Chicago Critics Film Festival: A week of camping, fraud, catfishing, acceptance and talking shells


Will Kleighe

The outside of the Music Box Theatre on Southport.

In the past week, I watched 42.5 hours worth of movies. This undertaking was all part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which is an annual film festival programmed by the Chicago Critics Association with the movies they have seen at previous festivals. The critics pick their favorite movies from these festivals to put together a selection for Chicago moviegoers. Directors and actors attended as special guests, doing post-film question and answer sessions with the audience. The festival had many highs and a few lows, and it offered a fantastically different slate of movies.

This is the ninth year of the Chicago Critics Festival. The festival unfortunately had to take a break recently due to global events. In October, the Critics Association held a mini festival, but this May has marked the return of the festival in true form.

The festival opened with “Cha Cha Real Smooth” directed by Cooper Raiff. This was a very sweet movie that was a definite crowd pleaser. Raiff held a question and answer session after the screening and offered some advice to young filmmakers.

“Make something that means something to you and hopefully it can affect someone else,” Raiff said.

Another highlight of the festival was the selection of horror and thriller movies. Award shows have historically ignored these genres, so it was a welcome experience. My favorite one shown was “Resurrection,” directed by Andrew Semans. The film follows a woman haunted by a man from her past who suddenly returns and turns her life upside down. This is a fantastically tense movie and features incredible performances by Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth. The movie had a very unsettling atmosphere which kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat.

The most impressive performance of the festival was Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie,” directed by Michael Morris. Riseborough plays a Texas woman who wins the lottery and squanders her winnings, leading to her becoming a homeless alcoholic. The movie is about her attempts to redeem herself and get back on the right path. Riseborough is a wonder to watch. She manages to play a very unlikeable character but in a way that the audience is always rooting for her.

The amount of people in the audience would fluctuate. For the documentaries and lesser known movies, very few people beyond the press would show up. For the movies supported by large studios or the ones with an A-list cast, the theater would be close to selling out. This is not surprising, but it is a little sad that so many amazing movies were only seen by a handful of people.

Hold Your Fire” is a documentary about a 1972 hostage situation in New York City which was solved with words as opposed to guns. The movie is incredibly powerful and the director describes it as a tool to reduce real life violence.

I was lucky enough to have a sit down with the director of “Hold Your Fire,” Stefan Forbes. Forbes grew up as a film nerd and made his own Super 8 movies as a kid. He always wanted to be a writer and director, and later became an apprentice to cameramen. He got his start in the film industry being a camera operator on movies such as “The Boondock Saints.” He is a strong advocate for internship and believes it is one of the best ways to learn about an industry you are passionate about.

Forbes is hopeful for the next generation of filmmakers but is not without his concerns..

“To all the young filmmakers coming up, us older filmmakers are excited and thrilled at the stories you are going to tell, but we are also terrified for your sake because this is such an incredibly difficult business,” he said.

Forbes sees an important path ahead for student filmmakers at DePaul and around the country

“We as filmmakers need your transformative stories to help save a nation that is teetering on the brink of facism and a planet that is about to get destroyed. We need these new voices urgently. We need the Gretas, and these young activists to be fierce and uncompromising and to tear shit up,” he said.

One of the most interesting and unique movies of the festival was “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic,” directed by Teemu Nikki. This movie tells the story of a cinefile, who is blind and uses a wheelchair, as he takes a trip to meet his online girlfriend. The camerawork in this movie is truly amazing. The filmmakers use closeups and out-of-focus shots to simulate the disability of the main character. This movie is truly amazing beyond the technical aspects. The story is touching and finds the humor of an awful situation in great ways. This movie hit me on a great emotional level and I urge everyone to watch it when it becomes available.

The festival closed with “I Love My Dad,” directed by James Morosini. The movie was hilarious, incredibly cringey and also very heartfelt. Patton Oswalt plays a man who catfishes his son in order to get back into his life.  After the movie the stars, Morisini, Oswalt, Claudia Sulewski, and Amy Landecker, held a question and answer session.

The cast answered a lot of questions. From the allegedly true experience Morisini had that inspired the movie, to what it was like making a movie with such a boundary pushing premise the cast gave a lot of insight into the creation of this movie.

“This was a fun role for me because we have all been like this guy,” Oswalt said. “Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is something we can all relate to, whether we want to admit it or not.”

As a whole package, the Chicago Critics Film Festival was a very fun experience. In addition to the new movies, there were two selections of short films and screening of classics “Boogie Nights” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” CCFF gave an excellent window in what to expect in the upcoming year for movies. While not every movie was for me, they might be perfect for you. I highly recommend every movie that was screened at the festival.

Movie Rankings (Excluding shorts and classics)

21- “Straighten Up and Fly Right” 1.5 out of 5 stars

20- “Both Sides of the Blade” 2 out of 5 stars

19- “Watcher” 2.5 out of 5 stars

18- “Piggy” 3 out of 5 stars

17- “Beba” 3 out of 5 stars

16- “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” 3 out of 5 stars

15- “Palm Trees and Power Lines” 3.5 out of 5 stars

14- “Benediction” 3.5 out of 5 stars

13- “Speak No Evil” 3.5 out of 5 stars

12- “Cha Cha Real Smooth” 3.5 out of 5 stars

11- “Flux Gourmet” 3.5 out of 5 stars

10- “Inu-Oh” can not rate due to missing half the movie. Thanks CTA!

9- “A Love Song” 3.5 out of 5 stars

8- “Emily the Criminal” 4 out of 5 stars

7- “Resurrection” 4 out of 5 stars

6- “Hold your Fire” 4 out of 5 stars

5- “2nd Chance” 4 out of 5 stars

4- “I Love my Dad” 4 out of 5 stars

3- “To Leslie” 4 out of 5 stars

2- “Good Luck to you, Leo Grande” 4 out of 5 stars

1- “The Blind Man That Did Not Want to See Titanic” 4.5 out of 5 stars