Skip to content

CIFF 2023 preview

October 11, 2023


The 59th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) began tonight at the historic Music Box theatre tonight. It’s one of many locations that will host the festival from October 11th to the 22nd, along AMC NEWCITY 14, Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago History Museum, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as some special pop-up screenings at the Hamilton Park Cultural Center in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and Harrison Park in Pilsen. The locations alone separate this year’s festival from previous years, where it was predominately held at AMC River East.

A rainy night couldn’t hold back the Block Party up and down Southport at the Music Box Theatre for opening night festivities. The two films screened have specific ties to Chicago. Minhail Baig’s “We Grown Now”, a poignant story of two young boys growing up in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood back in 1992. That’s followed by Clare Cooney’s feature-length debut, the horror-comedy “Departing Seniors”, filmed in Chicago (reviewed below). Both filmmakers will be in attendance for the premieres of their respective films.

Like I do every year, I plan on covering the longest-running competitive film festival in North America and see as many films as I can. This year’s combined programs include 99 feature films and 58 shorts. Among them are three World Premieres, an International Premiere, 19 North American Premieres, and 19 U.S. Premieres, showcasing cinema from countries around the world. There’s a plethora of films to choose from.

So far, I’ve seen four films that are programmed at CIFF and will hopefully be picked up and released by studios. You can expect more CIFF coverage from me in the days to come. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the four films that I’ve watched, along with information on when they will screen…





(United States) 85 min.
City & State/Comedy/Outlook/Women in Cinema

From director Clare Cooney comes “Departing Seniors”, a funny and clever modern update to the teen slasher subgenre with a unique twist. As a queer Mexican-American Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) already has to deal with feeling “different”, but the constant harassment from bullies (Cameron Scott Roberts and Sasha Kuznetsov) is getting to be too much. When one particular altercation with them finds Javier waking up in a hospital with the ability to see the recent past and near future, life gets a whole lot more complicated, especially when he’s able to envision who will die next in a series of bizarre alleged suicides at his school. Accompanied by his sole friend, Bianca (Ireon Roach), Javier tries to uncover who the murderer is before the killer strikes next.

Shot in Chicago during COVID-19, the story (written by Jose Nateras) may include some familiar high school tropes such as bullying and social cliques, but there’s a lot that stands out in “Departing Seniors”, setting it apart from any recent horror-comedies. For one, the stellar cast is fantastic, especially the chemistry between the two leads played by Diaz-Silverio and Roach. Their best moments are when Cooney has them hanging out on the school’s campus and simply talking. Both actors have their own comic timing down solid (they definitely made me laugh out loud more than once) and also manage to convey a wide range of emotion with the material they’re given. While the central can be figured out using Roger Ebert’s Law of the Economy of Characters, the film benefits from having dialogue that feels spot-on. Working with cinematographer Jason Chiu, Cooney displays a definite confidence for the genre and that’s impressive for her feature-length debut.


screening at the Music Box Theatre on October 11th at 10pm (CST) with director Clare Cooney in attendance for a post-screening discussion




(United States) 90 min.
City in State/Comedy/Women in Cinema

The title of director Haroula Rose’s latest film “All Happy Families” has a knowing sarcasm to it, considering everyone knows that not all families are happy and even when they are happy, it doesn’t stay that way. Co-written by Rose and Coburn Gross, the modern-day story set in Chicago revolves around the Landry family during a time of transition, stagnation, and some concerning news. Matriarch Sue (Becky Ann Baker) has just retired from her job at a travel agency and is looking forward to relaxing in the suburbs with her husband (John Ashton). Their fortysomething son, Graham (Josh Radnor), resides in the two-flat where they raised their family and hasn’t really gotten anywhere as an actor/writer. However, his brother Will (Rob Huebel), has made a name for himself as a TV dad on a popular show. Graham is stuck in life, spending most of his time laying around while trying to rent out the downstairs apartment. Will arrives from the west coast, needing a place to stay much to everyone’s surprise. When he meets a former college classmate (Chandra Russell) who’s looking for a place to live, Will’s options seem to a bit more optimistic, yet when certain truths are revealed amongst two members of the family, regarding two totally separate sexual harassment encounters, the Landry family will wind up tripping over themselves before things can fall into place.

