By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
I have been able to virtually screen a few films that are available for moviegoers during the 56th Chicago International Film Festival, which is running until Sunday, October 25, 2020. With the 2020 tagline “Film Can Take You There” the 2020 Festival, created by award-winning advertising agency Ogilvy, celebrates cinema’s power to transport audiences anywhere they want to go, be it a far-flung land or a state of mind. The virtual festival experience brings film lovers together, defying boundaries, restrictions and quarantines.
The following are just a few of the more than 50 feature films and nine short film programs being offered. Some films are being screened at a local drive-in theatre, as well as virtually.
After 17 years apart, Walter’s wife Esther and daughter Sylvia arrive in New York from Angola; time apart has rendered them virtual strangers, and the three must find a way to reconnect. This beautifully conceived film captures the immigrant experience with complexity and nuance. There were familiar actors in this film about the trials of a newly united family. Walter, played by “The Chi’s” Ntare Mwine, has been on his own in New York for nearly two decades, he had a girlfriend and had made a decent living for himself. When Esther and Sylvia arrive, there is a learning curve for all of them. For example, Esther is deeply religious, which is a different lifestyle than what Walter has been living. Sylvia is trying to acclimate to her new school and surroundings, but she has a good deal of forbidden help from “Black-ish” star Marcus Scribner.
It is a tough road, but finally after a few tears and hard feelings shared throughout the family, they meet up in the end and avoid another separation.
In 2017, Chinese student Yingying Zhang went missing just weeks after arriving at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Former classmate Jiayan “Jenny” Shi investigates the mystery surrounding Yingying’s disappearance and its devastating impact on her family and her community.
I don’t think you have to be a mother to have empathy for Yingying’s family. She was a brilliant student and destined to do great things. Her life was cut short because she naively accepted a ride from a man who would later be described as a monster—Brendt Christensen. He was later sentenced to a life sentence in her kidnapping and disappearance.
It’s heartbreaking, but young director Shi did this documentary justice. It is a well-done portrait of not only the disappearance, investigation, and jury trial surrounding Yingying but a beautiful portrait of life in her native China, as well.
It should come as no surprise that the FBI mounted a relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but this astonishing documentary reveals both the shocking details of the operation and the complexity of the iconic man in its crosshairs. Using newly discovered and declassified files, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sam Pollard provides interviews with dozens of people, including James Comey, Andrew Young and King historians.
In the 1950s and 1960s, FBI Director Edgar J. Hoover was obsessed with Dr. King and his meteoric rise within the country and the world over, as Dr. King aligned with others to promote peace while fighting for social and racial justice for Blacks and poor people. Files that were supposed to be released in 2027 were released a few years back, and this information is what is shown in this documentary.
Allegations of Dr. King cheating on his wife, Coretta Scott King, seemed to give Hoover great pleasure, as he doggedly planted bugs in hotel rooms and in the phone of Dr. King’s attorney, Clarence Jones. Hoover also made up allegations, as it beat him up that Dr. King won a Nobel Peace Prize.
There are many revelations shared in this explosive documentary, in which Dr. King was called a “racial agitator.” Hoover feared “the rise of a Black Messiah” and also thought that King was “morally unfit to be the leader of the Black man.”
Watch the film, and you decide.
The Road Up
From the award-winning team behind the Chicago International Film Festival hit documentary “Louder than a Bomb” comes this inspiring and emotional film following Jesse Teverbaugh, a charismatic leader at the job-training program Cara, as he mentors four Chicagoans during their precarious journey from homelessness, addiction, and incarceration to stable employment.
This is an inspiring film that follows about 20 students in the job training four-week boot camp, but particularly Alisha, Tamala, Clarence and Kristen. Teverbaugh is a stern taskmaster, but tough love is needed to help the group get back into the workforce and become productive members of society again. With these accomplishments, they become independent.
The group of folks in the Cara program works hard, and are given many tools and resources in order to make it. Some don’t stay the course, and that’s understandable because the drills and sessions can be hard to get through.
In the end, Teverbaugh always lends a helping hand and a listening ear. His own road to Cara is filled with its own setbacks—a story that is better received and more appreciated at the end of the boot camp, as opposed to the beginning. “The Road Up” shows what good can be done to get those who have fallen on hard times back into living with meaning.
Any Crybabies Around?
In this sensitive, assured drama, rising star Taiga Nakano plays young parent Tasuku, who flees to Tokyo in shame after being caught drunk and naked on national TV during a local festival. After years of rock-bottom city living, he returns home, ready to embrace adulthood. But will the town and his family have him back?
This story shows an ancient tradition in Tokyo, with the men trying to keep the annual rites going. Tasuku’s misgivings are hard to forgive—so to speak—as he’s brought shame on himself, his wife, and family members. He doesn’t seem to have stayed away from home long enough, and it is a hard road uphill trying to gain the respect of his family and his village.
For more information about tickets and schedules, and films, directors and actors for all films, including the Black Perspective slate that includes “One Night in Miami,” “Mama Gloria,” “Sylvie’s Love,” “Bad Hair” and “40 Years a Prisoner,” visit https://www.chicagofilmfestival.com/.