Chicago International Film Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauché took some time to speak with Solzy at the Movies about this year’s film festival. While we spoke about some of the challenges that come with programming a festival, Mimi tells me the names of films that might be under the radar.
Last year saw your first festival since the promotion from programming director to artistic director. With the promotion, you’ve become one of the very few women to hold that title of artistic director. What does this say about the cinema-going world?
Mimi Plauché: I do think that things are shifting and that you do see more and more women. I think there’s a lot of programming directors that are women and many who really take the reins of the programming with each festival. But I do think that there are going to be more and more women in the artistic director role as well. So I think in being named it—I’m probably part of a larger movement that might be slow and happening but I think there’s movement in that direction.
With this being your first full year in the role, what has been the most noticeable difference?
Mimi Plauché: This will be my 13th Festival. I’ve been working side by side with Michael for many, many years. So I would say over time, it’s really been more of a transition than suddenly everything was different. So it’s hard to say that there’s just one thing except that I think there has been—as with the shift that hat was already happening—more responsibility. Michael is becoming less and involved over time but he’s still very much involved in the programming because he loves film. But just in terms of really kind of determining the shape of the program, what the priorities are, working with a programming team, and kind of shaping that, I think there’s some more noticeable shift this year.
What’s the most challenging thing that comes with programming the festival?
Mimi Plauché: One of the biggest challenges is that the number of submissions that we get just increases so dramatically from year to year. And with that, there’s more films to choose from and more good films since it is so part of it is really just finding the films that are right for that here or that fill out the program in the right way. We’re always looking for a diversity of styles of where films are coming from really just to show kind of what the international cinema landscape is looking like at this moment but in is best form. Part of the big challenge is just overseeing and making sure we’re getting through all those entries of all of the films that are being sent to us and just making sure that we’re also seeking out the best as well.
Are there films playing at the same time that in the ideal world would not be playing against each other?
Mimi Plauché: Every once in a while that happens. We do our very—you mean in terms of like thematic content or similarity in terms of style or country of origin?
Mimi Plauché: We do our very best to avoid that because sometimes we’ll plan something like if you’re a lover of Italian cinema—especially this year where we have so many Italian films—we want to make sure that you could possibly see not just all of them but maybe two or three back to back. It is something that we’re constantly thinking about when we put the program together. What are the small adjustments that we can make so that whether it’s a lover of French cinema or genre films that we’re giving you the opportunity possibly to see everything from a certain program or from a certain country or maybe just see them back to back. We try to be very strategic about our scheduling to provide opportunities for festival goers.
As far as features go in this year’s fest, there’s about 30 percent directed by woman. Do you see that number climbing higher next year?
Mimi Plauché: I think there’s a great potential for it. One of the things that’s so nice is looking at the percentage of films directed by women that we’ve programmed over the last few years. I think three years ago, it was closer to the low 20 percent and now we’re kind of mid-30 percent. And so there’s definitely—in terms of our programming—been a shift in that direction. But I do anticipate that that will increase funding from year to year.
There are a number of prominent films playing the gala program this year. Were there any titles that you would have loved to have seen play Chicago but were not able to get?
Mimi Plauché: There’s always one or two that gets away but we like to talk about the films that are in the program rather than what’s not in the program. There’s so many prominent titles that there’s I think so many great high profile films to choose from as well as lesser-known films and filmmakers.
I just went to my first Toronto and I had 70 films on my short list. I couldn’t even get to all of those. A number of them are here.
Mimi Plauché: Physically, it’s impossible.
Many of these films played Venice, Telluride, and Toronto while making stops in New York and maybe even LA beforehand. What kind of role do you see Chicago playing with regards to the Oscar race?
Mimi Plauché: I know that Chicago is obviously the third largest market in the country so in terms of exposure for the films, I think the festival and the city are very important in terms of not just the critical attention but also the audience attention for the cinephiles that would be the ones who tend to go to the awards contenders as well as the Academy members and the critics that are here. So I think it’s an important market for those films and the festival often serves of course as the launching point for titles in the fall.
Among the films that are playing the Chicago International Improv Festival, is a title that people are not talking about enough?
