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54th Chicago International Film Festival Sneak Peek

It’s here—your first look at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.

This year’s lineup will feature an electrifying collection of the most highly anticipated titles from internationally renowned master filmmakers alongside indie productions from important emerging talents. Think of it as the best in cinema from around the world brought to your door.

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Sneak Peek Films

United States

The Hate U Give

Directors: George Tillman, Jr.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a young woman who is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

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United States


Director: Steve McQueen

Widows is directed by Academy Award®-winner Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and co-written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). The film is a blistering, modern-day thriller set against the backdrop of crime, passion and corruption, telling the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set and filmed in Chicago amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar® winner Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Colombia, Mexico, Denmark

Birds of Passage
(Pájaros de verano)

Directors: Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra

A Colombian Mean Streets, this gripping drama chronicles the rise of the drug trade and its cataclysmic impact on the local indigenous community. The Wayuu people had long held tight onto their traditions, living in close-knit tribes. When two friends begin selling marijuana to visiting Americans, however, their actions set in motion a series of events that pit factions against each other, inciting a cycle of avarice-inspired vengeance. Wayuunaiki, Spanish, and English with subtitles.

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Border (Gräns)

Director: Ali Abbasi

Fantastic in every sense of the word, this idiosyncratic thriller centers on a Swedish customs officer with a special talent for detecting contraband who must ultimately choose between good and evil. This exciting, intelligent mix of romance, Nordic noir, social realism, and supernatural horror defies and subverts genre conventions and is destined to be a cult classic. Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival. Swedish with subtitles.

United States

Boy Erased

Director: Joel Edgerton

Boy Erased tells the story of Jared (Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town, who is outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) at age 19. Jared is faced with an ultimatum: attend a conversion therapy program—or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith. Boy Erased is the true story of one young man’s struggle to find himself while being forced to question every aspect of his identity.

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Cold War (Zimna wojna)

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments who are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the film depicts an impossible love story in impossible times. Pawlikowski’s first film since the Academy Award ®-winning Ida proves well worth the wait Polish with subtitles.

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Colombia, Mexico, Denmark


Directors: Matteo Garrone

In a run-down Italian coastal town, Marcello, a gentle dog groomer, sees his life turned upside down when Simone, a brutish former boxer and ex-con, bullies him into becoming his criminal accomplice. But for how long can the “dogman” be subservient to his master before he bites back? From the acclaimed director of Gomorrah comes an another unflinching urban western treading the fine line between civility and savagery. Italian with subtitles.

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Friedkin Uncut

Director: Francesco Zippel

Oscar®-winning, Chicago-born director William Friedkin achieved fame with his 1973 horror blockbuster The Exorcist. But this illuminating documentary shows the director’s unwavering commitment to rawness and realism across his entire career, from The French Connection (1972) to Killer Joe (2011). Featuring interviews with Ellen Burstyn, Willem Dafoe, and Quentin Tarantino, among others, Friedkin Uncut reveals a savvy craftsman who is unapologetic about his no-nonsense approach to moviemaking.

Russia, Ireland, Lithuania, France

Jumpman (Podbrosy)

Director: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy

An abandoned infant grows into a likeable lad with a rare disorder—he can feel no physical pain. When he becomes a teen, his feckless mother returns to his life to exploit his condition by enlisting him in an insurance fraud scam. A taut thriller, Jumpman puts an outsider at the center of a harsh indictment of corruption and hypocrisy in contemporary Russia. Russian with subtitles.

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United States

Mr. Soul!

Director: Melissa Haizlip

The revolution really was televised. The brainchild of pioneering producer Ellis Haizlip, SOUL! was the first ever national TV series made by and for African-Americans. The groundbreaking program aired from 1968 to 1973 and featured a dazzling array of guests from Stevie Wonder to Maya Angelou. Mr. Soul! takes viewers behind the scenes of the show, chronicling its inception and its struggles to stay on the air.

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United States


Director: Gregory Dixon

Chicago writer-actor McKenzie Chinn stars as a struggling artist, navigating work and romance in the Windy City. When her boyfriend asks her to drop everything and move cross-country, she soon discovers that she might be the biggest obstacle to her own happiness. Featuring quirky animation and a revelatory central performance, Olympia is a sensitive and humorous look at the challenges of embracing adulthood.

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The Other Story

Director: Avi Nesher

Family disputes and conspiracies take center stage in this lively drama, which even-handedly explores the divide between Israel’s secular Jews and the ultra-Orthodox from director Avi Nesher (The Matchmaker). Sasson Gabai (The Band’s Visit) plays a renowned psychologist and rationalist who falls out with his strong-willed granddaughter when she enters a Haredi community and plans to marry a musician previously known for his wild ways. Hebrew with subtitles.

