2008 CIFF: That’s a Wrap

2008 Chicago International Film Festival

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

During the CIFF, I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m wracking my brains to write the best reviews I can, and I’m always, always looking forward to its end. Rod says I make it sound like the Bataan Death March! In the true fashion of a spoiled brat, of course, now that it’s over, I miss it. I admit I wasn’t that tired, stressed, and brain-wracked. I admit that I enjoyed writing the reviews, discovering some really wonderful films that I would never have seen otherwise, and seeing filmmakers who generously made time to talk with the audience. I feel privileged that I am able to attend this festival, now in its 44th year, when other cinephiles have nothing like it to enjoy.

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Of Time and the City

This year’s CIFF held some very special delights for me. Some of them I stumbled across even though they were already being talked up in the film world: Let the Right One In, the very first film I saw, was just such a film. Others had the reputations of their directors to guide me, for example, Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky and Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City, the latter’s strongly imagist construction eluding my powers of description and analysis. My favorite film of the festival, The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain, came into my life through the recommendation of a colleague I ran into in the prefestival screening room (Thanks, Gabe!). I met the rest of the films based on my interest in their capsule descriptions, the countries from which they hailed, and how well they fit into my schedule. On the whole, I’d have to say this was a good year.

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The Vanished Empire

Looking at my selections, my interest in films about and by women is a clear standout. Nina Paley, Gulshat Omarova, Deepa Mehta, Aida Begić, Marie Caillou, Christine Rebet, Sofia Carillo, and Karen Shakhnazarov (honored Russian director of The Vanished Empire, the last film I saw, but did not review) all turned in good to great feature and animated efforts. Although many of the women-centric films I saw—including the hamhanded Beautiful from South Korean director Juhn Jaihong and the splendid family drama Everlasting Moments by Sweden’s lesser-known master Jan Troell—dealt with women’s physical and emotional suffering, most also revealed feminine strength, humor, and creativity. I hope that producers, distributors, and exhibitors in both the indie and mainstream worlds start sampling more from the vast pool of talent and product from female filmmakers.

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Must Read After My Death

The complement of documentaries was quite good. Although I only reviewed one, I saw three—the aforementioned Of Time and the City and Must Read After My Death. Both of these films look back on bygone times—the former a meditation on Liverpool and the British Empire, the latter a remarkable culling of thousands of hours of audio and video records spanning decades made by an unconventional and unhappy family—and each was both very personal and a reflection on society. I recommend them both.

The CIFF juries made their awards, a couple of which I disagree with—most strongly, best new director for Dead Girl’s Feast, the only film I walked out of—many about which I have no comment because I did not see the films. I usually don’t see eye to eye with the juries, but that, I suppose, is just a matter of taste and life experience.

And now here’s my “acceptance speech” (skip if these revolt you).

I’ve been gratified by the courtesy of the CIFF staff (especially Lori Hile) in making my status as a member of the press a lot more comfortable and easy than it has been the past two years. I’m also grateful for the help The Beachwood Reporter has given in getting my reviews to a wider readership in Chicago and, hopefully, putting more bodies in seats at the festival. Here’s a special shout-out to Felix Massie, creator of my favorite animated short, Keith Reynolds Can’t Make It Tonight, for coming all the way from England to attend the animated shorts screening and hand-delivering a copy of his film to me. Most of all, all of you who have read, enjoyed, and commented upon these reviews make the effort to go beyond being a passive film viewer completely worthwhile every year. l

Previous CIFF Coverage

Fear(s) of the Dark: Six animated shorts by some of today’s best graphic illustrators weave tales of terror and suspense. (France)

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story: Caustic documentary about the man who ensured the victories of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush through a new age of take-no-prisoners politicking that has played to American’s fears through the present day. (USA)

Shorts 2: Animation Nations: Eleven short, animated films tackle subjects as diverse as procrastination, an angry comedian, a contrite polar bear, and a middle manager who snaps. (Mexico, Poland, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA)

