The 2016 Chicago Film Festival is once again underway, though it’s a decidedly mixed bag this year, especially with so many of the heralded films being designated to the overpriced Specials category, relegating them to an exclusive minority club of ticketholders where price is no object. For whatever reason, this is one of the worst habits of the festival. In some years they get it right, where the Cannes prize winning film Dheepan (2015) was a regularly priced ticket a year ago, along with more than a dozen other festival entries that made last year’s fest one of the best ever, screening nearly half of the Cannes Festival’s competition films at regular prices. But rather than build on that, making the festival “more” accessible, they’ve done just the opposite, where only an exclusive few will be privileged to see some of the most critically appraised films, including a newly restored print on the 25th anniversary of Julie Dash’s DAUGHTERS IN THE DUST (1991), one of the most exquisitely beautiful and complex stories ever told about the problems facing descendants of slaves around the turn of the century living on the southern Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, where strangely enough an unborn child narrates the film. That film is an experience one is not likely to forget. But there are also films by the recently deceased Andrzej Wajda, but also Paul Verhoeven, Jim Jarmusch, Terence Davies, Barry Jenkins, and this year’s Cannes prize-winner Ken Loach that are all placed in the Specials category.
Verhoeven’s Elle and Jenkins’ Moonlight are targeted for October releases, along with the Antonio Campos film Christine, Jeff Nichols’ Loving is scheduled for release in November, while Pablo Larrain’s Neruda has a targeted December release.
This year 25 films will have their North American premiere, while 30 are getting their American premiere, so there is an unexplored reservoir of films to choose from. Screening side by side with the commercial fare at the River East, expect the usual dose of standing in lines as they clear out theaters before the next screening begins. Also expect plenty of sell-outs, as most of the festival theaters are among the smallest offerings, where only two are decent sized. The festival has also resorted to the bad habit of screening the Best of the Fest films in some of the tiniest theaters, which hardly feels like a reward. Nonetheless, the beauty of the festival is that you never know what to expect, while it’s always fun to find hidden gems among the undiscovered films.
A few festival previews and comments can be found elsewhere:
Nick Allen from the Roger Ebert site
Daniel Nava from Chicago Cinema Circuit
Scott Pfeiffer from The Moving Circle
Michael Glover Smith from White City Cinema