1. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)
2. Saint Frances (Thompson)
3. Memories of Murder (Bong)
4. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin)
5. High Life (Denis)
6. Wild Canaries (Levine)
7. Black Mother (Allah)
8. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
9. Buckjumping (Keber)
10. Bernadette (Psathos)
1. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)
My latest post for Time Out Chicago concerns my best bets for the Doc10 Film Festival.
Entering its fourth year, the Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival has established itself as an annual highlight for fans of cinema. Focusing on vital new non-fiction features from around the globe, the festival kicks off at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square on Thursday, April 11 with the much-anticipated local premiere of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documentary Knock Down the House, and concludes on Sunday, April 15 with the sustainable-farm portrait The Biggest Little Farm. The rest of the lineup features a diverse array of movies, almost all of which will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. Most impressively, 60% of the films in this year’s lineup—programmed by Chicago International Film Festival doc programmer Anthony Kaufman—were directed or co-directed by women.
One of the most interesting films you can catch at this year’s Doc10 Film Festival is Hail Satan?, a witty and informative look at the meteoric rise in popularity of the non-theistic religious group known as the “Satanic Temple.” With unfettered access to the leaders of the group’s various nationwide chapters, including charismatic church founder Lucien Greaves, director Penny Lane crafts a deceptively simple work of political commentary that ultimately sympathizes with the “Satanists” as a group of merry pranksters who see their movement as a counterbalance to the repressiveness of other organized religions.
For those looking for something more aesthetically daring, Lukas Lorentzen’s Midnight Family offers an eye-opening expose of Mexico City’s private ambulance system through the lens of one particular family-owned company, which competes with other for-profit EMTs to provide urgent care. Director Lorentzen uses a combination of handheld and dashboard-mounted cameras to put viewers in the middle of the action in the exciting ambulance-run scenes, lending his film the feeling of a thriller. The unconventional approach earned Midnight Family the award for Best Cinematography at this year’s Sundance Film Festival—an eccentric but deserving choice.
For more information on this year’s Doc10 Film Festival, including the full lineup, ticket info and showtimes, visit the festival’s official website.
1. Hoop Dreams (James)
2. Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-screen (Palm)
3. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
4. Nowhere to Hide (Lee)
5. Detour (Ulmer)
6. The Big Lebowski (Coen/Coen)
7. Midnight Family (Lorentzen)
8. Hail Satan? (Lane)
9. Us (Peele)
10. Medium Cool (Wexler)
It’s possible that I would never have become a filmmaker if not for Agnes Varda. It is certain that I wouldn’t have become the kind of filmmaker I did without the shining example of her films. The last script I wrote, a horror film titled The Vanishing Room contains an explicit homage to Cleo from 5 to 7, and the script I’m currently writing, a family dramedy titled Together Through Life, contains an explicit homage to The Gleaners and I. I first encountered Varda’s work when I saw the documentary The Young Girls Turn 25 at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1993. I was 18-years-old, had recently arrived in Chicago to attend theater school at DePaul and hadn’t even seen the film (Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort) that The Young Girls Turn 25 was ostensibly about. Yet I was instantly smitten by the curiosity and playfulness of her filmmaking eye. The experience of watching this film was not only my fortuitous introduction to the filmography of Agnes Varda but to the French New Wave as a whole. Over the years, I tried to watch as many of her films as I could and I loved her work so much that I eventually made her the subject of my first short-lived podcast in 2015. (You can hear me tell the full story of how The Young Girls Turn 25 changed my life in a conversation I had with critics Ben and Kat Sachs on episode 1 of The White City Cinema Radio Hour here.)
I had the great pleasure of meeting Varda in 2015 when she came to Chicago to attend a career retrospective of her films and an exhibit of her photographs titled “Photographs Get Moving” at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. I was invited to what was billed as a “press conference” with Varda about the photography exhibit. Then, at the last minute, the critics and journalists who had been invited to the event were told that Varda didn’t want to hold a formal press conference but instead wanted to merely talk to those of us who had come while giving us an informal tour of the gallery. The event ended up consisting of Varda talking to about a dozen people for 45 minutes and then offering to answer any questions we had. She had mentioned that she was working on a new film so I asked her if it was a feature or a short. She said it was a feature documentary that would be exactly 75 minutes long because that was the run time of The Gleaners and I, a length she considered ideal for non-fiction films. (The end result, Faces Places, would clock in at 90 minutes.) She also asked us if we knew the work of her co-director JR. I’ll never forget the look of surprise and pleasure on her face when Kat Sachs, sitting next to me, raised her hand.
The “press conference” ended with Varda announcing her personal e-mail address and inviting us to submit any further questions we had via e-mail. I took her up on the offer and asked if she wanted to do an interview for Time Out Chicago. I was astonished when she replied a few days later, apologizing for her tardiness and explaining that her days in Chicago were “full of activities and meetings” and that she hoped to find the time to do an architecture boat tour of the city. You can read the resulting interview, one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done, at Time Out Chicago here. I saw Varda again when she participated in a Q&A moderated by Jonathan Rosenbaum following a screening of Cleo from 5 to 7 at the Music Box Theater towards the end of her stay. Answering questions in person, she was as full of life and love and curiosity about the world as you would expect based on watching her movies. But she could also speak bluntly when trying to get her point across. The two things that I remember most from that Q&A: A young man asked her about working with Jean-Luc Godard on Cleo from 5 to 7, a question that elicited boos from several audience members. “No, no,” Varda cut them off. “Godard is a genius.” She went on to say that the cinema needs people like Godard and praised his innovative use of 3D in Goodbye to Langauge. Later, she mentioned that Madonna had purchased the American remake rights to Cleo, a project that never got off the ground. Several audience members laughed loudly at the prospect of this remake but Varda quickly disabused them of the notion that she thought this was a bad idea and said that she wished it had happened.
I’ve shown Cleo from 5 to 7, Faces Places and, my favorite, Vagabond, in various film studies classes over the years and I look forward to showing them all (plus The Gleaners and I, Happiness and more) many more times in the future. Rest in peace, Madame Varda. The world will not see your like again.
I will be the featured guest at the first Chicago Filmmakers Meet(UP) of 2019. This event will be held on Tuesday, April 2 from 7 to 9pm at the historical Edgewater firehouse at 5720 N. Ridge. Chicago-area filmmakers are welcome to network and discuss works-in-progress for the first hour then ask me any questions about my own work during the second hour. The event is free for Chicago Filmmakers members and $5 for non-members. There is free parking in the side lot (located on Hollywood Ave). More info here.
1. A History of Violence (Cronenberg)
2. JSA: Joint Security Area (Park)
3. Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago (Christopher)
4. To Sleep with Anger (Burnett)
5. The Lady from Shanghai (Welles)
6. Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Straub/Huillet)
7. Canyon Passage (Tourneur)
8. Tiger Milk (Wieland)
9. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
10. The Beach Bum (Korine)
I’ll be giving a talk on the 1893 World’s Fair and its impact on the nascent film industry at the Wilmette Public Library this Wednesday night. The event is FREE and open to the public. If you’re in the north shore suburbs, please consider swinging by!