Arts & Culture » Festival

Chicago International Doc Film Festival


The inaugural Chicago International Doc Film Festival, featuring documentary films and videos, runs Friday, March 21, through Sunday, March 30. Screenings are at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln; Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton; Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston; Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee; and Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St. Tickets are $8, $7 for seniors and students; passes for 10 screenings are $65; for more information call 773-486-9612. Films marked with an * are highly recommended. The following schedule is for March 21 through 27; the complete schedule is available on-line at



The first film of a projected trilogy on doctrinaire political leaders, Oliver Stone's documentary about Fidel Castro was culled from 30 hours of footage shot over three days. Constructed as a series of dialectical exchanges between the two men, it's most effective as a meditation on personality, revealing their common obsession with Vietnam, John F. Kennedy, and Richard M. Nixon (as Castro remarks, the American government "has been nice to all kinds of dictators"). Photographed in part by the excellent Rodrigo Prieto (25th Hour), the movie mixes a gracefully melancholy portrait of contemporary Havana with startlingly beautiful archival footage of Cuba during the revolution, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the missile crisis. Stone's casual, indirect interview style yields some fascinating details--like Castro's admiration for Charlie Chaplin and Brigitte Bardot--but he's also strangely passive, almost protective of his elderly subject. Richard Boyle, the muckraker who collaborated with Stone on Salvador, might have been more willing to ask Castro about Cuba's thriving teenage sex trade, its prosecution of political dissidents, and its horrifying treatment of homosexuals. In English and subtitled Spanish. 93 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Biograph, 8:00)


The Game of Their Lives

Daniel Gordon directed this 2002 British feature about how the underdog North Korean soccer team nearly won the 1966 World Cup finals, played in Britain. In English and subtitled Korean. 80 min. (Society for Arts, 3:00)

The Murder of Emmitt Till

Stanley Nelson's 2002 documentary retells the powerful story of Emmitt Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who visited Mississippi in 1955, made the mistake of whistling at a white woman, and was abducted, tortured, and killed. I was grateful for the attention paid to Till's mother, Mamie, whose insistence on displaying her son's mangled corpse to 50,000 fellow Chicagoans dramatized the miscarriage of justice when a Mississippi jury acquitted the known killers. But Nelson's frequent use of spirituals on the sound track is needlessly sappy, and Marcia A. Smith's script is parochial in some respects. She concludes that the Till case sparked the civil rights movement, which is certainly accurate, yet many subsequent horror stories fanned the flames. She also implies that white southerners unanimously supported such atrocities, omitting any mention of Alabama reporter William Bradford Huie, who bribed Till's killers into confessing and later made a career of defying southern racism. 53 min. (JR) A discussion will follow the screening. (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)

Chronicle of an American Suburb

H. James Gilmore, a native of Park Forest, returned home for the 50th anniversary of the pioneering planned community, which was built during the postwar housing shortage on 2,400 acres of former cornfield south of Chicago. His accessible and affectionate 2001 documentary relates how a trio of innovative developers at American Community Builders decided to erect rental town houses around a shopping center, which became both a cash cow for them and a town commons for residents. Over the years Park Forest developed a national profile as a model suburb: sociologist William H. Whyte Jr. focused on the community in his 1956 best-seller The Organization Man, and in 1967 a Look magazine story, "Negro in the Suburbs," noted its relatively harmonious integration. Gilmore interviews founding residents and old friends, illustrating his narrative with early sales brochures and clips from his father's home movies. The video conveys his mixed feelings about a place so nice that he had to flee it as soon as he finished high school. 57 min. (Bill Stamets) (Facets Cinematheque, 5:00)


This global travelogue was directed by Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter; in English and subtitled German, Faliasch, Tamashek, and other languages. 240 min. (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 5:00)

Love Inventory

Israeli filmmaker David Fisher uncovers a family secret: a sister he never knew who was given up for adoption at birth. In Hebrew with subtitles. 93 min. (Biograph, 5:00)

