It’s that time of year again. As the final deadline for submissions is upon us, we’re on track to receive a record high number of entries, all in the running to be shown at this year’s 48th Chicago International Film Festival. The programming team devotes nights and weekends considering international and independent films from as far away as Bahrain and as near as Chicago. As we discover the perfectly pitched Icelandic black comedy, the lavish Chinese epoch-spanning epic, the searing French family drama, the quirky Chilean romance, or the poignant Lebanese political satire, the landscape of contemporary world cinema comes into focus and the program of films begins to take shape.
Seven years and thousands of films after I first started programming at the Festival, I know that summer is the most exciting and intense time at the Festival. Returning from Berlin, Iran, Guadalajara, Cannes, and other festivals we attend throughout the spring, the programming team already has a list of fantastic films we can’t wait to present in Chicago. But the rest and some of the best is yet to come, as we find the unexpected gems in the ever growing piles of submissions and the films yet to be completed.
Penny Bartlett, who’s in her fourth year on the programming team, came to Chicago from Glasgow, Scotland, where she programmed for the Glasgow Short Film Festival and the monthly short film event The Magic Lantern. Heading up the selection of short films, with the help of her invaluable screening committee, as well as genre films for the After Dark Competition, Penny looks forward as much to discovering exciting new local filmmakers as seeing the stunning range of short films that are being produced internationally each year. “Shorts are often idiosyncratic, offbeat slices of life, produced on a limited budget. But we shouldn’t forget that this year’s short filmmakers are often the stars of tomorrow. This is such an exciting opportunity to see fledgling filmmakers hone their craft and to provide a platform for local filmmakers.” Our After Dark competition, launched last year, is a must for fans of horror and genre movies, showcasing ten of the best new late-nighters before they hit the theatres.
Alex Kopecky is heading into his third year with the Festival, after intern stints at various New York fests. Crafting this year's documentary program with the help of a great group of local film professionals, he considers himself fortunate that even the docs that won't be making it into the lineup illuminate myriad facets of human existence. Describing the selection process, he notes: "At its best and worst, the task of finding the select films we'll be presenting to Chicago this October from hundreds of options can promote more of a Kaczynski-esque lifestyle than one would normally wish to pursue, one in which friends' proposed trips to the beach or outdoor brunch are turned down in favor of shuttered blinds and a worn-to-the-mechanical-bone open/close button on the DVD player. But, looking on the sunny side of a process that literally involves eschewing the sun, as Chicago heads toward a record number of 100+ degree days this summer, is it really so bad to spend the next few months in air-conditioned sequester?"
As we face the mountain of entries and are well in the thick of watching the films coming to us from all reaches of the world, one thing is clear. It’s an exhilarating (if exhausting) time to be a programmer. Look out for an inspired and inspiring selection of films this October!
Mimi Plauché, Head of Programming