Chicago International Film Festival Wraps Up 53rd Year

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The 53rd annual Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) came to a close Oct. 26 after two weeks of celebrating foreign and independent cinema at the AMC River East 21 Theatre (322 E. Illinois).

The lauded festival screened a diverse range of films and hosted tributes to iconic actors such as Patrick Stewart (“X-Men,” “Green Room”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Blow-Up,” “Camelot”) and Michael Shannon (“Man of Steel,” “Take Shelter”), who were all present for their recognition.

CIFF was the latest stop for some of the hottest titles on the current film festival circuit, and The PHOENIX chose three of its festival favorites that students should seek out when these films hit theaters and online streaming services.

“BPM” — Robin Campillo

Alejandro RieraThe emotional French film “BPM” tackled relevant social justice issues, particularly AIDS in the LGBT+ community. Alejandro Riera

The latest from French director Robin Campillo (“Eastern Boys,” “They Came Back”), “BPM” (Beats per Minute) tells the story of an AIDS activist group, Act Up, in Paris during the 1990s. When new member Nathan (Arnuad Valois) joins the group, he develops a relationship with one of the leaders of the organization, Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart).

“BPM” is a tragic, heartbreaking account of the fight against AIDS within the gay community. The film is just as unflinching in showing the sexual discrimination against its characters as it is in celebrating them. Filled with energy, attitude and emotion, “BPM” is France’s official entry into the Academy Awards race for best foreign language film and could be a contender at this season’s Oscars. The filmmakers are currently searching for nationwide distribution.

“Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” — Samuel D. Pollard

Alejandro Riera“I’ve Gotta Be Me” is a stunning documentary about the life of Sammy Davis Jr. that includes interviews with present-day celebrities. Alejandro Riera

This fascinating documentary depicts the highs and lows in the life of singer, dancer, actor and Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. Told with a compilation of star-studded interviews from Billy Crystal, Jerry Lewis and Whoopi Goldberg, “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” allows audiences access and insight into the life of one of the entertainment industry’s greatest performers.

The documentary largely focuses on Davis’ struggle with his identity as an African American. Seen by the black community as a “sell-out” after joining the Rat Pack, Davis never felt accepted by his people, according to the film. “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” explores the delicate balance between art and fame, and shines a light on Davis’ battle for both. One thing is for sure: after watching this documentary, audiences will never listen to the singer’s hit, “Mr. Bojangles,” the same way again. The filmmakers behind this gripping documentary are also looking for nationwide distribution.

“The Square” — Ruben Östlund

Alejandro RieraSpecial effects star Terry Notary takes on the eccentric role of an “ape man” in “The Square.” Alejandro Riera

Coming off the heels of his critically acclaimed film, “Force Majeure” (2014), Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund aims to unsettle viewers once again with “The Square.” Östlund’s films aren’t graphic or frightening; instead, they explore aspects of humanity that most people would prefer not to address, such as humanity’s deeply-rooted selfishness and distrustfulness. “The Square” is a thorough and provocative investigation of the latter.

Despite winning the massive honor of Palme d’Or at France’s Cannes Film Festival — the equivalent of the best picture award — “The Square” is dividing audiences and critics as it reaches more theaters. The film stars Claes Bang (“A Soap,” “Rettet Raffi!”) as a museum curator who creates a public relations nightmare after hiring the wrong team to market the museum’s latest exhibit called “The Square.”

The film’s sharp satire of morality in an increasingly treacherous world leaves viewers with powerful questions to consider regarding trust and betrayal. “The Square’s” humor and unpretentious visuals will appeal to a wide array of audiences, and it may enter the Oscar race for best foreign film this winter. “The Square” opens in Chicago Nov. 10.

CIFF treated festival attendees to another stellar lineup of films in 2017, including many more than the three mentioned. Other films played at CIFF, such as “Mudbound,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “The Shape of Water,” are said to be among the best movies of the year so far. Between the quality of films shown and the number of movie fans packing theaters each night, CIFF showed why it’s the best film festival of the Midwest.

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