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12 screenings to see at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival

Juliette Binoche stars in "Let the Sunshine In." | PROVIDED PHOTO

The Chicago International Film Festival, the city’s annual extravaganza of world cinema, this year serves up 137 new features and 53 shorts.

Presented by Cinema/Chicago, the two-week fest opens Thursday with “Marshall,” a biopic about a 1941 Connecticut case handled by Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice. Director Reginald Hudlin and actors Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad will attend. Options include a $100 VIP ticket with an after-screening reception.

Closing night on Oct. 26 showcases Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” with a tribute to actor Michael Shannon.

Festival founder and president Michael Kutza, along with his programming team, scouted 10 international fests for entries. Women are well represented in works starring Juliette Binoche, Frances McDormand, Shirley Henderson, Isabelle Huppert and Charlotte Rampling. Vanessa Redgrave and Alfre Woodard are scheduled special guests.

When: Thursday through Oct. 26
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

Two actors make their debuts as directors: Greta Gerwig and Andy Serkis. Three indie dramas — “Blueprint,” “Chasing the Blues” and “Rogers Park” — frame three different neighborhoods in the city.

Documentary auteurs include Raymond Depardon and Errol Morris, whose six-part, 256-minute Netflix docudrama “Wormwood” comprises the fest’s longest program. For vintage fare you can revisit “Touch of Evil” (1958) by Orson Welles and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up” (1966). An Industry Days sidebar offers filmmakers a dozen professional sessions, including “Do Movie Theaters Matter?”

A dozen recommended screenings follow.

Rhys Fehrenbacher stars in “They” at the Chicago International Film Festival. | PROVIDED PHOTO

‘They’ (U.S./Qatar)

Director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, who got her MFA at the School of the Art Institute, poetically depicts a 14-year-old Chicago boy on the cusp of gender transition. “J’s” pronoun of choice is “they.” 7:45 p.m. Oct. 13; 3:30 p.m. Oct. 17; 8 p.m. Oct. 25


‘The Square’ (Sweden/Germany/France)

Ruben Ostlund (“Force Majeure”) directs an incisive moral satire about an art curator doing good badly after he’s pickpocketed and his museum’s ad goes virally off-message. This treat opens Nov. 10  at the Music Box. 8:15 p.m Oct. 13; 5:15 p.m. Oct. 14


‘Thelma’ (Norway/Sweden/France)

Joachim Trier’s fine horror tale examines a devout college student diagnosed with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. She can friend people for real, as well as kill, cripple and heal them. 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14; 12:30 p.m. Oct. 15


‘A Ciambra’ (Italy/U.S./France/Germany)

Italian-American director Jonas Carpignano (“Mediterranea”) delivers a compelling, neorealist coming-of-age saga about an illiterate 14-year-old boy mired in a criminal underclass. 5:15 p.m. Oct. 15; 8:45 p.m. Oct. 16

“Birds Are Singing in Kigali’ | PROVIDED PHOTO

‘Birds Are Singing in Kigal’ (Poland)

Joanna Kos-Krauze relates the post-trauma plight of a Polish ornithologist — vultures are her research focus — and a slain colleague’s daughter who she rescued from the Rwandan genocide. 5:30 p.m. Oct. 15; 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16

“The Experimental City” | PROVIDED PHOTO

‘The Experimental City’ (U.S.)

Chad Freidrichs lends felicitous graphics and music to an catchy profile of Athelstan Spilhaus, a headstrong urbanist who envisioned a futurist never-built folly in rural Minnesota. 8 p.m. Oct. 18; 12:45 p.m. Oct. 19

“Life Guidance” | PROVIDED PHOTO

‘Life Guidance’ (Austria)

This Kafkaesque story by Ruth Mader pits a nervous family man against passive-aggressive social engineers tasked with optimizing citizens. 8:15 p.m. Oct. 18; 12 p.m. Oct. 19; 5:45 p.m. Oct. 20


‘Pre-Crime’ (Germany)

Persuasively paranoid Matthias Heeder and Monika Hielscher document crime-predicting algorithms increasingly deployed by police in Chicago and around the world. 5:45 p.m. Oct. 19; 3 p.m. Oct. 20

‘Disappearance’ (The Netherlands/Norway)

Lyrical wintry scenery accents Boudewijn Koole’s take on a last homecoming of a photojournalist, the estranged daughter of a concert pianist. 5:45 p.m. Oct. 20; 2:45 p.m. Oct. 21; 3:15 p.m. Oct. 23

‘Shorts 4: It’s All True — Documentaries’ (U.S., U.K., Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Chile)

This program of five shorts sports “Birth of a Nation,” a wry observation of Inaugural crowds on Jan. 20, 2017, by experimental artist Jem Cohen. 2:15 p.m. Oct. 21

” ’63 Boycott” | PROVIDED PHOTO

‘Edith and Eddie’ and ‘ ‘63 Boycott’ (U.S.)

A double bill of moving documentary shorts from Kartemquin Films portrays an interracial couple in their 90s, and contrasts the Oct. 22, 1963, boycott of segregated Chicago schools with today’s protests. 3:30 p.m. Oct. 22

‘Let the Sunshine In’ (France)

Taking a dry comic turn, the inventive Claire Denis directs Juliette Binoche in an irresistible role as a Paris artist freely sorting out her befuddled lovers. 5:45 p.m. Oct. 22; 5:45 p.m. Oct. 23

Look for more capsule reviews at suntimes.com during the festival.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago freelance writer.