile’s most renowned poet and communist; and “Moonlight”, Barry Jenkins’ groundbreaking exploration of masculinity and one young man’s struggle to find himself. They will also screen alongside Park Chan-Wook’s “The Handmaiden” and Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman”, two eagerly awaiting films.

Premiering in a new restoration on the occasion of its 30th anniversary is 1986’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”, the cult hit by John McNaughton which originally premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival that year. “Elle” directed by Paul Verhoeven and featuring Isabelle Huppert; Italian auteur Paolo Virzì’s “Like Crazy”; and a special presentation of Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, are also included in the recent announcement.

As mentioned above, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich is slated to attend as this year’s recipient of the Gold Hugo Lifetime Achievement Award, accompanied by a special presentation of Bill Teck’s “One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich & the Lost American Film”. Mr. Bogdanovich’s most acclaimed film is 1971’s  “The Last Picture Show” and over his decades-long career, his work has time and again set the bar for innovation and creativity and has pushed the limits of the artform. In previous years, this honor has been bestowed upon the likes of Morgan Freeman, Sophia Loren and Orson Welles.

Festival Founder and Artistic Director Michael Kutza said of Mr. Bogdanovich’s selection as this year’s honoree, “We welcomed Peter in 1975 with At Long Last Love, and it’s a pleasure to bring him back to Chicago so many years later with so many career accomplishments to his name. He is the quintessential American filmmaker, and his works deserve to be recognized as a lifetime of achievement.”

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary, Black Perspectives, a celebration of the depth and diversity of black cultures around the world, began in 1997 with Spike Lee as the first honoree and a slate of new films. This year, Black Perspectives reflects on twenty years of tremendous filmmaking, headlined by A Tribute to Steve McQueen, the Oscar®- and BAFTA-winning filmmaker of “12 Years A Slave”. McQueen attends the Festival to discuss his films and career to date at an event scheduled for October 22.

“We’re thrilled to announce this first round of selections for this year’s Festival,” said Programming Director Mimi Plauché. “A taste of what’s to come, we’ve secured an exceptional lineup of the latest work from celebrated filmmakers and new films from emerging voices. The 52nd Festival promises to be another banner year of films from around the world coming to Chicago.”

Passes are on sale now at





1:54 dir. Yan England, Canada

High school science geek Tim (Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Mommy) goes out of his way to avoid provoking the local bullies. But when his only friend and crush Francis (Robert Naylor, TV’s Arthur) meets tragedy at their hands, Tim decides to take his own revenge. He joins the track team, gunning for the head bully in the 800-meter dash-but all does not go as planned. Academy Award®-nominated director Yan England mixes a thrilling sports saga with a dark drama of adolescent angst.


From acclaimed Chicago filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) comes a saga of the immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York’s Chinatown. Accused of mortgage fraud, the Sungs must defend themselves and their dignity. This high-stakes courtroom documentary screens as part of Kartemquin Films’ 50th anniversary.

AFTER THE STORM (Umi yori mo mada fukaku) dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan

In this intimate family portrait from the master of domestic drama, a deadbeat private detective tries to win back his alienated ex-wife and their son as they wait out a typhoon in his mother’s apartment. Trapped together over the course of one night, they must confront their grandest dreams and deepest failures.

ARE WE NOT CATS dir. Xander Robin, U.S.

This captivating, original romance follows a 20-something New Yorker with a peculiar grooming habit. When he meets an eccentric bald beauty who shares his obsession, the two form a strange, inextricable bond. A raw expression of young love, Are We Not Cats is as sweet as it is bizarre.

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE dir. André Øvredal, U.S. / U.K.

A father-son coroner team (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) face their strangest corpse ever: a beautiful young woman with no obvious cause of death. As they dig deeper into her body, they uncover increasingly terrifying things. This bloody, clever horror film turns its genre’s morbid conventions inside-out.

BEING 17 (Quand on a 17 ans) dir. André Téchiné, France

A bitter rivalry between two high school boys cools when one must stay with the other’s family. But close quarters create unfamiliar new passions, as each tries to figure out what kind of a man he will become. The picturesque French Pyrenees play home to a heartfelt coming-of-age drama.