Roman Karmen: Filmmaker in the Service of the Revolution

The life and career of Soviet filmmaker Roman Karmen as examined by French filmmakers Patrick Barberis and Dominique Chapuis. A French-Vietnamese coproduction (2002), in English and subtitled French and Russian. 90 min. (Society for Arts, 5:00)

Short works, program one

Paolo Pisanelli directed Don Vitaliano: Nothing but a Priest (2002, 54 min.), an admiring portrait of a left-leaning Italian priest who defies the Catholic hierarchy by speaking out on behalf of gay rights and other social causes; in Italian with subtitles. The hard life of a 63-year-old homeless woman is explored in Iron Maria (2002, 58 min.), a German film directed by Ingeborg Jacobs and Hartmut Seifert; in German, Russian, and Lithuanian with subtitles. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

The Eye of the Day

This 2001 Dutch film directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich chronicles political convulsions in Indonesia that followed the resignation of President Suharto in 1998. In Javanese and Bahasa Indonesia with subtitles. 94 min. (Biograph, 7:00)

Short works, program two

In The Minders (1998, 50 min.), British director Sean McAllister looks at life in Baghdad through the eyes of the two security agents assigned to him by the Iraqi government. And in Hull's Angel (2002, 50 min.), McAllister looks at the tensions caused by the arrival of 1,500 Muslim refugees in the northern English city. Both works are in English and subtitled Arabic. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

* Bus 174

Jose Padilha's searing Brazilian film plays like a synthesis of Pixote and Dog Day Afternoon, documenting a June 2000 incident in which a thwarted bus robbery in Rio de Janeiro turned into a nationally televised hostage crisis. Swirling around this terrifying ordeal are despairing reflections on race, class, police corruption, media sensationalism, and social inequality. Padilha opens with an elaborately conceived tracking shot that underlines the country's severe social and economic stratification, and as he shifts between a white-hot present tinged with fear to a hallucinatory past of death, poverty, and neglect, the movie generates an almost unendurable tension. In this context the assailant's rage is persuasive and the resolution of the crisis grim and numbing; Padilha allows neither easy answers nor ironic commentary, producing on both sides of the conflict a world of inconsolable grief. In Portuguese with subtitles. 119 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Biograph, 9:00)

Short works, program three

In The Parade (1989, 60 min.), Polish director Andrzej Fidyk examines public ceremonies and the cult of personality in North Korean politics. Also on the program: Welcome to North Korea (2001, 45 min.), by Dutch director Peter Tetteroo. Both documentaries are in English and subtitled Korean. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema

Sandro Lai compiled interviews, talk show appearances, and award presentations from Italian TV for this 2001 film chronicling most of the director's career. It hardly qualifies as in-depth analysis of either the man or his films, but it has a lot of historical flavor and some odd bits of trivia (Antonioni once visited John F. Kennedy in the White House to discuss a film about the projected moon landing). Apparently Antonioni shifted to color before much of Italian TV did, because the brief coverage here of Red Desert (1964), Blowup (1966), and Zabriskie Point (1969) is in black and white, and color arrives only with his disputed documentary about China. 58 min. (JR) Also on the program: Carlo Lizzani's 60-minute profile Roberto Rossellini (2001). Both works are in Italian with subtitles. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

Bejart Into the Light

Legendary French choreographer Maurice Bejart is the subject of this 2002 Swiss film directed by Marcel Schupbach. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 9:30)


Short works, program four

In the Mexican production 50 Years of Cha Cha Cha (2002, 28 min.) director Jill Hartley examines how Latin pop music conquered the world in the 1950s. In Spanish with subtitles. The career of an eminent Russian ballerina and political dissident is chronicled in Maya Plisetskaya Assoluta (2002, 54 min.), a French production directed by Elisabeth Kapnist. In French and Russian with subtitles. (Society for Arts, 1:00)

The Show Must Go On

Hans Heijnen directed this English-language Dutch film (2002, 77 min.), about life in an Arizona retirement community. (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)

Short works, program five

Miles Roston directed 14 Million Dreams (2002, 52 min.), an inquest into the fate of children orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. In English and subtitled Swahili. From Palestine, Yahya Barakat's The House of God (2002, 42 min.) chronicles the 40-day siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In Arabic with subtitles. (Society for Arts, 5:00)

