Last year, along with several of my fellow Chicago-based film critic associates--all member of the Chicago Film Critics Association--I embarked on an endeavor to do something that had never been done before. We created and put on the first-ever film festival programmed and run entirely by film critics. The programmers scoured festivals from Toronto, Sundance, SXSW and others to find what we considered the best of the best of the dozens of films we saw at each festival. We mixed up the program to include festival favorites, films still looking for distribution, and even a rarely seen but much loved classic, SORCERER from director William Friedkin (who also attended). And for three glorious days last April, we actually managed to pull together a great line-up and got a few high-profile filmmakers to come out and do Q&As for our audiences.
The event was so successful that we decided to grow the experience for audiences this year and move the location from the Chicago suburbs to inside the city limits this year. The Second Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival will take place May 9-15 at the legendary Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago.
The idea behind the festival was also to answer the pleas of many film lovers who find themselves buried in film festival coverage in a given year and want to know how they can see some of these acclaimed works sooner rather than later (or maybe never).
Once again, we've got some great guests doing post-screening Q&As, including directors David Wain (THEY CAME TOGETHER), Bobcat Goldthwaite (WILLOW CREEK), Jordan Vogt-Roberts (AMERICAN HAM), and Collin Schiffli (ANIMALS), as well as actors Dick Miller (THAT GUY DICK MILLER and A BUCKET OF BLOOD double-bill), Martin Starr & Jocelyn DeBoer (DEAD SNOW: RED VS. DEAD), and David Dastmalchian (ANIMALS). The festival features 23 Chicago premieres and two shorts programs, totaling 14 shorts between them. And I couldn't be more excited and proud to a part of this year's event once again.
And for the record, I don't make a dime off of this festival; none of us do actually. We're a part of this event because we believe in these films and really want you guys to have a chance to check out these great movies and interact with this exceptional talent. Hope to see you all come out and support great cinema.
Here's the full festival lineup and schedule:
FRIDAY, MAY 9
7:00pm THEY CAME TOGETHER (w/ director and co-writer David Wain Q&A) When Joel and Molly meet, it’s hate at first sight: his big Corporate Candy Company threatens to shut down her quirky indie candy shop. Plus, Joel is hung up on his sexy ex in this spoof of romantic comedies from the director of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and ROLE MODELS. Directed by David Wain. Starring Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ellie Kemper, Bill Hader, Christopher Meloni, Cobie Smulders, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Max Greenfield, Adam Scott, Jack McBrayer, Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino, Jason Matzoukas, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain
9:30pm SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON In his directorial debut, Mike Myers documents the astounding career of Hollywood insider, the loveable Shep Gordon, who fell into music management by chance after moving to LA straight out of college, and befriending Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. Shep managed rock stars such as Pink Floyd, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass and Alice Cooper, and later went on to manage chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, ushering in the era of celebrity chefs on television. Stuffed with fantastic archive footage the film traces Shep’s transformation from the 1970s hedonist to today’s practicing Buddhist yearning for a family of his own. Directed by Mike Myers.
12:00am HOUSEBOUND Kylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment is made all the more unbearable by the fact she has to live there with her mother Miriam – a well-intentioned blabbermouth who’s convinced that the house is haunted. Kylie dismisses Miriam’s superstitions as nothing more than a distraction from a life occupied by boiled vegetables & small-town gossip. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers & strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who’s not particularly thrilled about her return. Directed by Gerard Johnstone. Starring Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Cameron Rhodes, and Millen Baird.
SATURDAY, MAY 10
12:00pm BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (w/ house organist Dennis Scott accompanying the film) For eight decades, director Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece has remained one of the most influential silent films of all time—yet each successive generation has seen BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN subjected to censorship and recutting, its unforgettable power diluted in unauthorized public domain editions from dubious sources. This all-new restoration—available for the first time in 35mm—restores dozens of missing shots and all 146 original title cards, returning the film to a form as close to its creator’s bold vision as has been seen since the film’s triumphant Moscow premiere. This special screening is part of the Music Box Theatre's ongoing Second Saturday Silent Cinema, but any Chicago Critics Film Festival passholders may attend at no additional charge.
