The recent Chicago Film Festival, which has enjoyed 54 years of bringing film stars and those connected to the film industry from all across the world to Chicago, also brought out Black industry principals.
From the red carpet, opening night film presentation of “Beautiful Boy,” which saw Andre Royo (“Empire’s” Thirsty) and Chicago’s theatre darling Regina Taylor in attendance, to the Black Perspectives Career Achievement Award tribute to “Black Panther” costume designer Ruth Carter, who was humbly interviewed by Taylor, there were a slew of films that attracted festival-goers from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and ethnicities. Moreover, many Black-themed films were screened that may enjoy independent runs, but many are either in theaters now or are coming up on the horizon.
Festival-goers also presented the Audience Award for Best English-language feature to George Tillman, Jr.’s powerful and moving “The Hate U Give.” Pernille Fischer Christensen’s “Becoming Astrid,” a biopic about Astrid Lindgren (author of the “Pippi Longstocking” books), took home the best foreign-language feature Audience Award honor; Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown’s “United Skates,” a rousing tribute to roller skating’s pivotal role in the African-American community, won the Documentary Audience Award honor; and the Audience Award for Best Short Film was presented to Darius Clark Monroe’s “Black 14,” a reflection on power and control in 1960’s America that uses archival footage to tell the story of a racial protest at the University of Wyoming.
In addition, the Gala Presentation of the acclaimed new film “Widows” included red carpet appearances by director and co-screenwriter Steve McQueen, stars Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo and Brian Tyree Henry, author and co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and producer Iain Canning.
“We are grateful to so many for making this year’s Festival such a remarkable success,” said Managing Director Vivian Teng. “We want to acknowledge the groundswell of support we received from so many people, including our Governing Board, sponsors, the film community worldwide, our hard-working juries, hundreds of volunteers, and most of all, the dedicated audiences that packed so many houses and enthusiastically embraced innovative filmmaking from across the globe.”
I was able to screen a few of the films, and the award given to “United Skates” was well deserved.
A rousing tribute to roller-skating’s pivotal role in the African-American community, “United Skates” careens around the country, offering an intimate look at a lively subculture that’s under threat. Facing discriminatory policies and rink closures, committed skaters from around the country—including Chicago’s own Buddy Love—fight to preserve a space for people to come together and express themselves in sliding, bouncing, snapping glory.
Chicago Public School students were also given special treatment during the Festival’s “Educating the Next Generation” event. Cinema/ Chicago’s Education Program welcomed nearly 2,000 students from 36 Chi- cago Public Schools to exclusive screenings of some of the Festival’s most compelling films with filmmakers and special guests in attendance.
The education lineup included “The Hate U Give,” “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” and “United Skates.” Students had the opportunity to engage with filmmakers and film subjects, making connections between the films and their own lives on a meaningful level. At the education screening of “United Skates,” Harper High School educator Papedia Evans said, “The screening experience exceeded my expectations.” At both “The Hate U Give” and “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” screenings, students jumped at the chance to ask Amandla Stenberg about her experiences as well as talk one-on-one with Sandra Bland’s sister Shante Needham, family Attorney Cannon Lambert, and directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner.
The icing on the cake was the tribute to Ruth Carter, which brilliantly rolled out her more than 30-year career of designing awesome costumes for movies such as “School Daze,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Against the Ropes,” “Four Brothers,” “Chi-Raq,” “Marshall,” and the most recent “Black Panther,” among dozens of others. As Black moviegoers marvel at the costumes in many films that they may love, it must be noted that many of these clothes have been designed by Carter.
Taylor mentioned her gratitude to Carter as it concerned Taylor’s role as the mom in “Clockers.” Taylor said that when she put on her clothes for the film, Carter had imbued into the clothes the stature and confidence that Taylor needed to expertly portray the role. Carter shared a story about working on the set of “Amistad” and really feeling as if she were transported back to slavery times. She recalled the actors chained and shackled at the neck, while well-dressed white men examined them like cattle. This experience, according to Carter, had an unsettling lasting impression upon her and was one of the times where she felt that the world of Hollywood had merged with reality.
In total, the 54th Chicago International Film Festival hosted more than 150 filmmakers and special guests from more than 20 countries, honoring both established and emerging talents in the art of cinema. The Festival presented 175 films, comprised of 124 features and 51 shorts, from 58 countries. There were 65 sold-out shows, exceeding last year’s sold-out films by more than 50 percent. If you missed the Festival this year, mark your calendars for the 55th Chicago International Film Festival, which will place October 16-27, 2019, with screenings held at AMC River East.