Despite boasting a solid cast, many of the actors are given overtly familiar characters to portray or not enough to work with. It feels like some of the situations – like the awkward exchanges between Sue and her skeevy coworker (David Pasquesi) – could’ve been explored more in order for us to be on board with what’s happening. More time could’ve also been given to establish a believable relationship between Baker and Ashton, but instead most of the focus is on the sad sack character Radnor is playing and his smug TV celebrity brother. I wanted to be more invested in these characters, but instead I just wound up wanting more. “All Happy Families” suffers from trying to do all of the things all at once.


screening on Thursday, October 11th at AMC NewCity (Screen 6) at 6:00pm (CST) & on Friday, October 13th at Siskel Film Center at 5:45pm (CST) – director Haroula Rose is scheduled to attend each night for a post-screening discussion




(United States) 92 min.
Documentary/City & State/Black Perspectives/Community

The fact that “Bike Vessel” is chronicling an ambitious father-and-son bicycle trek from St. Louis to Chicago is enough to garner interest in this documentary. However, there’s actually much more to it. Directed by Eric D. Seals, who presented his father, Donnie Seals, Sr., (both from the Chicago area) with the idea of this epic road trip through the Land of Lincoln, but I doubt he anticipated so many flat tires on top of the expected fatigue and occasional disagreements with his father. Apart from the impressive endeavor, “Bike Vessel” also flips back in time to understand why Donnie Sr became such an avid cyclist as he nears age 70. Through photos and home videos, we learn he’s had three quadruple bypass procedures since the mid 80s and much of that had to do with the generational diet that had been passed on in their family. Seals Jr. touches on that as well as the known disparities and systemic racism in the Black communities when it comes to medical care. Throughout “Bike Vessel” there are also doctors specialize on the impact of diet and mental health, specifically for Black men in America. It’s an overall sobering and uplifting true tale that will hopefully inspire others.


screening at AMC NewCity (Screen 13) on Saturday, October 14th at 5pm (CST), at Hamilton Park on Friday, October 20th at 6:30pm (CST) & at AMC NewCity (Screen 13) on Saturday, October 21st at 12:45pm (CST). Director Eric D. Seals will be in attendance for a discussion after the first two screenings.




(Switzerland) 73 min.
Comedy/Snapshots/Women in Cinema

French actress Agnès Delachair stars as the titular protagonist in Swiss director Anna Luif’s “The Love Stories of Liv S.” (“Les histoires d’amour de Liv S.”). Co-written by Luif and Marie Fourquet, the feature focuses on Liv’s romantic history over the past several decades since she was a teenager. Told in a retrospective manner with Liv narrating to the viewer, we witness a crush she has at a young age and the heartbreaks and joy she experiences with an assortment of men up until her current middle-age years. As Liv sees friends and other couples around her maintain their relationships and love for each other, she begins to question specific aspects of her own part in the on again/off again relationships she’s had and currently has. As a student of film and a singer/songwriter, Liv is a charming and engaging character to watch, thanks to Delachair’s nuanced portrayal of a woman dealing with themes such as intimacy, faithfulness, and compatibility. There are no definitive answers offered by Luif and Fourquet and in that sense, this charming and optimistic rom-com delivers a authenticity that one might expect.


screening at AMC NewCity (Screen 5) on Saturday, October 14th at 4pm (CST) & at the Gene Siskel Film Center (Screen 2) on Sunday, October 15th at 5:45pm (CST) – director Anna Luif is scheduled to attend for a discussion for both screenings.




No comments yet

Leave a Reply