1:50pm SHORTS PROGRAM I
3:45pm COPENHAGEN Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, this film follows immature adult William who, while on a trip through Europe to visit his father’s birthplace, meets the much younger but startlingly mature Effy. As the two search for his grandfather, William finds himself increasingly taken with Effy as he finds himself confronting both his family’s tortured past and the promise of an unexpected future. Directed by Mark Raso. Starring Gethin Anthony and Fredrikke Dahl Hansen.
5:45pm THE ONE I LOVE Ethan and Sophie are a married couple on the brink of separation. At the urging of their therapist, they escape to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to salvage what’s left of their relationship. What starts off as a relaxing and tranquil retreat soon spirals into a dizzyingly bizarre experience that forces the couple to reflect upon the complexities of their troubled partnership. Over the course of a few days, Ethan and Sophie work diligently to rediscover their better selves and embrace the unexpected as everything they once thought was real becomes more and more surreal. Directed by Charlie McDowell. Starring Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, and Ted Danson.
7:45pm CALVARY CALVARY’s Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. Although he continues to comfort his own fragile daughter (Kelly Reilly) and reach out to help members of his church with their various scurrilous moral—and often comic—problems, he feels sinister and troubling forces closing in, and begins to wonder if he will have the courage to face his own personal Calvary. Directed by John Michael McDonagh. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josee Croze, and Domhnall Gleeson.
9:45pm DEAD SNOW: RED VS. DEAD (w/ stars Martin Starr & Jocelyn DeBoer Q&A) If the worst day of your life consisted of accidentally killing your girlfriend with an axe, chain-sawing your own arm off, and watching in horror as your closest friends were devoured by a zombified Nazi battalion, you’d have to assume that things couldn’t get much worse. In Martin’s case, that was only the beginning. Directed by Tommy Wirkola. Starring Vegar Hoel, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, Amrita Acharia, and Daniel Berge Halvorsen.
12:15am THE CONGRESS Ari Folman, the director of the Oscar-nominated WALTZ WITH BASHIR, returns with a live-action/animation hybrid inspired by the book by Polish author Stanislaw Lem. An aging actress named Robin Wright (played, coincidentally, by Robin Wright) allows a digital likeness of herself to be created so that she can continue her career without worrying about the ravages of time, an agreement that is thrown into question years later when her electronic alter-ego becomes a superstar. Directed by Ari Folman. Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, and Jon Hamm.
SUNDAY, MAY 11
2:45pm 10,000 KM Alexandra and Sergi make love in their tiny Barcelona apartment. They’ve decided to have a baby, but find their plans dashed when Alex receives an offer for an artistic residency in Los Angeles. Understanding this may be Alex’s last chance to re-launch her photography career, the couple decides to put their plans on hold for a year. One year apart, with a continent between them, Alex and Sergi must rely on virtual communication to keep the flame of their relationship alive. But with their realities no longer shared and the touch of one another gone, the technology that has supposedly brought the world closer together may just tear them apart. Directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet. Starring Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer.
5:00pm THE OVERNIGHTERS When hydraulic fracturing unlocks an vast oil field in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, tens of thousands of unemployed men descend on the state with dreams of six-figure salaries. In the tiny town of Williston, busloads of newcomers step into the sad reality of slim work prospects and nowhere to sleep. Over at Concordia Lutheran Church, Pastor Jay Reinke is hell-bent on delivering the migrants some dignity. Night after night he converts his church into a makeshift dorm and counseling center. But as broken men arrive in droves, the congregants sling criticism, neighbors get suspicious, and the town threatens an ordinance to shut Reinke down. When the Williston Herald gets wind that sex offenders are among Reinke’s “overnighters,” even the pastor’s supernatural determination can’t stop things from spinning out of control. How much will he sacrifice for his crusade of compassion? With unfettered access to electrifying and poignant moments, it’s impossible not to be riveted by the pastor’s dogged battle in a treacherous world where no man is immune to losing everything. Directed by Jesse Moss.
