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This Year’s Chicago International Film Festival Shines Light On Local Talent: ‘I Couldn’t Have Made This Film In Any Other Place’

Several films in the October festival are from Chicago filmmakers or tell Chicago-based stories, including Harold Washington's election campaign and the city's mental health crisis.

"Any Given Day," a film by Margaret Byrne, is among several Chicago-centered movies being shown at this year's Chicago International Film Festival
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CHICAGO — Several local filmmakers are participating in this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, bringing stories about the city’s mental health crisis, gay hookup culture and competing in the National Spelling Bee to a larger audience.

The full lineup of the Oct. 13-24 fest was announced this week. For the first time in years, people can see films at multiple venues, including AMC River East 21, Music Box Theatre, the Gene Siskel Film Center, drive-in screenings at ChiTown Movies in Pilsen and neighborhood pop-up screenings at Bronzeville’s Parkway Ballroom. 

There are six features and eight short films as part of the festival’s City & State program.

Directors Isidore Bethel and Francis Leplay are behind “Acts of Love,” which details Bethel’s experience one summer with Chicago’s gay hookup culture. The film sees Bethel looking for love on dating apps and navigating relationships, heartbreak and a disapproving mother.

“It’s a film that we edited together in Paris after the process of shooting it in Chicago with people that I met in Chicago with a director of photography named Brian Saunders,” Bethel said at a media preview this week. “And it’s just such an honor to screen it where it takes place and with people who are in it and who helped to bring it into the world.” 

Another Chicago feature, “Winning In America,” comes from director Amrita Singh, a native of Hyde Park. The story follows character Aishwarya Narayanan, who struggles managing family expectations and ambitions, especially from her coach and father, Neil (played by Singh’s own father), as she competes in the National Spelling Bee.

Singh said the North South Foundation and the city’s film office provided a lot of assistance, and the majority of actors in the film are of South Asian descent.

“I couldn’t have made this film in any other place,” Singh said. “Chicago was truly a supportive environment.”

Several documentaries making world premieres feature Chicago-based stories or have Chicago talent behind them.

Festival goers will be the first to watch “Punch 9 For Harold Washington” about Chicago’s first Black mayor; “Love, Charlie” about legendary Chicago chef Charlie Trotter; Margaret Byrne’s “Any Given Day,” about the mental health crisis in Chicago; and Holly Morris’ “Exposure,” following 11 women from across Arab and western countries on a trek to the North Pole.

Other features in this year’s City & State program include documentary filmmakers’ Gordon Quinn and Leslie Simmer’s “For The Left Hand” and director Jacob Gentry’s ’70s throwback thriller, “Broadcast Signal Intrusion.”

Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated sci-fi epic “Dune” will also make its Chicago debut at the festival.

This year’s festival features a hybrid-format, offering online and in-person options for people to see films. Nearly 50 features will be able to be viewed at home via the festival’s streaming platform in an effort to attract audiences from nearby states and limit crowds amid the pandemic. 

“We’re so excited to be back in theaters but also online and at the drive-in,” said Vivian Teng, managing director of the festival. “We’ve missed being with their audiences and can’t wait to see everyone.”

Artistic director Mimi Plaunche said festival staff viewed more than 6,500 films to produce this year’s selection. That’s more than a 25 percent increase in entries from the festival’s highest year in 2019.

“Whether it’s a film that takes the pandemic as its backdrop to create something truly unique and inspired or a work that definitely explores urgent social or climate issues, or a movie that is just a return to good old fashioned storytelling, we’re so excited for audiences to see these films for the first time on screens of all sizes and across the city,” Plaunche said.

This year’s closing night film will be “King Richard” starring Will Smith, following Richard Williams as he raises Venus and Serena Williams to become tennis legends.

Tickets for the festival can be bought at the Chicago International Film Festival website. Cinema/Chicago members can purchase festival passes on the Chicago International film festival website. Passes become available to the general public beginning Friday.

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