Two things everybody around here is talking about: fashion and film. We’re coming upon Fashion Focus Chicago, a week of hoopla surrounding local designers and local retailers. I’ll be blogging the whole thing, camera in tow. I dreamt last night that I was sitting at a fashion show, and I was naked. It freaked me out. Why would I go to an event naked? I assure you, I will be wearing clothes. What exactly those clothes are will be determined this weekend; I’m spending Saturday popping into my favorite vintage shops.

Fashion aside, it’s also time for the Chicago International Film Fest. And since I can’t possibly be two places at once, I’m thrilled that Chicago’s web editor, Esther Kang, will be scouting the fest. So for the next few weeks of Coda, you get two bloggers instead of one! Read her scoop on opening night:


Opening Night at the Chicago International Film Festival

The last time I was inside the beautiful and lavish Chicago Theatre was in May 2006, when Conan O’Brien taped a week of shows in town. The audience mostly was made up of obnoxious college students and people with asinine and arbitrary senses of humor like myself. Good times.

Left to right: Director Marc Forster, Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini, and actor Khalid Abdalla on the red carpet

The audience in the theatre at the opening night of the Chicago International Film Festival on Thursday night was quite different, to say the least, but the program was enjoyable nonetheless. The kickoff to the two-week festival included red-carpet arrivals, a tribute to Roger Ebert, and the premiere of The Kite Runner, a film by director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, Monster’s Ball) based on best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini.

I’ll leave the film criticism to the professionals and instead dish on the red carpet, the Ebert tribute, and the list of films I hope to catch in the next two weeks.

Shortly after 5 p.m., the red carpet was rolled out—I mean, kicked out. They don’t lay that thing out gingerly; two gruff guys slam the rolled-up rug onto the floor and start kicking it open rather violently. Posters of The Kite Runner replaced those ever-present Shear Madness signs; the CIFF banners were propped up; and in a matter of minutes, the preparations were done.

Forster arrived first (behind schedule), flanked by author Hosseini and lead actor Khalid Abdalla. The video folk were all on one side of the carpet, the still photographers on the other. So when Forster was being interviewed, all we got were shots of the back of his shaved head. He has a nicely shaped head, so it wasn’t all bad.

Roger Ebert arrives at the opening of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Some time later, Ebert arrived with his family and went through the same gauntlet of TV reporters. Unable to speak without a synthesizer since his surgery to remove thyroid cancer in 2003, his wife Chaz spoke on his behalf on the red carpet as Ebert smiled and gave his signature thumbs-up.

The ceremony inside was a touching but light-hearted tribute, complete with a video montage of Hollywood actors and directors like Martin Scorcese and Clint Eastwood congratulating the film critic, whom Forbes named the nation’s top pundit this year.

“The man who changed the way we watch movies, your lifetime contribution to film has opened the eyes and mind and hearts of people to the magic and power of cinema,” said Michael Kutza, founder of the Chicago Film Festival.

Ebert took the podium to receive his award and spoke a few words using his synthesizer. His wife then asked the audience for prayers for his next round of surgeries, which are scheduled for November.

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As for the rest of the festival, there are 160 films from 44 countries playing in the next two weeks. Check out the list on the CIFF website and build your own schedule. Here are a few of my picks, in order of interest:

1. Chicago 10: about the anti-war protesters who went on trial after the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago
2. The Aerial: filmed in black and white, a very stylish-looking allegory about free speech
3. Beaufort: a war drama about Israel’s evacuation of a mountaintop fortress in Lebanon in 2000
4. Taxi to the Dark Side: a documentary about Bush’s torture policies in Afghanistan. Man, my movie tastes sure sound depressing.
5. America the Beautiful: Chicago filmmaker Darryl Roberts’ documentary about female body image issues in the U.S.
6. Gone Baby Gone: J-Lo may have ruined his career, but Ben Affleck’s directorial debut stars his little brother Casey, who’s a pretty decent actor, I think. It opens at a multiplex near you in a couple of weeks, but you can catch a glimpse of the famous siblings if you attend on Wednesday, Oct. 10.
7. Home of the Giants: my sports film fix and a chance to see the work of Northwestern University alum Rusty Gorman, who wrote and directed the movie. It stars the kid from The Sixth Sense, all grown up and looking like Dennis Kucinich.

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What the critics said about Kite Runner:

Roger Ebert in the Sun Times: Opening-night patrons of the Chicago film festival will feel like they won the lottery.

Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips: Stilted ‘Kite’ Fails to Soar

J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader: “I’d recommend this, but only if you liked The English Patient.” 

Photography: Esther Kang