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United Kingdom


Director: Mike Leigh

An epic portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre, which saw British forces charge into a crowd of over 60,000 that had gathered to protest rising levels of poverty and demand reform. Many were killed and hundreds more injured, sparking a nationwide outcry but also further government suppression. Festival favorite and celebrated auteur Mike Leigh gives life to this defining moment in British democracy.

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United States


Director: Nicolas Pesce

Pesce’s gleefully wicked S&M black comedy centers on Reed (Christopher Abbot), a new father looking to channel his homicidal impulses away from his infant daughter. He heads to a hotel, hires an escort (Mia Wasikowska), then begins to rehearse her murder. But once she arrives, the balance of power shifts. Based on the novel by Ryu Murukami, Piercing’s incredibly dark premise constantly surprises—it might just be taken for a wildly subversive love story.

United States

A Private War

Director: Matthew Heineman

In a world where journalism is under attack, Marie Colvin (Academy Award®-nominee Rosamund Pike) is one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time. Her mission to show the true cost of conflict leads her—along with renowned photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan)—to embark on the most dangerous assignment of their lives in the besieged Syrian city of Homs.

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Director: Wanuri Kahiu

A tender tale of forbidden first love told in an electric, colorful Afropop style, Rafiki tells the story of the tender but illegal and taboo romance between Kena, a skateboarding tomboy blessed with great grades and soccer skills, and Ziki, the charismatic daughter of a conservative local politician. When rumors begin to swirl about the nature of their relationship, the young lovers find themselves in great jeopardy. Swahili, English with subtitles.

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Ruben Brandt Collector
(Ruben Brandt, a gyüjtö)

Director: Milorad Krstic

Possess your problems to conquer them,” is the credo that psychotherapist Ruben Brandt preaches to his criminally-inclined clients in this stylish, animated thriller for adults. But when Brandt’s patients help him to apply his own advice, he becomes “Ruben Brandt, Collector,” ringleader of a gang responsible for the theft of 13 of the world’s most famous paintings. This entertaining romp literally puts the “art” into “arthouse.”

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Shoplifters (Zimna wojna)

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

This winner of Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, centers on an eccentric troupe of miscreants who take in a neglected five-year-old. Despite their strained circumstances, the tight-knit unit of petty thieves and social outcasts comes together to raise the girl. But how long can this unconventional family survive against the normalizing forces around them? From the Japanese master of humanism comes another affecting and astute film about people living on the margins. Japanese with subtitles.

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Sorry Angel
(Plaire, aimer et courir vite)

Director: Christophe Honoré

It’s 1993. Jacques is a successful, novelist from Paris living with what was still a terminal diagnosis of HIV positive. Arthur is an open-minded student ready to embrace life. They meet in Rennes and fall in love, but navigating an intergenerational romance has its challenges. Honoré (Love Songs) chronicles their lives, together and apart, with nuance and subtlety, allowing their love story to unfold in patient fascinating something else here, novelistic fashion. French with subtitles.



Director: Christian Petzold

In this Kafkaesque cinematic puzzle, a man is trapped in limbo as he tries to flee fascist-occupied France. Hoping to escape to Mexico, Georg poses as a dead author but becomes stuck in Marseilles. There, he encounters a woman searching for her missing husband—the man whose identity he has assumed. Petzold’s surreal film merges past, present and future in its trenchant exploration of the plight of refugees. German with subtitles.

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United States

United Skates

Directors: Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown

A rousing chronicle of roller-skating’s pivotal role in African-American communities, United Skates careens around the country, offering an intimate look at a lively subculture that’s under threat. Facing discriminatory policies and building closures, committed skaters from around the country—including Chicago’s own Buddy Love—fight to preserve a space for people to come together and express themselves in sliding, bouncing, snapping glory.

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United States

What They Had

Directors: Elizabeth Chomko

From first-time writer/director Elizabeth Chomko, What They Had centers on a family in crisis. Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home to Chicago at her brother’s (Michael Shannon) urging to deal with her ailing mother (Blythe Danner) and her father’s (Robert Forster) reluctance to let go of their life together.

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Short: Accidence

Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson

A grisly murder on an apartment balcony becomes a small piece in a frenzied puzzle of strange occurrences.

United States

Short: Accident, MD

Director: Dan Rybicky

A survey of attitudes about America’s healthcare crisis filmed in the small town of Accident, Maryland.

United States

Short: Optimism

Director: Deborah Stratman

A portrait of Dawson City Canada’s far North that reveals a rich history of a town looking for gold while enveloped in shadow.


Short: Solar Walk

Director: Réka Bucsi

A sumptuously animated cosmic journey through space, time, and creation.


Short: Tourneur

Director: Yalda Afsah

A foam-filled ring in the south of France becomes the site of an absurd spectacle as young men face off against a bull.