The Sky, the Earth and the Rain (El cielo, la tierra y la lluvia): A beautiful, meditative look at the lives of four people on a cool, rainy island off the coast of Chile told almost exclusively with images. (Chile)

Heaven on Earth: A beautiful Indian woman travels to Canada to marry a man she’s never met. When she becomes the victim of domestic abuse, her imagination conjures a potent ally for her release. (Canada)

Happy-Go-Lucky: Mike Leigh’s newest film centers on a free spirit with boundless curiosity and a compassionate heart who tries to share her feelings of optimism with people desperately in need of it. (United Kingdom)

Native Dancer (Baksy): Worlds collide as the magic of a faith healer goes against the guns and influence of a young mobster over sacred ground. (Kazahkstan)

Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick): A family saga involving domestic abuse, poverty, and the miracle of photography from master film director Jan Troell. (Sweden)

Sita Sings the Blues: Riotous animated comedy by Nina Paley tells the story of her own break-up through a reimagining of the Indian epic the Ramayana. (USA)

Snow (Snijeg): A handful of Muslim women in a small village in Bosnia labor in unresolved grief until an unexpected confrontation frees them to go on with their lives. (Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Beautiful (Arumdabda): The burden of beauty gets a savage treatment in this disturbing film by a first-time director. (South Korea)

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in): An unconventional vampire story and an even more unconventional story of young love involving a 12-year-old boy and a vampire “girl” is emotionally rich, surprisingly honest, and properly horrifying. (Sweden)

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    30th/10/2008 to 1:46 pm

    Aaaarrrrggghhhh!!!!! I can’t believe it! You got to it first! My last banner to go up tomorrow is from The Mummy and it says “Cinema Styles October Kill Fest: That’s a Wrap.” I don’t have time to come up with anything new because I have no internet at home to download new pics and … and … AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!
    Oh well. You are so very lucky to get to attend this festival and to get a copy of one of the film shorts there hand delivered to you by the filmmaker, that’s wonderful!
    I have to start attending festivals more, so many are available to me. Thanks for your coverage and I can hardly wait to see the Lee Ass-water documentary – so I can become enraged.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    30th/10/2008 to 2:36 pm

    Great minds think alike, right, Jonathan? It’s so close to Halloween, I had to use the mummy image.
    The Atwater doc is supposed to air on Frontline in November. I’d check you local listings to see when it will air in DC. Save yourself some dough–but don’t break anything!

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    30th/10/2008 to 2:58 pm

    Great minds do indeed. But I’m a resourceful chap and did a quick search of my Flickr images, found a suitable one, designed a new banner and uploaded it for tomorrow. Now I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that you don’t decide to use the same image I chose for tomorrow.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    30th/10/2008 to 3:12 pm

    You sure do work fast. I hope it’s not that Roald Dahl story where the woman keeps getting her fingers cut off and your banner says “Cut!” Because that’s like totally mine.

  • loriehile@yahoo.com spoke:
    16th/11/2008 to 6:48 am

    Marilyn–Great wrap report! Thanks for all of your wonderful coverage of the Fest (as well as the very kind personal call-out). I’m sure that your thoughtful and thorough reviews have inspired many (including myself) to check out the films. It was a pleasure to work with you! –Lori
    P.S. Just saw the Lee Atwater Story on PBS. What a lovely man. 😉

  • Nick Plowman spoke:
    16th/11/2008 to 11:43 am

    I am certainly jealous of some of the films you saw, but even more jealous that were able to write such good reviews of an overwhelming amount of movies during a festival, so kudos to you! Wish we had such a good festival in SA. Nice job indeed, glad you enjoyed it so much. I am looking forward to Of Time and the City, Everlasting Moments and The Sky, The Earth and The Rain the most.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    16th/11/2008 to 12:21 pm

    Thank, Nick. With guys like you on the scene who, at a young age, are accomplishing so much on the film scene in SA, I’m sure you’ll be able to get a festival like this together in no time.
    I hope all those films come to your environs; it’s kind of iffy with some of these. Let me know what you think.

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