In celebration of Black Perspectives’ 20th Anniversary, the Chicago International Film Festival honors Steve McQueen. Academy Award®-winner Steve McQueen is a British filmmaker and artist, renowned for his visceral, deeply humane storytelling. His films include Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave, which received outstanding critical acclaim and accolades. The Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards®, PGA, BAFTA and Golden Globes, to name but a few, 12 Years a Slave received ten BAFTA nominations, nine Academy Award® nominations, and seven Golden Globe nominations. A recipient of the Turner Prize, McQueen’s work is held in museum collections around the world. In 2011 he was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to visual arts.


Screen icons Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) and Carrie Fisher (Star Wars) make for one of the most memorable mother-daughter pairs in Hollywood history. In this fantastically entertaining warts-and-all portrait, these legendary female leads radiate wit and deep-rooted dysfunction as they battle with aging, the whims of celebrity, and each other.

CHRISTINE dir. Antonio Campos, U.S.

In 1974, Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck shot herself during a live TV broadcast. Dramatizing the events that led to her death, this riveting drama is propelled by a stunning performance from Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona). A powerful psychological portrait, Christine is also a searing critique of media sensationalism and ambition.

THE COMMUNE (Kollektivet) dir. Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark

Communal living: utopian ideal, or delusional hippie fantasy? One Danish family in the 1970s will find out the hard way after they inherit a mansion and invite friends and strangers alike to move in. The director of The Hunt and The Celebration plumbs his own communal upbringing for a freewheeling story about messy human lives.

ELLE dir. Paul Verhoeven, France

Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) seems indestructible. Head of a leading video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michèle’s life forever. She goes on a journey that challenges our most widely held assumptions about power, femininity, revenge, and arousal.

FIRE AT SEA (Fuocoammare) dir. Gianfranco Rosi, Italy

This top prizewinner at the Berlin Film Festival transports us to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, where scores of refugees from Africa and the Middle East wash ashore in overcrowded boats. Lyrical documentary filmmaking bridges the gap between the struggling migrants and the Italian kids lighting firecrackers on the beach.


A member of the original “new wave” of filmmakers, Peter Bogdanovich’s most critically acclaimed film is 1971’s The Last Picture Show. Currently discussing past filmmakers and their films at, his decades-spanning career as actor, filmmaker, author and documentarian has garnered Academy Award® and Golden Globe nominations and a Best Screenplay BAFTA Award for The Last Picture Show. Bill Teck’s One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich & the Lost American Film chronicles the woes that surrounded Bogdanovich’s 1981 production of They All Laughed, the madcap private-eye caper starring Audrey Hepburn.

GRADUATION (Bacalaureat) dir. Cristian Mungiu, Romania/France

The latest masterwork from the visionary behind 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Graduation follows a doctor who has long prided himself on his personal and professional ethics. When his daughter is attacked before her final exams, he must decide to what lengths he will go to ensure her success.

THE HANDMAIDEN dir. Park Chan-Wook, South Korea

This lush, erotic Gothic thriller from the director of Oldboy is packed with enough twists to leave you breathless. In Japan-colonized Korea, two thieves pose as a handmaiden and a count to swindle a Japanese heiress out of her fortune. But nothing proves simple once the maid and the heiress fall madly in lust.


The notorious cult horror film follows a Chicago man on a random killing spree, his terrifying, nonsensical actions based on those of a real-life killer. Henry returns to the Festival, where it first premiered, for a 30th anniversary restoration. With director and cast members reuniting onstage, this film event is to die for.

I, DANIEL BLAKE dir. Ken Loach, U.K.

Winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, this powerful drama depicts an everyman hero in Daniel, a hardworking Newcastle carpenter. Always determined to do right by others, Daniel becomes trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare when he must fight for his own life. A crowning achievement from one of the greatest living directors of social realism.

JUNCTION 48 dir. Udi Aloni, Israel/Germany

An aspiring Arab-Israeli rapper must contend with a family tragedy and the ever-present eyes of the Israeli government to follow his path to socially conscious hip-hop fame. Rap star Tamer Nafar headlines this vibrant, pulse-pounding musical drama that drops a beat over the Israel-Palestine conflict.

LIKE CRAZY (La pazza gioia) dir. Paolo Virzì, Italy

Two unstable women-a prattling pathological liar and a quiet depressive-break free from a mental institution and take Tuscany by storm. Celebrate life outside the box with this hysterical, edgy comedy that pokes fun at social norms, questioning what it means to be truly sane.

MIDDLE MAN dir. Ned Crowley, U.S.

