Critics film fest showcases movie debuts, directors in Chicago
The idea of a film festival programmed by bona fide working movie critics is hardly news.
Roger Ebert more or less did that when the Overlooked Film Festival started in downstate Champaign, before it morphed into Ebertfest, which just wrapped up last week.
Next week, the rest of Chicago's film critics get in on the action. They're launching the third Chicago Critics Film Festival, May 1 through 7 at Chicago's historic Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
So far, the schedule includes 22 features with 11 directors confirmed for personal appearances, along with special guests, such as "Avengers: Age of Ultron" star Cobie Smulders, visiting.
The opening night selections include Joe Swanberg's "Digging For Fire" starring Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. Swanberg, a graduate of Naperville Central High School, will be on stage after the show.
Closing night selections include director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal. The director will be on stage after the show as well.
The CCFF started at the Muvico Rosemont 18 Theater before moving to the Music Box last year. But it began in the brain of Elk Grove Village movie critic Erik Childress, contributor to efilmcritic.com and WGN Radio.
So, I asked Childress, who sits on the board of directors for the Chicago Film Critics Association, what inspired him to come up with the idea of critics creating and programming their own film festival.
"After a decade of attending and covering film festivals, I thought, how great it would be to create a festival consisting solely of the films that stood out on the circuit," he said.
"Instead of regretting what you missed in a schedule of more than 100 choices of films to see, there would be one place, one theater with a collection of the best unreleased titles. And who better to do that than the film critics I know?"
Yet, putting on a major-market film festival takes a lot of effort and a lot of people.
"For your average film festival," Childress said, "hundreds, maybe even thousands including volunteers."
How many for the Chicago Critics Film Festival?
"For this festival, you could almost count on two hands those putting together all the details, from seeing and choosing the films to ironing out the scheduling and guest arrangements. This includes the Music Box staff, friends and colleagues who donate their time and energy to make this event happen."
The toughest part of producing a film festival, at least outside of raising funds, Childress noted, is the waiting.
"That's the nail-biting part," he said. "When we see a film, we love a film, and we invite that film to our festival, we wonder, will the film be released before our festival? Will the timing fit? Will the filmmakers say yes? Yadda, yadda, yadda."
For him at least, Childress said waiting for filmmakers to say "Yes, we want our movie to be in your festival" is like waiting for Christmas morning. Or waiting for that big summer movie he's been looking forward to for months.
Childress produces the festival with Chicago critic Brian Tallerico of rogerebert.com. The two have been joined at the e-hip for months before the festival, leading a group of Chicago critics as they work out scheduling kinks and make sure guests are properly accommodated.
When it's all done, is there much difference between this festival and other major festivals?
Yes, Childress said.
"Here you have a weeklong festival that offers both the casual and serious cinephile a stamp of approval on every single film from respected professional film critics," Childress said. "No film is left behind in the competition against a hundred other films on a festival's schedule."
The Chicago Critics Film FestivalWhen: Friday, May 1, through Thursday, May 7
Where: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Tickets: Prices vary for individual events, $150 for a full festival pass
Schedules and information: chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com