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42nd Chicago International Film Festival Preview
by Peter Sobczynski

Superviolent Danish pornographic cartoons, a sci-fi epic in which Hugh Jackman gets to love Rachel Weisz for a real long time and some Oscar-baiting turns from the likes of Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren and Will Ferrell. These are just some of the sights that you will be able to experience at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. From October 5-19, the festival, now in its 42nd year, will be showing dozens of entries from 30 countries that include feature films, documentaries, short subjects, a rare revival or two, hot-ticket premieres and works that you may never get a chance to see again on a local commercial screen. For film buffs looking for get an early look at the next big thing, to see the latest efforts from some of the world’s most renowned filmmakers or simply to watch something different from the standard multiplex fare, a festival such as this is an event worth looking forward to each and every year and this year’s lineup is, as you can probably surmise from the opening of this paragraph, an especially eclectic bunch.

This year’s festival kicks off on Oct.5 at the landmark Chicago Theatre with the local premiere of the much-hyped comedy-drama “Stranger Than Fiction.” Shot last year in the Chicago area, the film stars Will Ferrell as a drab IRS agent who suddenly begins to hear the voice of a British woman in his head narrating the events of his life. It turns out that the voice he is hearing belongs to reclusive author Emma Thompson and that he is actually the central character in the work that she is struggling to complete–complications arise when he realizes that she plans to end the book with his death and he tries to figure out a way to convince her to let him live. This screening will serve as the centerpiece for a Career Achievement Award presentation to Dustin Hoffman, who plays a supporting role as a literature professor who tries to help Ferrell out–Hoffman will be attending to pick up his award at a pre-film ceremony hosted by Bill Kurtis and Ferrell, director Marc Forster and screenwriter Zach Helm are scheduled to appear as well.

Opening night is not the only point during the festival where you will be able to see the stars and filmmakers in person. Liza Minnelli will be dropping by on Oct. 17 for an on-stage interview with critic John Russell Taylor that will cover all aspects of her long and diverse career. Black Perspectives, the festival sidebar dedicated to films by and for those of African descent, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Oct 13 with a gala that will see Spike Lee present a Lifetime Achievement Award to the legendary Ruby Dee and Andre Benjamin, the Outkast member who has branched out into film with performances in “Four Brothers,” “Idlewild” and the upcoming “Charlotte’s Web,” receive an Emerging Artist award.

Three internationally acclaimed directors will also be on hand to present their latest works. British filmmaker Stephen Frears, whose filmography includes the wonderful Chicago-lensed “High Fidelity,” will appear on Oct 11 for a retrospective tribute topped off by a screening of his latest, the excellent “The Queen,” in which Helen Mirren turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as Queen Elizabeth II in a penetrating look at what went on behind the palace walls in the days following the death of Princess Di. Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who won the festival’s top prize in 2000 with his debut, “Amores Perros,” returns on Oct 14 with a preview of the much-anticipated “Babel,” a multi-cultural drama starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal. Cult favorite Darren Aronofsky, who blew minds with his first two films, 1998's “Pi” and 2000's “Requiem for a Dream,” goes for the trifecta on Oct. 16 with the time-tripping romantic epic “The Fountain,” in which Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz portray a pair of lovers in a story that is variously set in the 1600's, today and the 26th century.

No matter what your taste in film, you are likely to find something of interest here. Those interested in edgy, button-pushing cinema will want to check out “Shortbus,” a controversial comedy-drama that explores, in graphic details, the sex lives of a group of hipsters in post-9/11 Manhattan. Those in the mood for films that grapple with contemporary issues should check out “Day Night Day Night,” Julia Loktev’s look at a young woman as she prepares to become a suicide bomber. Those who want to get a look at the screen’s next It Girl should check out the Australian film “Candy,” in which the up-and-coming actress Abbie Cornish (who was brilliant in the little-seen “Somersault” and who will be seen soon in Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year”) is said to turn in an amazing performance as a young woman who spirals into a world of drug addiction with boyfriend Heath Ledger. Fans of trippy animation should take a look at “Renaissance,” a highly anticipated futuristic film noir that has been described as a combination of “Sin City” and “Blade Runner,” or “Princess,” an extremely disturbing number in which an obsessed young man, unhinged by the mysterious death of his estranged adult-film-star sister, battles his way through the porn underground, orphaned niece in tow, in an effort to remove any material featuring his sister once and for all.

Fans of Peter O’Toole will want to catch the Closing Night presentation of “Venus,” a romantic comedy-drama in which he plays an elderly man who becomes smitten with the 19-year-old niece of his lifelong friend–those who have seen it already have suggested that this may be the performance that finally earns him a long-overdue Best Actor Oscar. Fans of the Dixie Chicks will want to see “Shut Up and Sing,” a documentary by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck that follows the group in the aftermath of controversial comments that lead singer Natalie Maines made on stage during a 2003 London concert. Even gorehounds will find a couple of selections up their alley–the cult-oriented Late Night Screamings sidebar will feature the much-hyped South Korean monster movie “The Host” and “Severance,” a British horror-comedy that has been described as a cross between “The Office” and “Hostel.”

Aside from a couple of special events, the screenings this year will be held at two venues–the AMC River East (322 E. Illinois) and the Landmark Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark). Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased via phone–through Ticketmaster at (312)902-1500 or the festival at (312)332-FILM–over the Internet by going to or in person at the theater box-offices on the day of the show or in advance at one of the festival stores (located inside the Borders Books at 830 N. Michigan and 2817 N. Clark) or at the festival offices at 30 E. Adams. For a full list of films, tickets and daily updates, go to the festival website at

Beginning this Wednesday, I will be posting updates for the run of the festival featuring highlights the top events for each day and any changes or additions to the schedule. Enjoy.

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originally posted: 10/02/06 02:40:17
last updated: 11/10/06 01:40:40
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