I live in the Albany Park neighborhood, said to be one of the most ethnically diverse in America, with one of the highest immigrant populations. "Although the majority of those foreign-born residents are from Latin America," reports Wikipedia, "substantial numbers are from the Philippines, India, Korea, Cambodia, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia), Romania, Pakistan, and the Middle East (especially Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon). Over 40 different languages are spoken in its public schools." Yet Albany Park is incredibly balkanized. Say hello to someone of a different race on the street and he'll invariably look away; walk into any ethnic bar and the silent vibe you'll pick up from the regulars is Get the fuck out!
By contrast, the Chicago International Film Festival has always exhorted Chicagoans to get the fuck in. "Come see the world . . . and be a part of it," writes Michael Kutza, the festival's founder and artistic director, in his introduction to the 2012 schedule. (Personally, I think "Get the fuck in!" is a much catchier slogan, and if the festival wants the rights, I'm open to discussion.) The irony is that, if you attend one of the festival's glittering galas, you're going to see a much richer and more homogeneous (i.e. white) crowd than you'll find when you're walking around Albany Park. Money has a way of making foreign cultures seem more alluring, partly because you can sample them at your leisure and then go home and not have to deal with them. (Or as Charlie Sheen reportedly once said of prostitutes, "I don't pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.")
To its credit, the festival has always maintained a commitment to keeping tickets affordable, though prices for almost everything have gone up this year. You can see most films for $14, not exactly cheap but only a few bucks more than you'd pay for Here Comes the Boom. Shows before 5 PM are only $5, and beginning this year, shows after 10 PM are only $10. Those are pretty good deals, especially if you've lost your job and can go the movies in the afternoon or late at night. I suspect that if any of my neighbors manages to scratch up the money for a ticket, they'll be going not to sample a new culture but to reconnect with their old one. That's the Chicago way. —J.R. Jones
Following, in alphabetical order, are reviews of selected films screening through Thursday, October 18 (though repeat screenings after that date are also noted). For reviews of films screening Friday, October 19, through Thursday, October 25, come back next week to read the second part of our festival coverage.