7:00pm THAT GUY DICK MILLER / A BUCKET OF BLOOD Double-Bill (w/ subject and actor Dick Miller Q&A in between) Dick Miller is the last of the great American character actors. Whether sharing the screen with Nicholson, De Niro, Schwarzenegger or The Ramones, Dick has been stealing scenes since his screen debut in 1955. He has worked with some of the great directors: Scorsese, Corman, Fuller, Dante, Cameron, Demme ,and more. Every moviegoer knows his face, but few know his name and even fewer know his story—an aspiring writer turned accidental actor. For the first time, Dick Miller has allowed filmmakers incredible access to his life and home for this funny and unexpected story. Joining him are the directors, producers, co-stars and friends who have helped make him Hollywood’s leading “that guy.” Directed by Elijah Drenner.
10:30pm MOOD INDIGO Visionary filmmaker Michel Gondry presents this trippy romantic fantasy in which Colin (Romain Durais), a rich young bachelor and inventor of the pianocktail—yes, a piano that whips up cocktails based on the mood of the music that it is playing—whose unexpected romance with his dream girl (Audrey Tautou) is thrown into turmoil when she is stricken with a mysterious disease that has left her with a flower growing in her lungs. Nominated for three Cesar awards. Directed by Michel Gondry. Starring Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aissa Maiga, and Charlotte Le Bon.
MONDAY, MAY 12
5:00pm SHORT PROGRAM II
7:00pm I, ORIGINS I ORIGINS, the second feature film from writer and director Mike Cahill (ANOTHER EARTH), tells the story of Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the eye. He finds his work permeating his life after a brief encounter with an exotic young woman (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who slips away from him. As his research continues years later with his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling), they make a stunning scientific discovery that has far reaching implications and complicates both his scientific and spiritual beliefs. Traveling half way around the world, he risks everything he has ever known to validate his theory. Directed by Mike Cahill. Starring Brit Marling, Michael Pitt, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, and Archie Panjabi.
9:30pm FREQUENCIES (aka OXV: THE MANUAL) Set in a world that is strangely familiar, just plain strange and where people are grouped by “frequency”—high-frequency types are incredibly successful and lucky while those with low-frequency are anything but–the super-low Isaac will do anything to be with the ultra-high Marie and in doing so kicks off a chain of events that could change things forever. Directed by: Darren Paul Fisher. Starring Daniel Fraser, Eleanor Wyld, and Dylan Llewellyn.
TUESDAY, MAY 13
5:00pm PRIVATE VIOLENCE The most common question asked of domestic violence victims is, “Why didn’t you leave?” This film introduces us to two women whose stories illustrate the complexities and problems inherent in that question and encourages us to reevaluate the discourse about domestic violence. Shot with skill and immediacy, PRIVATE VIOLENCE is rooted in the extraordinary courage of Kit and Deanna, who shed light on the cycles of abuse and the shortcomings of law enforcement and the justice system. In the process, they represent hope, empowerment, and the possibility of change. Directed by Cynthia Hill.
