COLUMN: 50th Chicago International Film Festival special events

  (Image: chicagofilmfestival.com)

(Image: chicagofilmfestival.com)

The 50th Chicago International Film Festival opened this Thursday, October 9th, with an Opening Night Gala featuring "Miss Julie," the new film from director Liv Ullmann starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell.  The film was presented at a red carpet event at The Harris Theater and be followed by a reception at the Sidney Yates Gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center.  Ullmann herself and Colin Farrell were in attendance for that event to kick things off.  Over the course of the two and a half weeks that follow, over 300 more films and events will take place primarily at the AMC River East 21 theater on 322 East Illinois Street.  Best of all, this whole extravaganza is open to the public.  For this watershed anniversary, several special presentations are planned.

Since starting in 1965, the Chicago International Film Festival has operated as the country's oldest competitive international film festival.  Following "Miss Julie" and the Opening Night Gala, two films will be featured as the Festival Centerpieces.  Both films will screened on Wednesday, October 15th. 

First up is "The Last 5 Years" directed by Oscar-nominated writer Richard LaGravenese ("The Fisher King" and "P.S., I Love You").  The film stars Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan and is based on the Off-Broadway musical of the same name that debuted right here in Chicago at the Northlight Theatre in 2001.  The director himself is scheduled to be in attendance for this Festival Centerpiece event.  The film screens at 6:00pm on October 15th.  Secondly, "St. Vincent," the dramatic comedy from newcomer Ted Mefti and starring two Chicago-area favorites, Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, is the second Festival Centerpiece.  It screens at 8:15pm on the 15th.

During the festival, several other prominent films are listed as Special Presentations.  They will be publicly screened during the festival with a $20 ticket price for non-members of the festival.  These titles are headlined by the top audience winner of the recent Toronto Film Festival "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  Other special presentation films include "Birdman" starring Michael Keaton and "Low Down" starring Oscar nominee John Hawkes.  Also, several other groupings of new films are presented under the banner themes of Main Competition, Black Perspectives, Short Films, World Cinema, DocuFest, Cinema of the Americas, ReelWomen, After Dark, Make 'Em Laugh, Spotlight Scandinavia, New Directors Competition, City and State, and Out-Look.  Once again, all films are open to the public and surprise guest drop in all the time.  A special Black Perspectives Gala will feature Gina Prince-Bythewood's new film "Beyond the Lights" starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Larry Crowne," "Belle") and Nate Parker ("Red Tails," "The Great Debaters").  The event takes place on Friday, October 10th with a 7:00pm screening and a 9:30 cocktail reception.  The director herself, Ms. Prince-Bythewood, and star Nate Parker will both be in attendance.  Film-only admission is $20 for non-members. 

Beyond the new projects, the festival has honored actor Kevin Kline with a special Career Achivement Award.  Also, a special two-night series of films dedicated to actress Isabelle Huppert will take place on Sunday, October 12th and Tuesday, October 14th at the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue.   The award-winning French actress will be in attendance for these events.  The series includes special showings of "The Piano Teacher," "Copacabana," "Comedy of Power," and "White Material."  Furthermore, Kathleen Turner will be in-person to host an evening panel of her career in film on Tuesday, October 14th and American New Wave pioneer director Bob Rafelson will do the same on Wednesday, October 15th at Columbia College Chicago on South Wabash.  Several other free events and panels are listed on the festival's schedule.

In another step to honor history, this year's festival will bring back several award-winning and masterpiece former CIFF films in celebration of the festival's 50th anniversary.  For each 50th Anniversary film screening, a filmmaker, expert, or connected performer will be in attendance for Q&A.  Headlining this group are three-time Academy Award winner Oliver Stone hosting director's cut screenings of his films "Natural Born Killers" and "Alexander" and prominent director Taylor Hackford attending showings of "The Idolmaker" and "White Nights."  Other 50th Anniversary specials include "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (with a surprise guest listed), "Breaking the Waves," "A Star is Born," Alfred Hitchcock's "Jamaica Inn," "Roger and Me" with Michael Moore, "The Deep," "Family Life," "Fanny and Alexander," "Here's Your Life," and "Why Be Good?"  A full list of attending talent can be found of the talent page of the festival.

Extending beyond the dates of the festival, a special art gallery of collected images and videos, including photographs by Victor Skrebneski, collected over the 50 years of the Chicago International Film Festival will be hosted by Expo 72 at 72 East Randolph through October 30th.  Gallery hours are 10:00am to 6:00pm Monday through Saturday and 11:00am to 4:00pm on Sundays.

Finally, the 50th Chicago International Film Festival closes with a special screening of "Wild" starring Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon from director Jean Marc Vallee of last year's successful Oscar winner "The Dallas Buyer's Club."  The 7:00pm screening will be followed by a cocktail reception at the AMC River East 21 to end festivities.

Tickets for "Wild" or any of the festival's films are available online or over the phone with Ticketmaster.  They are also available for purchase in-person at festival box office within the AMC River East 21 theater at 322 Illinois Street downtown.  Once again, the full schedule for the 50th Chicago International Film Festival is available on its website.

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