The 2023 Chicago Critics Film Festival kicks off on Friday night at the historic Music Box Theatre with several Chicago premieres.
This is a film festival that offers something for everyone, whether you’re a Star Wars fan, theater fan, Paul Schrader fan, or even someone interested in the rise and fall of technology. Last year’s closing night was a night to remember. This year’s closing night selection is Theater Camp. The Sundance Film Festival award winner is hysterical and audiences have a chance to catch it during the Chicago Critics Film Festival before Searchlight Pictures opens the indie film later this year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be laughing up a storm.
Were you around when the Star Wars Holiday Special aired on CBS? Guess what? A new documentary, A Disturbance in the Force, is taking fans back to that moment as the film dives into the HOW THIS HAPPENED. Many Star Wars fans have sought out the holiday special through the years. It’s not legally available but portions are currently streaming on Disney+ as it introduced Boba Fett into the wider Star Wars universe. I watched the film back in March and it’s one that I highly recommend. It’s getting a late night screening during the 2023 Chicago Critics Film Festival on Saturday night if you’re able to stay up late.
This year’s program includes 20 feature films and two short film programs. Special event screenings include a 40th anniversary of The Right Stuff and the 25th anniversary of Dark City. Both are being presented in 35mm. The two short film programs will screen on May 6 and 9, respectively.
For more information on how to get tickets, please click here.
Chicago Critics Film Festival Feature Film Lineup
Director: Christian Petzold | 102 mins
A small holiday house by the Baltic sea. The days are hot and it hasn’t rained in weeks. Four young people come together, friends old and new. As the parched forests around them begin to ignite, so do their emotions. Happiness, lust and love; but also jealousies, resentments and tensions. Meanwhile the forests burn. And before long, the flames are there. (Sneak preview courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films.)
Screens Saturday, May 6th, 2:15pm
Director: Laura Moss (they/them) | 98 mins
Rose is a pathologist who prefers working with corpses over social interaction. She also has an obsession — the reanimation of the dead. Celie is a maternity nurse who has built her life around her bouncy, chatterbox 6-year-old daughter, Lila. One unfortunate day, their worlds crash into each other. The two women and young girl embark on a dark path of no return where they will be forced to confront how far they are willing to go to protect what they hold most dear.
Screens Saturday, May 6th, 7:15pm with Director/Co-Writer Laura Moss scheduled to attend
Director: Matt Johnson | 122 mins
‘BlackBerry’ investigates the brilliance of the individuals that invented the world’s first smartphone. Recounting the Canadian company’s humble yet chaotic rise to market dominance, ‘BlackBerry’ is a darkly comedic telling of the tragic tale of a Canadian company that revolutionized the way we communicate, before swiftly plummeting into obsolescence.
Screens Friday, May 5th, 7pm
Director: Georgia Oakley | 97 mins
In Georgia Oakley’s stunning directorial debut BLUE JEAN, it’s 1988 England and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government is about to pass a law stigmatizing gays and lesbians, forcing Jean (Rosy McEwen, in a powerhouse performance), a gym teacher, to live a double life. As pressure mounts from all sides, the arrival of a new student catalyzes a crisis that will challenge Jean to her core. The BAFTA-nominated film won the Venice Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award, as well as four British Independent Film Awards.
Screens Tuesday, May 9th, 4:45pm
Director: Ted Geoghegan | 92 mins
Friday, December 27, 1945. Five military veterans gather in the ornate parlor of a Brooklyn brownstone. Best friends since childhood, they’ve reunited to support their troubled host – but when his invitation for cocktails turns into an impromptu séance, the metaphoric ghosts of their past become all-too-literal. Trapped in their host’s lounge, the Greatest Generation now finds themselves put to one final test…with their only route to freedom being more bloodshed.
