Last week marked the 50th iteration of the Chicago International Film Festival, making it one of the oldest film festivals in the country (NYFF hit 52 this year; San Francisco is already at 57!).
For growing up a stone’s throw from the city, I only really attended the festival once I’d moved away and began working in the industry myself, driving up from Indianapolis for a quick weekend trip and a few movies.
This year, several of Film Movement’s titles screened in the festival, and as a long-time partner, the organizers were kind enough to invite one of us out for the occasion. As luck would have it, I was in line to accept the invitation, so this weekend I spent an incredible couple of days on a date with my favorite big city in the country.
And it was lovely.
By 10:30 Saturday morning, I was checked into the hotel and set up with my Festival badge, with time enough to find a nearby Yolk for brunch before a big-screen showing of 1954’s A Star Is Born. Not sure how I’d made it this long having not seen it; Judy Garland was so much more than Dorothy or Andy Hardy’s best gal.
After a cocktail hour to toast Scandinavian cinema (where I didn’t speak the language but did drink the Stella), I headed back to the theater for a screening of Rudderless, William H. Macy’s directing debut. A slight but well-meaning little indie, by the time it was over my 5a wake-up call had caught up with me and I called it a night.
Sunday couldn’t have started on a better note had I planned it, as I lazed around my hotel room with CBS Sunday Morning and coffee before heading out for the day. Caught up with some family, caught some of the Bears game, then caught Force Majeure, Sweden’s deceptively layered Oscar entry. With some time between screenings, I headed to a festival cocktail hour with filmmakers and other guests, chatted over Stella (are you sensing a theme here?) and small bites. Networking skills dialed to 11, I shook hands, made small talk and managed to make a few good connections that carried over to late-night drinks at Scofflaw. By the time I hailed an Uber back to the hotel at 1am, I’d clocked one heck of a festival day.
Monday brought rain, which – along with a completely unnecessary parade for Columbus Day – managed to totally derail my schedule. Once I’d confirmed I was going to be in Chicago, the festival put me on an Industry panel – believe it or not, the first time I’ve participated in such a conversation in all my time at festivals. So I was understandably looking forward to the hour, meeting my fellow panel-mates and hopefully contributing something worthwhile to the topic.
Traffic had other plans, however, and I ended up being a half hour late for the affair, sneaking into my seat at the front of the group as seamlessly as I could manage. Despite my tardiness, I was able to chime in on a few interesting points, and as the formal discussion wrapped several attendees approached me directly with comments and questions. Crisis averted.
Monday evening, I snuck in two more films – the underwhelming Underdog and The Salvation – and by the time I left the late show the day’s rain and clouds had cleared to leave behind a glistening Windy City just perfect for a walk back to the hotel. Down Michigan, Wabash and State, I took my time and took in the views. For all my time back in Illinois, I spend surprisingly little in the heart of the city, so a chance to soak it all in didn’t go unappreciated.
My flight back to NYC came early Tuesday morning, and I was back in the office and back to the grind by early afternoon. But the weekend – the films, the connections, the drinks, the conversations, the sights – it was an unexpected but all together fantastic way to spend a few days.