What's Playing at CIFF

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The 44th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival (we're gonna be lazy and use the acronym from here on out), which runs October 16-29, might be the most ambitious yet: more than 175 films from at least 45 countries. The schedule won't be online until next week (and a printed schedule will be in the October 1 issue of the Reader), but we have the full listings in front of us. And we're excited to share some of the highlights to whet your appetite!

There are no movies about Iraq this year. But there are plenty of political ones, and they seem to aim for their targets using clever methods. For instance, at least two films (Ice, Sleep Dealer) use dystopian sci-fi to make their points. The former is an anime tale about a future in which only women survive, battling each other for survival in the ruins of Tokyo. The latter imagines a militarized, closed-border existence in Santa Ana and Tijuana. Historical dramas about the IRA (Hunger) and Poland circa 1939 (Katyn, nominated for an Oscar last year) join contemporary examinations of the Neapolitan mafia (Gomorrah) and the effect of socialism on the Chinese people (24 City) to roil the audience's worldview.

And there are plenty of provocative documentaries. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story promises a sharp look at the "father of the smear campaign," while Be Like Others chronicles a group of twentysomething males in Iran, "diagnosed" by the State as transsexuals. A new sidebar at this year's festival, Green Screen, includes documentaries about global warming (The Arctic: Change at the Top of the World) and environmental activism (They Killed Sister Dorothy). In fact the documentary lineup looks outstanding. There is Terrence Davies' remembrance of his Liverpool childhood (Of Time and the City), which has already gotten raves; Pressure Cooker, about a culinary arts boot camp for high school seniors; and Wesley Willis's Joyrides, which explores the life of the idiosyncratic Chicago artist and musician.

There's plenty of star power on display too. Directorial debuts by Gael García Bernal (Déficit) and Jada Pinkett Smith (The Human Contract) are featured as well as new films from Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, with Seth Rogan), and Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) will be featured. Aronofsky's has all the buzz because of Mickey Rourke's performance, which some are speculating just might be his ticket to an Oscar (!)

And briefly, there are lots of sinister-sounding titles that intrigue us: Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance, with Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman; Fears of the Dark, a creepy animated omnibus; The Chaser, a thriller from Korea about an ex-cop-turned-pimp; an atmospheric tale of a small town's bizarre secrets (Terribly Happy); and the dysfunctional holiday saga A Christmas Tale, which Gabe Klinger says "reminded him why he loves movies so much."

Be sure to stop by the festival website, where you can purchase passes and sign up for festival updates, and keep your eyes peeled here in October for our extensive coverage of the CIFF.

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