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Our guide to the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival

Escape the ubiquity of American movies with 150 features from nearly every corner of the world


  • Melancholia

This year the Chicago International Film Festival has settled on the marketing slogan "What the World Is Watching." Which world might that be? According to the overseas box office figures for 2011, the world is watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five, and The Smurfs. Check out the top 50 international grossers and you'll see only four movies that aren't Hollywood products.

Given these numbers, you might be tempted to view the global movie market as an example of American cultural hegemony. But it's even worse than that: when a nation can monopolize nearly every available screen, movies inevitably become an instrument of state power. One of the more revealing films I've seen from this year's festival is the Serbian documentary Cinema Komunisto, which shows how Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia used the state-run Avalon Studio to produce an endless series of World War II epics and create a brainwashing historical narrative for his people. Hollywood blockbusters trade mainly in fantasy, but they can engage in the same sort of mind control: the 14th-highest-grossing movie on earth this year is the World War II-themed Captain America: The First Avenger.

Well, if someone's going to dominate the world's imagination, better a free society like the United States. At least we can be trusted to question our own values and challenge our own institutions. Case in point: the heartrending documentary On the Bridge, another offering in this year's festival. This courageous movie captures the waking nightmare of American soldiers who've come home with post-traumatic stress disorder, and exposes the Veterans Administration's scandalous neglect of these men and women, who, by one estimate, commit suicide at the rate of 8,000 a year. It's the kind of movie that could be made only in America. Oh, wait a minute—On the Bridge was produced in France.

The ubiquity of American movies is the main reason one should make a beeline to the Chicago International Film Festival, which offers local premieres of 150 features from nearly every corner of the world. They may not be what the world is watching, but they represent a valuable opportunity for us to watch the world.

The festival opens Thursday, October 6, with a screening of The Last Rites of Joe May and personal appearances by director Joe Maggio and star Dennis Farina; see the listings for details. It closes Thursday, October 20, with a screening of The Artist, a comedy about the end of the movies' silent era, starring Jean Dujardin (best known for the OSS 117 spy spoofs).

Following, in alphabetical order by day, are reviews of selected films making their Chicago premieres through Thursday, October 13 (though repeat screenings after that date are also noted). For reviews of films premiering Friday, October 14, through Thursday, October 20, see next week's issue. Navigate by day with the menu below; reviews are written once and subsequent showtimes link back to that review.

Special events are listed here

Thursday, October 6
Friday, October 7
Saturday, October 8
Sunday, October 9
Monday, October 10
Tuesday, October 11
Wednesday, October 12
Thursday, October 13
Friday, October 14
Saturday, October 15
Sunday, October 16
Tuesday, October 18

VENUE Unless otherwise noted, all films screen at River East 21, 322 E. Illinois.

ADMISSION Unless otherwise noted, all tickets are $13 ($10 for students, seniors, and Cinema/Chicago members). A ten-admission pass is $120 ($90 for members), and a 20-admission pass is $230 ($170 for members). Weekday matinees through 5 PM are $5. Special packages for opening- and closing-night galas.

ADVANCE SALES In person: Cinema/Chicago, 30 E. Adams, suite 800 (weekdays 10 AM-6 PM) or River East 21 (daily noon-8 PM; beginning October 7, one hour before the first show until the last film has begun). Online: (individual tickets only) or By phone: 24 hours in advance at 312-332-3456, weekdays 10 AM-6 PM.

FOR MORE Call 312-332-3456 or go to

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