A wave of new cinema arrives with the Chicago International Film Festival. Over 12 days beginning Wednesday, Cinema/Chicago presents 124 feature-length films and 51 shorts.
New this year are first-come, first-immersed VR stations. Experience five virtual reality narratives for free Oct. 11–15. Also added is an impressive program of experimental shorts.
(Founder and CEO Michael Kutza once entered his 16mm efforts in international festivals. When he launched his own festival in 1965, the Weber High School grad established a short-lived experimental section. Andy Warhol’s film “The Trip” screened on three projectors. On his way toward an emeritus role in 2019, Kutza is now writing a behind-the-scenes book titled “Who’s Looking?”)
54th CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL When: Oct. 10–21 Where: AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois Tickets: $15 regular screenings, with discounts for Cinema/Chicago members, students, seniors. After 10 p.m.: $10. Weekday matinees through 5 p.m.: $8. Info: chicagofilmfestival.com
Opening night offers “Beautiful Boy” (6:30 p.m. Wednesday). Director Felix van Groeningen depicts a father (Steve Carell) helping his opioid-addicted son (Timothée Chalamet). This topical drama — based on a true story — opens commercially on Oct. 18. VIP $100 tickets include a gala after-party.
The closing night title is “The Front Runner” (6 p.m. Oct. 21), a timely entry for the midterm races. Jason Reitman directs Hugh Jackman playing Gary Hart, the ill-fated 1988 Democratic presidential candidate.
In between come tributes to actress Carey Mulligan, “Black Panther” costume designer Ruth Carter and silent film star Colleen Moore. “The Exorcist” filmmaker William Friedkin will receive a lifetime achievement award. This Senn High School grad screened his short “What Goes On” and his documentary “The People Versus Paul Crump” at Kutza’s first fest.
Insiders impart perspective in the Industry Days sidebar. One panel is “Virtual Reality Workshop: VR: What Is It Good For?” (2:30 p.m. Oct. 12). Fred Volhuer answers: “Perception, if really immersive, changes cognition, and changes people.” Chip Sineni from Phosphor Studios in Chicago admits some designers use “the gimmick of putting something behind the person, so the viewer often has to spin around, which isn’t really immersive or interesting.”
Ten recommended programs follow.
Christian Petzold adapts a 1942 novel by Anna Seghers for an intriguing romance as fascist occupiers approach present-day Marseille. 6 p.m. Oct. 11; 8:30 p.m. Oct. 12.
‘In the Aisles’ (Germany)
Forklift operators on the night shift furnish the askew mise-en-scene for this angst-laced workplace romance in a big box store. 8:30 p.m. Oct. 11; 1 p.m. Oct. 13.
Inspired by his wife’s uncle from the south Ukrainian steppe, director Roman Bondarchuk observes a stranded translator navigate a dystopic Putin-era terrain. 8:15 p.m. Oct. 11; 8:45 p.m. Oct. 12; 3:45 p.m. Oct. 15.
In this self-questioning essay film, Sari Braithwaite, who earlier researched historical aboriginal photographs, excavates transgressive clips cut from 1991 films by the Australian Censorship Board. 9 p.m. Oct. 13; 2 p.m. Oct. 18.
‘The Dread’ (Argentina)
Martin Benchimol affectionately documents an out-of-the-way community where locals share odd lore about how to treat el espanto, a UFO-linked malady targeting women. 5:30 p.m. Oct. 13; 1:30 p.m. Oct. 15.
‘Shorts Program 5: Searchers (Drama)’
Two outstanding works are set on balconies. “Nyi ma lay” by Wei Liang Chiang is a transcendental slice of life and death in Singapore. “Accidence,” co-directed by Guy Maddin, frames myriad windows of a busy apartment block in a kaleidoscopic nod to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” 3 p.m. Oct 14; 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17.
‘Shorts 8: Meditations (Experimental)’
Sublime shorts by School of the Art Institute alums: Deborah Stratman plumbs the unconscious of sunless Dawson City in “Optimism,” Melika Bass stages allusive body rites in Morton Grove in “Creature Companion” and Apichatpong Weerasethakul deconstructs a flaming dream by scrolling painted backdrops in “Blue.“ 8:30 p.m. Oct. 15.
Anthropologist Luiz Bolognesi, who once did outdoor screenings in the Amazon jungle, poetically observes a shaman discredited by Christian evangelists and non-native physicians. 5:45 p.m. Oct. 17; 12:30 p.m. Oct. 19.
‘The Feeling of Being Watched’ (U.S.)
Assia Boundaoui scrupulously documents government surveillance of her Bridgeview neighborhood in her alarming first-person investigation. 5:30 p.m. Oct. 18; 3:30 p.m. Oct. 19.
‘The Other Side of the Wind’ (U.S.)
Orson Welles never finished this reflexive folly starring John Huston as a declining Hollywood director who lets 16mm upstarts film a party where he screens clips from his unfinished art film. 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21.
Highly lauded on the international fest circuit are new works by Olivier Assayas, Alfonso Cuarón, Matteo Garrone, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Mike Leigh, Yorgos Lanthimos, Steve McQueen, Errol Morris and Pawel Pawlikowski. Unfortunately none were previewable by deadline. Check suntimes.com for capsule reviews as the fest unfolds.