If you happen to take residence in or around Chicago, or feel like gracing Consequence of Sound’s primary home base with your presence for a few days, something pretty damned cool is happening over the next week. Starting today — Friday, May 1st — the Chicago Critics Film Festival will be taking place at the storied Music Box Theatre. It’s one of the coolest places you could ever hope to see a movie, and that’s not an ad so much as a shoutout and a sincere opinion shared by the CoS film staff at large. Put on by the Chicago Film Critics Association, it’s a stellar week full of movies that you should really, really plan to see. (Full disclosure, before we continue: CoS Film co-editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer is a CFCA member, and other staff have been involved with CFCA events in the recent past.)
This is a different kind of high-tier film festival, one less beholden to the often prestige-based concerns of large-scale fests and more interested in what all film festivals should ostensibly be in the business of doing: getting good movies that people with honed tastes enjoy to a far larger audience. Festival co-founder Erik Childress attests to this: “Every festival is going to stand by their lineup, but there are also plenty of politics and justifications that come into programming them. Our festival is devoid of such politics. These are films we really like. Period. It is our only agenda.” Put another way by fellow festival figurehead (and CFCA VP) Brian Tallerico, “It’s the only film festival programmed entirely by working film critics. And we’re all volunteers. We don’t take a penny in salary or profit, so everything goes back into creating the experience instead of financial concerns.”
It’s a labor of love that has remarkably grown in just three years to include a killer crop of festival favorites (some of which the CoS staff was fortunate enough to catch earlier in 2015). From the Sundance-sweeping future indie hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to Bobcat Goldthwait’s acclaimed documentary profile of Barry Crimmins, Call Me Lucky, the 2015 CCFF is like a compilation of everything you heard was good at film festivals so far this year. There’s also some fun local color, like Kris Swanberg’s Unexpected, which was filmed all over Chicago, and relentless indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s latest, Digging For Fire.
Because the festival is assembled by a modest group (Childress and Tallerico, alongside Steve Prokopy, Peter Sobczynski, and Collin Souter), there’s a lot of groundwork involved in bringing a deliberately broad range of films to the Music Box each year. “It starts in earnest at the Toronto International Film Festival,” Childress describes. “That’s where the hard-target search begins for films we want to get the word out for and share with people. See 60-some films there. See another 100-plus at Sundance and South by Southwest, not to mention screeners from other fests and filmmakers, plus recommendations from colleagues to point us in various directions.” The CCFF offers a chance for curation, for big-buzz titles to sit alongside lesser-seen fare that might not be around again for a good while.
This year’s festival hits Me and Earl and the David Foster Wallace biopic (of a sort) The End of the Tour sit alongside more unheralded fare like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, a vivid animated feature adaptation of the titular Lebanese poet’s classic work, and Heaven Knows What, a gritty, neo-realist story about a young heroin addict in New York City. It’s like going to a film festival without all the option paralysis brought on by seven different screenings happening simultaneously at any given time, or the risk of poor speculation ruining a day of viewing. Childress understands that “after 10 years of covering festivals and having a couple experiences where I disliked far more films than I actually liked, I thought of how great it would be to go to a festival with the foreknowledge of the films that you should be seeing. As if you could go into the future, read the coverage of a couple festivals and then go back in time and just focus on the best and most intriguing of the lot.” It’s all of the fun with far less of the risk.
CoS Film will be at the CCFF all week long, offering coverage of various festival gems that we missed earlier in the year or didn’t have the chance to see at all. If you happen to be there, feel free to come say hello. And by all means, if you can, support a festival run by people who really just want to show you some great movies.
The Chicago Critics Film Festival runs from May 1st to 7th at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. For tickets and the full lineup, check out the official website.