Mimi Plauché: I can tell you a title from each section that I feel that we feel that it’s just as strong but maybe because it’s from another country or just the content maybe it’s flying kind of under the radar.
In the international competition, I think many of the directors are already kind of known quantities but some of them, like you mentioned, had their premiere at Cannes or another festival. I think one that’s maybe a little bit maybe under the radar would be Animal and we do have the U.S. premiere of it. It’s the directorial debut of Armando Bo. He’s an Academy Award winner—he co-wrote Birdman. It’s an Argentinean film that I think is incredibly strong—but again because it is his first feature as a director, maybe he’s like a less now than say Olivier Masset-Depasse.
For the New Directors Competition, obviously these are all first-time or second-time directors and all the films in this competition are at least the U.S. premieres of them. I think there’s a number of films in here that are worthy of attention. For me, it’s the most exciting program in the festival because they are filmmakers that we’re unfamiliar with their work. And it’s from a broad range of countries. I would just suggest a film directors competition because I really think you just can’t go wrong with in terms of if you’re looking for something new or different. But I think there’s a great Russian film called Core of the World that might be under the radar.
In the Documentary competition, it’s also such a strong line up and I think for people who think they know what documentary is or what a documentary might look like—a lot of these films in the documentary competition will challenge what your expectations are because they take a different approach or are a different style than we’re used to. Not a lot of talking heads in the documentary competition. One that I would draw attention to would be The Dread, which is from Argentina and it’s almost ethnographic portrait but it’s not a strict ethnographic portrait of a community that deals with the kind of thinking about and treating illness in a very different way. It centers around this one kind of malady that they call the dread that can only be cured by one man. It’s a very interesting sometimes humorous portrait of a community in rural Argentina.
In the out-of-competition documentaries, one that I found particularly fascinating was Mr. Soul, which is about Ellis Haizlip, was really a pioneer in television and showcasing African-American culture on national broadcast. It was through a New York public television station. Through the show, so many of them—whether it was a singer, a poet or dancer who became iconic figures in the American cultural landscape—were for the first time were introduced to a broader audience through his television show. It was the first show of its kind that was made by and for an African-American community. So I thought that was fascinating.
In our Masters section, I think probably there’s a lot of known quantities in there so I cam probably move on
In World Cinema—these are out-of-competition fans but again it’s not because they’re any less worthy. I think it just shows a broader range of the landscape of international cinema. Two that were later additions to the program that I think are quite interesting and are really early in their careers as films—we have a South Korean song called Clean Up and it’s about a relationship between a woman and a young man who’s just getting out of prison. They both are working for the same company that just kind of cleans up any mess whether it’s after someone’s death or any kind of mass that you can imagine. But what comes out is that they actually have a past relationship that he can’t remember because he was a boy and that she’s afraid that might be revealed. So there’s kind of a mystery at the heart of a story that’s also about very human relations.
Another one that was a little bit of a later edition is called The Good Girls, which I just think is such a really smart and very stylish film that kind of skewers upper middle class, upper class of the Mexican elite that is very specific in that setting in the 1980s and there’s an economic crisis. I think there’s so many reflections of how we might be thinking about what’s going on today and what was happening then. Just very, very sharp and very stylish.
I guess the last section to talk about is our comedy section. I think it was something we have been talking about for a while and finally decided to do this year—celebrating the comedic tradition in Chicago and what Chicago brings to it. Also, we’ve had some great successes with international comedies over the last several years. So what we were looking for is really just a broad range of comedies that represent different styles but that can also transcend the cultural limitations because I think sometimes with the broader comedies they become very culturally specific but we had a lot of fun programming it.
One that I would bring up would be Flammable Children, which is by Stephan Elliott, who did The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. One of the things that I think is beautiful about it is—it’s also tied into his childhood, his first love of filmmaking and all the crazy adventures and stuff that he and his friends do. But just growing up kind of in the singing 70s and how the atmosphere in his neighborhood with his family and the families living in the same neighborhood the community—how that impacted the children but also it’s an homage to childhood and his love of filmmaking is from an early age.
Thanks again for your time.
Mimi Plauché: I hope you see some films you like. You should enjoy the comedies. It’s a nice selection of also different styles of comedies—some more subtle and some in your face. I think all are pretty intelligent.