Screens Saturday, May 6th, 9:45pm with actor Jeremy Holm scheduled to attend
Director: Clement Virgo | 119 mins
Propelled by the pulsing beats of Toronto’s early hip hop scene, BROTHER is the story of Francis and Michael, sons of Caribbean immigrants maturing into young men. Exploring themes of masculinity, identity and family, a mystery unfolds during the sweltering summer of 1991, and escalating tensions set off a series of events that change the course of the brothers’ lives forever. BROTHER crafts a timely story about the profound bond between siblings, the resilience of a community and the irrepressible power of music.
Screens Sunday, May 10th, 7pm with director/co-writer Clement Virgo scheduled to attend
DARK CITY 25th Anniversary Screening presented in 35mm
Director: Alex Proyas | 100 mins
Alex Proyas’ 1998 film about a man struggling with memories of his past, which include a wife he cannot remember and a nightmarish world no one else ever seems to wake up from.
Screens Friday, May 5th, 11:59pm
A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE
Directors: Jeremy Coon, Steve Kozak | 85 mins
In 1977, Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon that single-handedly revitalized a stagnant film industry, and forever changed how films were sold, made, and marketed. Movies would never be the same again. A year later, neither would television. In 1978, CBS aired the two-hour Star Wars Holiday Special during the week of Thanksgiving; it was watched by 13 million people. Considered one of the worst shows ever broadcast, it was never re-aired. While some fans of the franchise are aware of the production, this bizarre two hours of television still remains relatively unknown among the general public. A Disturbance in the Force answers how and why the infamous Holiday Special got made.
Screens Saturday, May 6th, 11:59pm
ERNEST & CELESTINE: A TRIP TO GIBBERITIA
Directors: Julien Chheng, Jean-Christophe Roger | 80 mins
Ernest and Celestine are traveling back to Ernest’s country, Gibberitia, to fix his broken violin. This exotic land is home to the best musicians on earth and music constantly fills the air with joy. However, upon arriving, our two heroes discover that all forms of music have been banned there for many years – and for them, a life without music is unthinkable. Along with their friends and a mysterious masked outlaw, Ernest and Celestine must try their best to bring music and happiness back to the land of bears.
Screens Sunday, May 7th, 12pm
Directors: Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck | 88 mins | Documentary
What happens when humanity’s infatuation with itself and an untethered free market meet 45 billion cameras…Filmmakers Axel Danielson & Maximilien Van Aertryck (Ten Meter Tower, Jobs For All!) once again turn their cameras directly on society, this time to explore, explain and expose how our unchecked obsession with image has grown to change our human behavior. From Camera Obscura and the Lumieres Brothers all the way to Youtube and the world of social media, the film chronicles how we went from capturing the image of a backyard to a multi-billion- euro content industry in just 200 years. With an exclusive use of archival and found footage, the film uses the very medium it examines, in a self-reflective yet hilarious montage.
Screens Wednesday, May 10th, 5pm
Director: D. Smith | 73 mins | Documentary
KOKOMO CITY is the feature directorial debut of two-time Grammy-nominated producer, singer and songwriter D. Smith. Smith, who made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show, also filmed and edited this wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered documentary that passes the mic to four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City – Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver – as they hold nothing back while breaking down the walls of their profession. Executive produced by Lena Waithe, the film won the Sundance Film Festival NEXT Innovator Award and the NEXT Audience Award.
Screens Tuesday, May 9th, 9:45pm
LAKOTA NATION VS. THE UNITED STATES
Directors: Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli | 120 mins | Documentary
LAKOTA NATION VS. UNITED STATES chronicles the Lakota Indians’ quest to reclaim the Black Hills, sacred land that was stolen in violation of treaty agreements. A searing, timely portrait of resistance, the film explores the ways America has ignored its debt to Indigenous communities, and ponders what might be done today to repair the wrongs of the past.
Screens Sunday May 7th, 9:30pm
Director: Paul Schrader | 107 mins
Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens. He is as much devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate, as he is to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). However, chaos enters Narvel’s spartan existence when Mrs Haverhill demands that he take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as a new apprentice, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all.