7:00pm NICK OFFERMAN: AMERICAN HAM (w/ director Jordan Vogt-Roberts Q&A) This live taping of Nick Offerman’s one-man show at New York’s historic Town Hall theatre features a collection of anecdotes, songs, and woodworking/oral sex techniques. The routine includes Offerman’s 10 tips for living a more prosperous life, so hearken well. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (THE KINGS OF SUMMER) returns to the CCFF for the second year in a row. WARNING: MINOR NUDITY AND NOT SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
9:30pm STARRED UP Nineteen-year-old Eric (Jack O’Connell, star of the upcoming UNBROKEN), arrogant and ultra-violent, is prematurely transferred to the same adult prison facility as his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). As his explosive temper quickly finds him enemies in both prison authorities and fellow inmates—and his already volatile relationship with his father is pushed past breaking point—Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend, “Homeland”), who runs an anger management group for prisoners. Torn between gang politics, prison corruption, and a glimmer of something better, Eric finds himself in a fight for his own life, unsure if his own father is there to protect him or join in punishing him. Written by prison system therapist Jonathan Asser, STARRED UP is a merciless, uncompromising portrayal of a dehumanizing life behind bars, and the most accomplished film of David Mackenzie’s career; as father and son, Mendelsohn and O’Connell give extraordinary performances, charting a path that resembles Greek tragedy. Directed by David Mackenzie. Starring Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, and Ben Mendelsohn.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 14
5:00pm MYSTERY ROAD An Australian-based mystery with western overtones, this is the gritty story of an aborigine detective (Aaron Pedersen) who returns to his remote home town after a decade in the city and investigates the murder of a local girl that finds him at odds with both the local white-dominated police (including Hugo Weaving) and his former friends and family. Directed by Ivan Sen. Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, and Ryan Kwanten.
7:30pm WILLOW CREEK (w/ director Bobcat Goldthwait Q&A) Comedian-turned filmmaker Bobcat Godlthwait (SHAKES THE CLOWN, GOD BLESS AMERICA) returns with this horror entry about a would-be Bigfoot expert (Bryce Johnson) who, along with his girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore), gets lost while on a camping trip in Sasquatch’s alleged neighborhood and finds that there is something else out there with them. Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait. Starring Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson.
9:45pm EL CRITICO Tellez is a strict and prestigious film critic, totally weary of Hollywood romantic comedies and certain that the best of the seventh art died long time ago. Maybe because of his work, he suffers from what he calls the ‘maladie du cinema’: He sees the world like if it was a big movie that, in addition, he cannot keep from criticizing. While searching for his new apartment, he unexpectedly meets Sofia, a young and attractive woman that has very little to do with his good taste. Tellez attempts to escape from a staging that he loathes, but suspects that the movie genre that he hates the most is taking its revenge. Directed by Hernan Guerschuny. Starring Rafael Spregelburd, Dolores Fonzi, Blanca Lewin, and Ignacio Rogers.
THURSDAY, MAY 15
4:45pm I PUT A HIT ON YOU After her marriage proposal to Ray (Aaron Ashmore) is awkwardly rejected, Harper (Sara Canning) gets really drunk and in an attempt to blow off some steam, posts an ad online offering to trade her engagement ring for Ray’s death. The thing is, someone replies. And they sound serious. Fearful of what she might have done, Harper runs to Ray’s apartment in the middle of the night to warn him. At first Ray takes the situation lightly; it’s just some nut job online messing with her. But as the night goes on and a mysterious white van stalks Ray’s apartment, suddenly everything becomes more real. As they try to stay calm and deal with this bizarre situation like regular people, they’re forced to confront the downfall of their relationship and figure out where it all went wrong before the hitman takes away any chance of them getting back together. Directed by Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart. Starring Aaron Ashmore and Sara Canning.
6:30pm OBVIOUS CHILD This initially raunchy and ultimately tender comedy tells the story of aspiring comedian Donna Stern, for whom everyday life as a female 20-something provides ample material for her incredibly relatable brand of humor. On stage, Donna is unapologetically herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant just in time for Valentine’s Day, she has to navigate the murky waters of independent adulthood for the first time. Writer-director Gilliam Robespierre expanded her 2009 short into one of the most popular entries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Gillian Robespierre. Starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, and Richard Kind.
8:30pm ANIMALS (w/ director Collin Schiffli and star/writer David Dastmalchian Q&A) ANIMALS tells the story of Bobbie and Jude, a young couple living in their broken-down car parked alongside Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Their days are a continuous ritual of theft and scoring until they must confront the difficult truth of their relationship after one of them is hospitalized. Directed by Collin Schiffli. Starring David Dastmalchian and Kim Shaw.