* The Last Conversation: Eisenstein's Carmen Ballet

A fascinating reconstruction (1998, 20 min.) of one of Sergei Eisenstein's last completed works, a miniature ballet based on the final scene of Bizet's Carmen. Director Sally Banes painstakingly researched Eisenstein's choreography, staged the dance with Galina Zakrutkina and James Sutton, and filmed it twice--one version an uninterrupted take, the other edited. Film theorist Noel Carroll wrote the narration, which guides us purposefully through every major step of the reconstruction process before letting us enjoy the result. In English and subtitled Russian. (JR) Also on the program: Micke Sandell and Anders Roennqvist's Swedish film Bergman's Commercials Preceding the Play (2002, 39 min.), which showcases nine soap commercials directed by Ingmar Bergman in the 1950s. In English and subtitled Swedish. (Facets Cinematheque, 5:00)

Starkiss: Circus Girls in India

This 2002 Dutch film directed by Chris Relleke and Jascha de Wilde concerns Indian children sold by their parents to a circus. In English and subtitled Hindi and Nepali. 77 min. (Biograph, 5:00)


See listing for Friday, March 21. (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 7:00)

Gabriel Orozco

Juan Carlos Martin directed this 2002 portrait of the Mexican artist. In Spanish with subtitles. 80 min. (Biograph, 7:00)

Short works, program six

Ayelet Menahemi and Elona Ariel directed It's About Time (2001, 54 min.), a study of the Israeli orientation to time. In Hebrew with subtitles. In Stromboli--Take Two (2002, 50 min.), Israeli filmmaker Micha Shagrir visits the Italian island famous as the locale of Roberto Rossellini's film of the same name. In English and subtitled Hebrew. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Voice of Hope

Polish-language broadcasts from Radio Free Europe began in 1952; Maciej Drygas examines their impact in this 2002 film. In Polish. 58 min. Also on the program: Portraits filmes (2002, 14 min.) and Ten Minutes Before Dying (2001, 5 min.). (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment

A 1999 overview of the cinema verite/direct cinema movement of the 1950s and '60s, by Canadian filmmaker Peter Wintonick. 103 min. (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 9:00)

* McLuhan's Wake

At first I was put off by the hagiographic and metaphoric aspects of this 2002 Canadian documentary about communications essayist Marshall McLuhan (1911-'80); director Kevin McMahon and screenwriter David Sobelman seem to regard their subject as Moses, Hegel, and Northrop Frye rolled into one. But I was won over by the film's mimetic process, as McLuhan's endlessly suggestive (if sometimes fruitless) "probes" are matched by fragmented voices intoning all the praise and criticism that have circled his work (among the commentators are Gerald O'Grady, Lewis Lapham, Neil Postman, Laurie Anderson, and McLuhan's son Eric). Ultimately this adds up to a comprehensive and highly ambitious study of McLuhan's life, thought, and influence. 94 min. (JR) (Society for Arts, 9:00)

Mothers of Life

The harsh life of a nomadic Siberian family is explored in this 2001 Finnish film by Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio. In Finnish and other languages with subtitles. 74 min. (Biograph, 9:00)


Short works, program seven

And Along Came a Spider (2002, 53 min.), an Iranian documentary by Maziar Bahari, is about a recently captured serial killer who claims religious justification for killing 16 women in the city of Mashad. In Farsi with subtitles. For The Royal Wedding Tapes (2002, 55 min.), Albert Elings and Eugenie Jansen edited and compiled amateur footage of the wedding of the Dutch crown prince. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

It's My Life

A South African man with HIV quits taking antiviral medications as a form of political protest in this documentary (2001, 74 min.) by Brian Tilley. Also on the program: Xavo-Xavi: The School of Can Tunis (2002, 25 min.). (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Bollywood Bound

Four Indian-Canadians go to Bollywood in the hope of becoming film stars in this 2001 Canadian documentary by Nisha Pahuja. 86 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

