The 49th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is officially underway with a packed schedule filling houses at AMC’s River East 21 this weekend. Friday night’s highlight was a tribute to George Tillman, Jr., a Chicago native and Columbia College alum who found industry success directing Soul Food and Men of Honor, as well as producing Barbershop and Roll Bounce before bringing his new film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, to this year’s festival. ChicagoFilm brings you a few highlights from this weekend’s offerings of over 75 unique films, notably the superb documentaries The Exhibition and Brave Miss World.
The Exhibition (Canada). A deeply thought and expansive documentary, director Damon Vignale’s The Exhibition balances multiple stories and themes, principally the artistic process of Pamela Masik (a dead ringer for Angelina Jolie), who spent six years painting a behemoth series of portraits depicting the scores of victims of Canada’s most notorious serial killer, Robert Pickton, a pig farmer who brutally butchered 49 women, many of them drug-addicted prostitutes. After completing her series and en route to exhibition, she faced a severe public backlash from women’s rights advocates and victim’s families. But Vignale doesn’t stop here—the film digs deeply into the botched police investigation that led to the monstrous Pickton remaining free to kill for years after he was a suspect.Fascinating interviews with failed detectives, substance abusing reporters, street nurses, victims’ families, 911 operators, sex workers and criminology professors round out a large canvas examination of the objectification, destruction and discarding of women without voices—exactly what Masik was illuminating in her paintings, misconstrued by a public lynch mob crying exploitation. Still further, the picture digs deep into Masik’s own traumatic life history, giving us a detailed portrait of an artist—her scenes painting, furiously stalking the canvas and splattering paint as if on attack, are intense to say the least. While The Exhibition is a film about art as an act of social responsibility, Vignale has also fashioned a complex serial killer movie that is part investigative journalism, part gruesome procedural, part cultural indictment and part character study of the fascinating Masik. Shot with the gloss of an expensive Hollywood production feating ravishing cinematography and a haunting score, The Exhibition is about art, life, death, outrage, censorship and culturally sanctioned subjugation that likely led to a heinous number of innocent lives lost. Most highly recommended. 92 minutes. Saturday, October 12, 4:00 p.m. and Monday, October 14, 6:00 p.m.
Lasting (Poland/Spain). Naked, blonde, beautiful young Polish lovers – yes, there is a story too – working in Spain for a summer meet with an unexpected circumstances that lead to all sorts of brooding and emoting (and not enough character development) in a handsomely shot movie, chiefly concerned with framing model-looking young actors. Lasting is easy on the eyes but more a mood piece than compelling story, struggling to say something; what that is, exactly, is not quite clear. Watch for the dream-like, substance-fueled nightclub trip, slow-motion exoticism and symptomatic of this picture’s style over substance. It’s hard not to feel the film’s self-indulgence putting its pretty people through the paces without ever making us care. Polish, Spanish with subtitles. 93 minutes. Saturday, October 12, 3:45 p.m., Monday, October 14, 5:45 p.m. and Tuesday, October 15, 3:00 p.m.
Brave Miss World (USA). Heartrending documentary about 1998 Miss World Linor Abargil, an Israeli beauty who just two months prior to the title was the victim of a brutal rape at the hand of a Milanese tour guide.Abargil parlayed her post-pageant profile into a new life as an activist for other victimized women.Intensely personal on-camera interactions between Abargil and her family, friends and other victims reveal not just the impact of rape on the victim, but on those closest. Abargil’s journey is both therapeutic for her and liberating for other victims, and director Cecilia Peck’s ambitious documentary looks at reactions to rape – fear, shame, embarrassment, denial, acceptance–from Tel Aviv clinics to Ivy League seminars to Johannesburg women’s groups, and across a myriad of painful interviews that includes women from all walks including candid chats with stars Joan Collins and Fran Drescher. But it doesn’t stop there as Abargil meets with victimized men as well. “There is nothing to be scared of; the worst thing has already happened,” she comforts one victim, but it becomes increasingly clear that she must heed her own advice to reach a hard-won rebirth. English, Hebrew, Italian with subtitles. 92 minutes. Saturday, October 12, 3:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 13, 7:30 p.m.
Tough Bond (USA). “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,” reads the sign in a Nairobi clinic where a young woman tests positive, on camera, for the HIV virus. Such are the hardscrabble lives of the country’s generations of street children, abandoned by their parents and addicted to sniffing a powerful brand of glue named Tough Bond, a temporary transport from their dead end lives.Directors Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg select a handful of downtroddens trying to get by in a changing and dangerous world of crime, diseases and poverty, without so much as anyone to care. You won’t forget their names–Babyface, Peter, Sinbad and Akai face daily worries about food and the possibility of being raped; at least one dares to dream of a better future. Hypnotically shot in saturated imagery of cities and the countryside–indeed, it sometimes looks like the great Samsara–Peck and Vandenberg find gritty lyricism in the trapped-cycle lives. Feel good it definitely isn’t, and there is something deeply sad at work here in the casual acceptance of a death sentence diagnosis de rigueur for the milieu.There’s no sentimentalizing, just a clear-eyed look at mean streets that offer no solutions. Vice President of Kenya, Kalonzo Musyoka, appears on camera to offer that “A child does not belong to a family; rather to a whole community. Nobody can touch a glue-sniffing child for fear of legal repercussions. You don’t know whose child that is, or what community he has come from.” Devastating. Swahili with subtitles. 84 minutes. Saturday, October 12, 1:30 p.m.
The Infiltrators (Palestine/UAE/Lebanon). Palestineans work around the clock to scale a 7-meter wall into Jerusalem. West Bank filmmaker Khaled Jarrar, employing a handheld camera, charts the individual stories of separated families and employment seekers, hewing close to the faces of those who spend their lives dangerously crossing back and forth, sometimes passing food–and themselves–through the wall to the other side. The personal sacrifices of separation reach an apex during a scene where an aged mother and her adult daughter touch fingers beneath the wall, unable to reunite. Exploring a tapestry of smugglers and families, the picture details their ingenuity in circumventing law enforcement, always just out of sight. “Once I fell and broke my legs,” says one of the brave climbers, held down by military dogs after his fall.Jarrar employs a technically straightforward, even roughshod approach with a camera, and subjects, that never stop moving. Arabic with subtitles. 70 minutes. Saturday, October 12, 8:45 p.m. and Monday, October 14, 8:20 p.m.
Illiterate (Chile). Early in Illiterate is a scene where fifty-something Chilean Ximena (a terrific Paulina Garcia) travels to her local church, unable to read a sign that it has closed. Such begins her odyssey of self-actualization upon the arrival of a young, unemployed teacher (Valentina Muhr) committed to helping her learn to read and write. But this is merely the set-up for a character study of two women who debate literacy and verb conjugation while sharing personal revelations of the past. Weary Ximena’s shut-in apartment is the main location for this muted chamber piece, based on a play and co-adapted by director Moisés Sepúlveda with hallmark earnestness of a first-time filmmaker. While star Gargia is undeniably nuanced, the film feels calculatedly predictable right up to Ximena’s climactic reading of a letter from her troubled past. Spanish with subtitles. 73 minutes. Sunday, October 13, 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday, October 22, 1:00 p.m.
For additional information and tickets, please visit chicagofilmfestival.com.