Cinema/Chicago News

Hidden Gems from the #ChiFilmFest Programming Team

Published: October 10, 2023  |  Filed under: Behind the Scenes, Festival News

We’re thrilled to screen more than 100 feature films at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, including new works from acclaimed directors including Todd Haynes, Emerald Fennell, Radu Jude, Alice Rohrwacher, George C. Wolfe, and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, among many others. But we’re just as excited to host screenings of wonderful features, documentaries, and shorts by filmmakers whose names you may not know yet.

Our Programming team works year-round selecting a curated lineup of visually stunning, thought-provoking films from around the globe, and they’ve highlighted some hidden gems at this year’s Festival to help moviegoers plan their #ChiFilmFest schedule:

Anthony Kaufmanheadshot: Anthony Kaufman

A man waves his arms around, surrounded by a seated group of smiling professionals and a projector.

After Work

Erik Gandini | Sweden, Italy, Norway

In the wake of The Great Resignation, widespread union strikes, and the rise of A.I., it’s hard to find a subject as timely and resonant as labor. And master essayist Erik Gandini, famous for his prizewinning hilarious exposé of Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi Videocracy, takes us to some profound and thought-provoking places, as he contemplates and investigates work places and work ethics, from the U.S. to South Korea, Italy to Kuwait.

Learn more about After Work

Alien Island

Cristóbal Valenzuela | Chile, Italy

Totally original, stylized, and sneakily political, you just don’t see films like Alien Island come your way often, combining the mysteries and suspense of stories of extraterrestrial visitors with the realities of living during a military dictatorship. If it wasn’t actually a documentary, you probably wouldn’t believe it.

Learn more about Alien Island

Raul Benitezheadshot: Raul Benitez

A man with blood splattered down the side of his face yells as two people standing behind him look straight ahead in shock.


Sébastien Vaniček | France

I loved this because of its scary spider sequences but also because it’s a story of immigrants living in France.

Learn more about Infested

Shorts 3: After Dark – Twisted Tales & Shadows of Innocence

A collection of amazing body horror films predominantly directed by women

Learn about the shorts in this program…

Christy LeMasterheadshot: Christy LeMaster

Multicolored letters painted on a building read "IF YOU WERE HERE ID BE HOME" as a train passes by behind it.

Is My Living in Vain

(plays as part of Shorts 8: Architecture – Versions of Home)
Ufuoma Essi | United Kingdom, France, New Zealand

This fall, the Chicago Architecture Biennial will be happening all over the city and we are fans! This program of shorts focuses on how people shape and are shaped by their locations. A short doc, Is My Living in Vain celebrates and chronicles Black churches in cities in the US and England as sites of personal and political development. It eschews traditional documentary structure to provide a more lived-in experience of these places and the communities that cherish them.

Learn more about Is My Living in Vain

Close-up of two older women holding up a long lit lighter.

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó

(plays as part of Shorts 4: Documentary – In Motion)
Sean Wang | United States

I find stories of non-traditional family structure valuable. In this funny and moving doc, Sean Wang crafts a loving portrait of his maternal and paternal grandmothers who live as roommates. The love they all share and the wisdom Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó earned from life experiences, good and bad, light this movie from within. If you are in the younger generations of your family and haven’t taken your elders to the movies in a while, let this be your cue!

Learn more about Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó

Sophie Gordonheadshot: Sophie Gordon


José Pablo Escamilla | Mexico

Not only do I love this film for its moving and poetic story, but it is also a feast for the senses: an immersive experience that is worth fully sinking into. Intricately textured experiments of images and sounds—featuring, among many other things, fantastic original music and an otherworldly sound design—are woven into the narrative to create a wholly original film that is best experienced on the big screen.

Learn more about firedream

A young man watches from the background as a muscular man stretches in the foreground.

Carnal Sins

Juan Sebastián Torales | France, Argentina, Italy

This is the queer Argentinian horror film of my dreams. It is lush and moody, its dreamlike atmosphere a rich backdrop for a beautiful queer coming-of-age story. Shrouded in mystery and palpable tension, this film suspends its audience between fantasy and reality, right along with its protagonist. Spine-chilling and tantalizing while also poignant and spiritual… What more could you want?

Learn more about Carnal Sins

Sam Flancherheadshot: Sam Flancher

A girl in a pink shirt sits on the arm of a couch, gazing into the eyes of a woman with a yellow bandana seated beside her.

Family Portrait

Lucy Kerr | United States

It has a deceptive simplicity. The plot is pretty spare (a family attempts to wrangle everyone together for a family photo), but it’s about so much more than that. Early Covid paranoia, photography, death, immortality, hilarious family dynamics, Barbara Bush, and more. The story is told with a lot of vision, and it’s got a quirky humor about it, too. One of my absolute favorites of the year.

Learn more about Family Portrait

At the back of a crowded truck bed, a bloodied man clutches a baby wrapped in a blanket close to him.


Devashish Makhija | India

An extremely well-crafted thriller with a political edge. It’s got some of the very best action scenes of the year, including an incredibly-choreographed chase scene where the lead character has a baby strapped to him the whole time. Really harrowing, nail-biting stuff!

Learn more about Joram

Christina Laneheadshot: Christina Lane

A low angle of two people standing back to back, the sun shining brightly behind their heads.

Banel & Adama

Ramata-Toulaye Sy | Senegal, France, Mali

Although it’s in the romance genre, I was surprised by how dark the tone of this film was, which I loved. The film’s stunning cinematography and evocative symbolism will take viewers on a mesmerizing journey that challenges societal norms and will definitely leave a lasting impression.

Learn more about Banel & Adama

An overhead view of a woman sitting cross-legged on a bench in a backyard. Her palms lay on her knees facing up.

Africans With Mainframes

(plays as part of Shorts 7: Black Perspectives – Resonance)
Kima Hibbert | United States

From the beginning to the end of the film, I was captivated by the style of storytelling. I think it challenges conventional narratives, but also provides an entertaining and unique take on music history.

Learn more about Africans With Mainframes

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