By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
Hundreds of films are available for screening at the upcoming 55th Chicago International Film Fest (CIFF), which started October 16 and runs through October 27. Films come from and show experiences locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Here’s a quick digest of a few that I was able to screen before they officially run during the fest, many of which will be released nationwide at some point after CIFF ends.
A Thief’s Daughter – Spain
Living in public housing with an infant in tow, Sara hustles to string together enough part-time work to move out; the 22-year-old is determined to make a better life for herself and rescue her kid brother from a foster home. Just as things start looking up, her ex-con father returns, threatening to upend her hard-won victories. This film shows the heart of Sara, as she tries to keep on track while wrestling with the unknown actions of her father.
Clemency – U.S. – Black Perspectives
Alfre Woodard delivers a searing performance as Bernadine Williams, a prison warden who dutifully carries out executions in a maximum-security prison. After a botched procedure, cracks begin to surface in her stoic demeanor, and her growing bond with a doomed inmate pushes Bernadine toward a powerful personal reckoning. In only her second feature and winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, director Chinonye Chukwu crafts an astute character study of a strong-willed woman trying to salvage what remains of her soul.
Hala – U.S.
The film follows 17-year-old Hala, played by Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers), as she navigates her senior year of high school and starts to develop feelings for her classmate. Raised in a conservative Muslim household, her growing attraction is at odds with her traditional upbringing. At the same time, she finds herself grappling with the knowledge of a secret that threatens to unravel her family. Executive Producer Jada Pinkett Smith and Director Minhal Baig bring this poignant story so well that the viewer feels Hala’s pain as she wears two masks—until she becomes free.
Just 6.5 – Iran
In this fast-paced cat-and-mouse thriller, detective Samad takes on a powerful drug kingpin in a fierce battle to stem the rising tide of drug addiction in Iran. Opening with a high-octane roundup of suspects and addicts that culminates in a punishing finale, the film tracks Samad as he tries to bring in top dealer Nasser. This film was a box-office hit in its homeland, and you can’t imagine the conditions under which drug addicts live and are eventually rounded up and incarcerated in Iran. Not to mention sentences of execution and the title’s meaning, which is revealed at the end.
Just Mercy – U.S. – Black Perspectives
“Just Mercy” is the true story of young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and his history-making battles for justice in Alabama. Stevenson refuses to back down as he fights a legal system without mercy stacked against him and his clients at every turn. One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man whose clear innocence means nothing to the corrupt and compassionless forces Stevenson doggedly takes on. This film is a Gala Presentation to be screened October 21. I will review this fully in an upcoming column.
Mother – Belgium – The Netherlands
This touching portrait follows two mothers whose stories converge in an eldercare facility in Northern Thailand—Pomm, a Thai woman devoted to her patients but heartbroken that she’s not around for her own children, and Maya, a Swiss grandmother suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. This film offers a sad commentary about the sacrifices that both caregivers and the families of those receiving care make—all for the good of the patient.
Once Upon A River – U.S.
After her father’s violent death, Native American teenager Margo Crane flees down Michigan’s Stark River in search of her estranged mother. On the way, she encounters allies, enemies, danger, and the beauty of nature, all while coming to grips with her past and her own identity. A Midwestern Gothic coming-of-age fable set along the riverbanks, Chicago musician-filmmaker Haroula Rose’s debut feature is provocative and a cinematic beauty.
Song Without A Name – Peru – U.S.
When Georgina, a penniless and pregnant young Quechuan woman, hears an ad for a women’s clinic in Lima, she travels to the free health center to give birth, only to have her newborn literally snatched away from her. The distraught mother frantically scours the city in search of her baby and for justice until she finds a journalist willing to take up her cause. Exacting black-and-white photography lends force and immediacy to this sorrowful, ripped-from-the-headlines tale of corruption, exploitation, and loss. This movie is so heart wrenching. When Georgina screams to see her baby after she gives birth, it just pierces your heart, and details about the “baby-snatching” business just made me livid. All screenings take place at AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St. For schedule and ticket information, visit https://www.chicagofilmfestival.com/.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, [email protected].