Prepare to be moved. The 50th Chicago International Film Festival kicks off tonight, and you've got some serious binge-watching to do. With 150 films from 50 countries squeezed into 14 short days, there are quite literally not enough hours in the week to see everything. To avoid consuming any empty filmic calories, I asked CIFF programming director Mimi Plauché for her favorites at this year's festival. Here's what she recommends.
Country: Norway, UK
Show times: Thursday, October 9 at 7 p.m. (Harris Theatre, $45-60)
Details: This year's opening-night flick plugs Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell into Strindberg's 1888 naturalist drama, adapted by longtime CIFF pal Liv Ullmann. "We've premiered every single one of her directorial efforts," says Plauché. "We're thrilled to have her at the festival." Also slated for an appearance: Colin Farrell. "He's going to do the red carpet, and he and Liv will be on stage before the screening."
Show times: Sunday, October 19 at 5 p.m. ($11-14)
Details: This newly rediscovered 1927 film was the last to star Colleen Moore, who helped launch the Chicago International Film Festival back in the 1960s. "When [CIFF founder] Michael [Kutza] was thinking about starting the festival—more than 50 years ago now—he was introduced to Colleen," says Plauché. "She was living in Chicago at the time, married to a Chicagoan, and was basically one of the people that really made the festival happen. She connected Michael with the Hollywood elite of the time, as well as Chicago socialites who all got behind the festival. I think in many ways Michael considers her not necessarily a co-founder, but a great supporter of the festival." The restored silent film and score get their North American premiere at the CIFF.
Show times: Monday, October 13 at 3:30 p.m. ($7), Thursday, October 16 at 8:30 p.m. ($11-14), and Friday, October 17 at 5 p.m. ($7)
Details: Boy meets girl, birds and bees abound, hilarity ensues. "Festival fare tends to be on the heavy side," says Plauché of this self-proclaimed screwball comedy about the onset of young parenthood. "We want to be sure people get their laughs in."
Country: USA, Russia
Show times: Tuesday, October 14 at 8:30 p.m. ($11-14)
Details: Directed by Chicago local Gabe Polsky, this hockey documentary recounts the Soviet Olympic team's 1980 loss in Lake Placid and subsequent victory in 1984. "It's really a portrait of [team captain] Slava Fetisov," says Plauché. "A lot of Soviet hockey players ended up coming to the US to play on NHL teams, and he was one of the last to come over, because there were so many restrictions in terms of their salaries going back to the state."
Show times: Friday, October 10 at 7:30 p.m. ($16-20)
Details: This North American premiere features nine films by nine directors from nine corners of the globe, each focused on a different regional faith. "The films [range from] funny, touching, deep, serious," says Plauché, "but they're all very different and very interesting."
The Chicago International Film Festival runs October 9-23 at the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois (Opening Night screening is at the Harris Theatre, 205 E. Randolph). Check out the entire festival schedule and purchase tickets here.