From the twisted mind of Chicagoan Ned Crowley and starring fellow native Jim O’Heir (Parks and Recreation), this wickedly dark comedy follows Lenny, a nerdy accountant searching for stand-up comedy fame. En route to Vegas, a mysterious hitchhiker lures Lenny into a killing spree-one that becomes a surprising source of laughs.

MOONLIGHT dir. Barry Jenkins, U.S.

Moonlight is the tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life. A sensual, intoxicating piece of cinema that uncovers deep truths about the moments that define us, the people who shape us most, and the ache of love that can last a lifetime.

NERUDA dir. Pablo Larraín, Chile

Gael García Bernal stars as a fictional, self-important, Clouseau-like detective, a Pinochet lackey on the hunt for Pablo Neruda. Forget everything you know about the legendary Chilean Communist poet and senator: In this fanciful “anti-bio,” the acclaimed director of No reveals profound truths about one of this century’s finest writers.

ONE WEEK AND A DAY (Shavua ve Yom) dir Asaph Polonsky, Israel

The shiva, the weeklong Jewish grieving period for the dead, has ended. But for one Israeli couple mourning their son, the “fun” is just beginning. Disputes over pot and grave plots and one wild air guitar session are part of the healing process in this black comedy that laughs at death’s door.

THE SALESMAN (Forushande) dir Asghar Farhadi, Iran

After a Tehran couple moves into a new home, a world of trouble unfolds when they are mistaken for the previous tenant. From the Academy Award®-winning director of A Separation, this multi-layered, wildly suspenseful drama reveals deep domestic and social fissures in the wake of a personal tragedy.


Highlights from this year’s program include Superbia, a surreal animated vision of a society where men and women play very different roles, and Thunder Road, a single-take wonder about a Bruce Springsteen fan mourning the death of his mother the only way he knows how.

STRIKE A POSE dirs. Ester Gould, Reijer Zwaan, Netherlands/Belgium

Go behind the curtains of Madonna’s controversial 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour to meet the pop star’s backup dancers, whose lives were changed forever by their time in the spotlight. This electrifying look at celebrity uses amazing archival footage and emotional testimony to craft a stirring, intimate chronicle of fame in the shadow of the AIDS crisis.

THE DAY WE SANG dir. Victoria Wood, U.K.

The inimitable Imelda Staunton sings her heart out in this delightful musical about two former singers who reconnect 40 years after their children’s choir made history. Colorful fantasy sequences and spectacular choreography will have you dancing in the aisles in this charmer that proves it’s never too late to live and fall in love.

THING TO COME (L’avenir) dir Mia Hansen-Løve, France

Isabelle Huppert stars as a prominent philosophy professor and soon-to-be empty-nester. Approaching the pinnacle of her career, Nathalie is blindsided when her personal and professional world crumble around her, and must search for happiness and the meaning of her own life. A profoundly humanist drama from a rising auteur.

ZOOLOGY (Zoologiya) dir Ivan I. Tverdovskiy, Russia

This wholly original “ugly duckling” comedy follows Natasha, a Russian spinster who lives with her overbearing mother and works a thankless job at the local zoo. One day she unexpectedly starts growing a tail-and the appendage leads, improbably, to a new lease on life.



About Cinema/Chicago

Cinema/Chicago, the presenting organization of the Chicago International Film Festival, is a year­ round not­for­profit arts and education organization dedicated to fostering better communication between people of diverse cultures through the art form of the moving image. In addition to the annual Festival, the organization presents a number of film-centric programs throughout the year, including the International Screening Program, the Chicago International Television Festival, CineYouth Festival, the Education Program and Members Film Screening Series. Celebrating its 52nd edition October 13-27, the Chicago International Film Festival is North America’s longest-­running competitive film festival.


The 52nd Chicago International Film Festival’s sponsors include Official Airline: American Airlines; Gold Sponsor: Wintrust Community Banks; Bronze Sponsors: AARP, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Columbia College Chicago, FilmFreeway, Stella Artois, Wansas Tequila; Official Wine: Chloe Wine Collection; Participating Sponsor: SundanceNow Doc Club; Hotel Partners: Public Chicago, ACME Hotel, The Whitehall Hotel; Platinum Media Partners: National CineMedia (NCM), JC Decaux; Media Partners: WTTW11, Time Out Chicago; With Government support from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council Agency; Education Sponsors: Allstate, HBO; Event Partners: AMC Theaters, Chez, Sound Investment AV, Union Square Events; Special support provided by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


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