59th Chicago International Film Festival Recap

L-R: Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry and Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo in May December. Photo credit: Francois Duhamel. Courtesy of Netflix

The 59th Chicago International Film Festival has come to an end and it has been among the least productive fests for Solzy at the Movies.

I didn’t not watch screeners going into the festival because of how the Jewish holidays fell. My initial plan had been to wait until after the end of Simchat Torah. As we all know, my plan to watch any screeners became impossible because the tragic attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. The two screeners with priorities were Haroula Rose’s All Happy Families and Clare Cooney‘s Departing Seniors. I owe filmmakers my undivided attention but this is really impossible right now. It’s only become increasingly impossible in the second week of the Israel-Hamas War with antisemitic tensions increasing across the globe.

I’m grateful to publicists for their understanding in why it’s extremely hard to focus right now. Like other Jews, I have a lot of friends and family living in Israel. My friends also have loved ones living there–some among the dead or hostages. As we enter the third week of the war, the impact on people living in the diaspora is growing. The ability to be productive with work is diminishing. Trust me, I’m trying. It is hard when one sees friends spreading disinformation or antisemitic blood libels. It is equally frustrating to find that the once safe spaces are becoming smaller and smaller with a number of LGBTQ spaces going full antisemitic.

Chicago International Film Festival
Chicago International Film Festival.

What I did manage to see are the following films:

  1. The Space Race – A must-watch documentary about the history of Black astronauts. If not for the JFK assassination, one wonders if a Black astronaut might have gone into outer space before the 1980s.
  2. The Killer – At the very least, the new David Fincher film got me out of my apartment. There are some funny moments and the film also features Chicago. Michael Fassbender does a good job though.
  3. The Mission – Sorry but I am not in the target audience for this documentary. At the very least, I only watched it for awards consideration. I will not be writing a formal review.
  4. May December – How am I supposed to choose between Natalie Portman and Margot Robbie for Best Actress? Portman and Julianne Moore are both phenomenal but it is what one expects from the film. Will Todd Haynes pick up an Oscar nomination for Best Director? I do not know.
  5. Occupied City – The film runs nearly 4.5 hours but thankfully, there is an intermission. Are you listening, Christopher Nolan?!? Anyway, it is nothing like I thought it would be going into the film. Rather than utilize archival footage, McQueen and company film their footage at locations standing during the Holocaust or in whatever took their place. While they mention Anne Frank’s name a few times, the film never goes to office complex where the Frank family hid during the war. Maybe it’s for the best with how many of us are familiar with the Frank story. There are many other stories and the film manages to make them known. The film misses an opportunity to end with the singing of “Adon Olam.”

I would have seen Memory but the press screening was cancelled. I could not attend other films because of having scheduling conflicts. This includes The Zone of Interest. While there were a number of press screenings held going into the fest, a previously scheduled Denver trip meant that I could not attend. Even if I wasn’t in Denver, there’s no guarantee that I would have been able to focus during a screening in light of October 7. Not even Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon was the distraction that I needed it to be.

The Jewish holidays start on Wednesday nights next October so I expect my fest coverage to not be productive in 2024.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.