Screens Sunday, May 7th, 2:15pm
Director: Ira Sachs | 91 mins
After completing his latest project, filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) impulsively begins a heated love affair with a young school teacher, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). For Tomas, the novelty of being with a woman is an exciting experience that he is eager to explore despite his marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw). But when Martin begins his own affair, the mercurial Tomas refocuses his attention on his husband. Set in contemporary Paris, PASSAGES charts an escalating battle of desire between three people, where want is a constant and happiness is just out of reach. Exquisitely shot and featuring honest, emotionally nuanced performances, Sachs has created a breathtakingly intimate and insightful drama exploring the complexities, contradictions, and cruelties of love and longing.
Screens Sunday, May 7th, 4:30pm
Director: Celine Song | 106 mins
Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they are reunited in New York for one fateful week as they confront notions of destiny, love, and the choices that make a life, in this heartrending modern romance.
Screens Tuesday, May 9th, 7pm with writer/director Celine Song scheduled to attend
Director: Alice Winocour | 105 mins
Three months after surviving a mass shooting at a Parisian bistro, Mia (Virginie Efira) is determined to reconstruct the sequence of events by bonding with fellow survivors, and piecing together their stories to rediscover her own.
Screens Wednesday, May 10th, 9:45pm
THE RIGHT STUFF 40th Anniversary Screening presented on 335mm
Director: Philip Kaufman | 193 mins
The U.S. space program’s development from the breaking of the sound barrier to selection of the Mercury 7 astronauts, from a group of test pilots with a more seat-of-the-pants approach than the program’s more cautious engineers preferred.
Screens Monday, May 8th, 7pm
Director: Zachary Wigon | 96 mins
A wickedly dark comedy follows dominatrix Rebecca (Emmy Award® nominee Margaret Qualley), and her wealthy client, Hal (Christopher Abbott), as they engage in a high stakes role playing game for power and control. In the wake of inheriting his father’s hotel chain, Hal attempts to end his long and secret relationship with Rebecca. A battle of wills ensues over the course of one incredibly fraught night, with both Rebecca and Hal struggling to keep the upper hand as the power dynamics swing wildly back and forth.
Screens Friday, May 5th, 9:45pm
STARRING JERRY AS HIMSELF
Director: Law Chen | 75 mins | Documentary
A family documents how their immigrant father Jerry, a recently retired Florida man, was recruited by the Chinese police to be an undercover agent, only to discover a darker truth.
Screens Thursday, May 11th, 5pm
Directors: Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman | 94 mins
THEATER CAMP follows the eccentric staff running a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York. After its indomitable and beloved founder falls into a coma, they must band together with her clueless “crypto-bro” son to keep the thespian paradise afloat.
Screens Thursday, May 11th, 7pm
THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY
Director: Morrisa Malz | 85 mins
An invitation to reunite with her estranged Lakota family launches a grieving young woman (Lily Gladstone) on an unexpected road trip from the Midwest toward the Texas-Mexico border.
Screens Saturday, May 6th, 4:45pm with director/co-writer Morrisa Maltz scheduled to attend
WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE
Director: Linh Tran | 89 mins
Best friends since high school, Kim and Amy haven’t seen each other since Amy moved to the west coast for grad school. Now the two are reunited as they join a group of friends for a trip to a lake house with Kim’s boyfriend, Jay. When Amy had left for the west coast, she was in love with Jay, though she never pursued it due to her insecurities thinking she was too fat and ugly. While she has changed physically, her feelings for Jay haven’t, and the reunion has brought them back to the surface. That maelstrom of emotions within her is poised to reveal itself at any moment as the group’s struggles to find something to do in the empty little beach town turns into an unsuccessful effort by all of them to sort through attractions to each other, as well as suppress old resentments, jealousies and desires before they leave.
Screens Sunday, May 7th, 7pm with director/co-writer Linh Tran scheduled to attend
The 2023 Chicago Critics Film Festival runs May 5-11, 2023 at the Music Box Theatre.
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