The 59th Chicago International Film Festival raced into various theaters across the Windy City from Oct. 11-22. The commute to many of the screenings changed this year with AMC River East's poorly timed construction conflict forcing AMC Newcity 14 to be the new hub of the festival. Some of the other in-person viewings were held at the Music Box Theatre, the Gene Siskel Film Center, the Chicago History Museum and several pop-ups to accompany the at-home streaming screenings.
For opening night, streets were closed on Southport Avenue between Waveland Avenue and Grace Street in Chicago on Oct. 11. Outdoor short screenings, live music and food vendors were all part of the fall fun planned during the special evening.
Programmers of the CIFF appeared to have a love for bicycle themes in 2023, but somehow didn't land Divvy Bikes as a sponsor. Things were also a bit salty as All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt took viewers to Mississippi, and the centerpiece cinematic offering Saltburn had a crucial flat tire bike moment as part of the plot. The health-focused documentary Bike Vessel rolled through multiple screenings, and Netflix's Rustin took to the streets to march on Washington.
The program included 99 feature films with many of them being international premieres.
Of the 58 short films, several came from an LGBTQ+ point of view. Chicago International film festival director Mimi Plauché has worked with the festival for 18 years and spoke about her observations during opening night.
Plauché said, "I have noticed the growth of queer content and stories over the years. This year's lineup really reflects that."
The animated short film Camp Kona came from a queer perspective thanks to filmmaker Kaitlin Goldstein, who plans to marry her partner soon and evolve with her storytelling platform.
On opening night, Kona stated, "I want to tell love stories one day where queer aliens would be kissing in space! These characters are usually killed off, so I want them to have romance and happiness while showing their identities. It doesn't always have to be a tragedy."
Ethan Lim: Cambodian Futures had a queer subject with Lim spotlighting his heritage inside his family's restaurant called Hermosa. Another restauranteur, Billy Dec, was featured in the documentary Food Roots, where he explored his Filipino heritage on film. Thanks to filmmaker Michele Jouse, Dec dived into the Philippines while tackling tough subjects such as mental health and bullying as part of the journey.
The Audience Award for the short documentary 376 Days (Nick Cave: Keep it Movin') gave director Claude-Aline T Nazaire-Miller a chance to follow gay artist Nick Cave's rise to glory while preparing for an exhibition. Nazaire-Miller explained from the red carpet, "I got to show the world who he is. Nick and his brother Jack are both out and proud beautiful men."
Many unique films rode on a rainbow of representation in the special OutLook section of programming. Japanese film Monster by director Hirokazu Kore-eda took home the Gold Q-Hugo Award, and some of the other queer-centric films outside of the United States included Solo, from Canada; Brazil's The Battle; and All of Us Strangers from the U.K.
Carnal Sins, or Almamula, was inspired by out Argentinian director Juan Sebastian Torales' own childhood trauma and struggles in a small town. The Persian Version tackled opposing cultural identities and The People's Joker gave audiences a trans coming-of-age story.
Departing Seniors director Clare Cooney described his piece as "a dark, slasher comedy with twists on the classic high school genre with a much more diverse cast than people are used to seeing. Our queer screenwriter Jose Nateras wrote a character that is proudly gay and just a part of who he is."
Nateras was chosen for the Windy City Times 30 Under 30 Award in 2019 and he stated, "As a Mexican American gay person it was very important for me to tell a story that felt true to my experience. It was a gift to the younger person in me and was my priority, although this is not a coming-out story. The character is at peace being who he is from the jump!"
Ireon Roach, who played Bianca in Departing Seniors, explained further, "Queerness just exists in this film. It is not a plot point or a character trait that is exploited. It is two people living their truth and their surrounding community knows it. It is very telling of the times we live in. We have had the coming out stories and the bullying stories in the past. This is not the biggest part of this particular story, but they are queer and I find that refreshing."
Sasha Kuznetsov, who played Brad, said, "This film is like a classic slasher movie but set in a modern world of acceptance, as it should be. My character is stuck in the stereotype of being a strong, masculine person, but also happens to be gay. We get to demonstrate how that works these days."
Playing in the rotation on Friday of the first weekend was the dysfunctional family drama All Happy Families, which depicted a trans character played by Ivy O'Brien. Co-writer Coby Goss stated on the carpet, "I have so many friends who have trans family members that it felt natural to throw Ivy into the mix. Finding the right actor was tantamount to the story." The director Haroula Rose said she would like the story to continue as a series, to learn more about the character's roots.
More bicycles were depicted cinematically in Hard Miles. Director and co-writer R.J. Daniel Hanna described the movie as "being about perseverance and putting one foot in front of the other. If someone does that they accomplish something that is impossible at first glance. It is a very universal story "
Actor Matthew Modine confessed that riding a bike is a lot of work, adding, "It is really about how hard someone is willing to push themselves in order to overcome physical pain. This is more about a person's character. I wanted to show the young crew that this wasn't just a walk in the park, so I came prepared and on time to do the best job I possibly could."
Other performers from Hard Miles attended the afternoon screening at AMC Newcity 14 that Saturday afternoon including Jackson Kelly who played Smink; Zachary T. Robbins who portrayed Rice; and out actor Damien Diaz who played straight man Atencio.
The festivities ended with a return to the Music Box, where the talented director Jeff Nichols accepted an Artistic Achievement Award before The Bikeriders screened. On the red carpet, he alluded to some sexual tension between Austin Butler and Thomas Hardy within the storyline.
Nichols said, "I met Austin when he wanted to be in the movie and was immediately enthralled. He's a beautiful human being. His character is a magnet for the other two people who are severely attracted to him. This film is about a subculture that existed in a specific time and place. There is a beauty to that with nostalgia and I hope the audience leaves with that feeling after watching The Bikeriders."
A brief question and answer portion with Nichols followed the screening. Attendees filed out of the Music Box to end the final portion of the festival. A few even cycled home on their bikes, fittingly enough.
North America's longest-running competitive film festival will celebrate a monumental 60th anniversary in 2024, so stay tuned in for next year's festivities at ChicagoFilmFestival.com .