On October 13 the Chicago International Film Festival returns for its 52nd year to showcase some of the best in international cinema.

Running the gamut from Hollywood-musical homage (Damien Chazelle’s festival-opening La La Land) to films by international auteurs like Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman) and Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come), this year’s lineup promises a diverse and much-anticipated array of films. But with around 200 films and several hundred screenings spread across two weeks, the options can be overwhelming. Here, CIFF programming director Mimi Plauché chooses the top five features from this year’s slate of films.


COUNTRY: United States

SHOW TIMES: Monday, October 17 at 7:30 p.m. ($20)

DETAILS: A late addition to the festival lineup, Jackie is one of two biopics directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín to screen at this year’s competition—the other is Neruda, about the Nobel prize-winning poet. Jackie similarly focuses on an extraordinary twentieth-century figure: former first lady Jackie Kennedy, played by Natalie Portman. “I think one of the interesting things about these films is they’re both unconventional in terms of narrative and style and in how they approach their subjects,” says Plauché. Expect awards to follow Larraín’s two films; he won last year’s best director award for The Club.

Catholics vs. Convicts

COUNTRY: United States

SHOW TIMES: Tuesday, October 25 at 5:15 p.m. ($15)

DETAILS: Chicago-born director Patrick Creadon takes a compelling look at the historic NCAA rivalry between Notre Dame and the University of Miami in the 1980s. An upcoming ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, Catholics vs. Convicts takes its name from T-shirts created by Notre Dame students in advance of the famous 1988 game between the two teams, which director Patrick Creadon attended as a student. Plauché says, “One aspect that fueled the rivalry was that the two teams were seen to represent very different approaches to the game.” Filmed partly in Chicago, Plauché says, “It’s a great sports story with a Chicago connection.”


COUNTRY: United States

SHOW TIMES: Saturday, October 15 at 5:45 p.m. ($15) and Sunday, October 16 at 8:15 p.m. ($15)

DETAILS: Christine retells the life of Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck in the 1970s. Plauché describes the film’s subject as “this news anchor who’s driven to tell compelling stories that she thinks are of interest to the community, all the while she’s feeling intense pressure from her colleagues to be more sensational.” Directed by Antonio Campos, Christine catalogs a portentous time in American news media. “Rebecca Hall plays [Christine] and it’s this really deep and dark performance of a woman in trouble who’s trying to do the right thing.” Tracy Letts, a mainstay of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, also stars and will be in attendance at the October 15 screening.

93 Days

COUNTRY: Nigeria

SHOW TIMES: Thursday, October 20 at 8:15 p.m. ($15), Friday, October 21 at 5:45 p.m. ($15) and Tuesday, October 25 at 3 p.m. ($8)

DETAILS: Steve Gukas’s 93 Days is a taut medical thriller about the doctors who worked to contain the spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria during the 2014 outbreak. “While the film is coming out of the Nollywood tradition, I think it brings an international appeal because of the story that it tells,” Plauché says. The film, whose cast includes Danny Glover, is part of this year’s “Black Perspectives” series, featuring a range of African and American cinema. “In the end, it’s a positive story about the way in which doctors were willing to sacrifice themselves to ensure the virus didn’t spread.” Director/producer Steve Gukas and Glover will be in attendance at certain screenings.

That Day We Sang

COUNTRY: United Kingdom

SHOW TIMES: Friday, October 21 at 5:45 p.m. ($15) and Sunday, October 23 at 2:45 p.m. ($15)

DETAILS: Featuring 11 musicals from eight different countries, this year’s festival spotlight is on the same genre of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Jacques Demy. “That Day We Sang was kind of the inspiration for deciding to focus on musicals,” says Plauché. The film’s title alludes to the 1929 recording of Henry Purcell’s “Nymphs and Shepherds” by the Manchester Children’s Choir, for which a reunion party occasions the meeting of the film’s protagonists played by West End veterans Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball. “The music in it is just fantastic,” says Plauché. “The dance numbers are great. It’s a great take on the classic Hollywood musical but with a contemporary update.” The film is also a parting gift from writer/director Victoria Wood—a dame of British comedy—who died of cancer earlier this year.