Kalejdoskop films, program one

The first of a four-part retrospective focusing on documentaries by Film Studio Kalejdoskop in Warsaw. On this program, three works by Marcel Lozinski: 89 mm From Europe (1993), Anything Can Happen (1995), and So That It Doesn't Hurt (1998). In Polish with subtitles. 100 min. A discussion will follow the screening. (Society for Arts, 9:00)


Arisman Facing the Audience

Tony Silver examines the art and life of painter-illustrator Marshall Arisman in this 2002 film. 83 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Film Lovers: Unexposed/Exposed

Maani Petgar's two-part tribute to three women prominent in Iranian cinema. In Farsi with subtitles. 103 min. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Kalejdoskop films, program two

Two 2002 works by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz: Children of Revolution and Love for a Vinyl Record. The former is in Polish, German, Czech, and Hungarian with subtitles; the latter in Polish with subtitles. 85 min. A discussion will follow the screening. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

The Men From the Agency

British director Michael Wadding traces the career trajectories of three prominent advertising executives (2002, 68 min.). Also on the program: Roger Weisberg and Murray Nossel's Why Can't We Be a Family Again? (2002, 27 min.), in which sons of a woman addicted to crack hope to see their family reunited. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)


That Is Life

The lives and attitudes of five university students in Tehran are examined in this Iranian documentary (2002, 43 min.) by Pirooz Kalantari. Also on the program: Captive, Waiting (2002, 23 min.) and Lasting Breaths (2001, 28 min.). All three films are in Farsi with subtitles. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Short works, program eight

From Peru, Sonia Goldenberg's Eye Spy (2002, 35 min.) investigates political corruption. In Spanish with subtitles. From Poland, Piotr Morawski's Secret Tapes of Security Police (2002, 35 min.) was compiled from government surveillance tapes. In Polish with subtitles. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

* Echelon: The Secret Power

A creepily effective French documentary by David Korn-Brzoza (2002, 82 min.) about the international surveillance networks that have proliferated since the mid-1940s, featuring interviews with former spies from Canada, England, New Zealand, and the U.S. With its cloak-and-dagger music, percussive electronic signals, jazzy computer graphics, and deft split-screen effects in 'Scope, this film sometimes seems to enjoy the terrifying visions it illustrates. But I couldn't tear my eyes from the screen, and some of the epigrams are memorable ("Too much power can be synonymous with loss of control"; "Everyone's at it, so you can't denounce your neighbors"). Understandably, American snooping gets the most attention, though the French aren't excluded--might one concoct a paranoid scenario explaining why Australia gets so little play? In English and French with subtitles. (JR) (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

Kalejdoskop films, program three

Two films from Film Studio Kalejdoskop: Piotr Morawski's Daddy, I Love You (1999) and Malgorzata Imielska's Youth in Times of Extermination (2002). Both are in Polish with subtitles. 101 min. A discussion will follow the screening. (Society for Arts, 9:00)



A 2002 autobiographical film in which Latvian director Herz Frank revisits his past works and confronts terminal illness. In Russian with subtitles. 102 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Short works, program nine

In Bloodlines: The DNA Dilemma (2002, 49 min.), Canadian director Wendy Rowland looks at the political implications of genetic research on the populations of Newfoundland and Iceland. From Iran, Amin Aslani's Mourning-Book for the Land of the Meridian (2002, 37 min.) looks at Afghan life in the aftermath of war and repression; in subtitled Farsi and other languages. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Kalejdoskop films, program four

Three works from Film Studio Kalejdoskop: Krzysztof Magowski's The Way My Uncles Lived (2000), Krzysztof Kalukin's Twin Sisters (2002), and Marek Kilaszewski and Jacek Knopp's Life on the Edge of Creation (2001). In Polish with subtitles. 104 min. A discussion will follow the screening. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

Short works, program ten

Directed by Victor Dashuk, Reporting From a Rabbit Hutch (2001, 39 min.) indicts political tyranny in Belarus; in Russian with subtitles. Erik Gandini and Tarik Saleh directed Sacrificio: Who Betrayed Che Guevara? (2001, 60 min.), a Swedish inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of the South American rebel; in English and subtitled Swedish and Spanish. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

Add a comment