This September, as I have been in the habit of doing for a few years now, I went to the Chicago Artists Month website with the intention of making my plans for all the art shows I would see in October. Soon my calendar was filled with openings, open studios, gallery shows, tours, art walks, and other special events. And then the schedule for the Chicago International Film Festival was announced.
Suddenly, all I wanted to do was cram as many films as possible into my schedule. I made plans for films to see on weekends, films to see after work, and even films to see when I took two consecutive days off from work. I promised myself I'd go easy on myself this time after the disastrous consequences of not getting enough sleep, not getting enough to eat, and being exposed to so many germs in the confines of movie theaters last October: coming down with pneumonia. Torn between the desire to travel to far-flung artist habitats around the city and the urge to make the AMC River East multiplex my new home away from home, I allowed myself to be kidnapped by the Film Festival.
It all began the weekend of the 10th. I had my open studio, as usual. But I knew that just a few blocks away there was a red carpet premiere of Beyond The Lights, a new film starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and she was actually going to be there in person! How I wished that I could be in two places at once, or else hire an assistant.
The next day, Saturday the 11th, I had volunteered to sit at the table for an art collective I'm a part of during a grand opening of a new art supply store. I was disappointed to find that our table was not on the main floor with the other vendors, but up in a loft where no one came to buy any art.
|empty chairs at empty tables...|
Because no one else showed up to watch our table, I ended up staying hours longer than I initially expected, and by the time I left, hungry and tired, it was too late to go to some of the shows I had planned to attend because they were over. But at least there was still time to go to one last art show with a fellow artist friend, or so we thought. We arrived to find the building nearly empty, wandering the former warehouse together. We checked our smartphones to verify the date and time. An apparent misprint. Another disappointment dealt to me by flaky artists.
Sunday I went to the film festival and never looked back. Sure, there were other art shows I could have gone to, but they were all too far away, and after what happened Saturday, I didn't want to be bothered. Sure, being stranded at an art supply store or wandering around aimlessly with a friend are not by any means the worst possible things that could happen to me on Saturday, but I could have spent that time watching obscure foreign and indie films that might never make it to Netflix.
What struck me about the films I saw was that so many of them had a plot or subplot involving kidnapping. Most of them involved people playing social services and taking it upon themselves to remove children from homes they deemed unfit, though a few had other motives and/or older captives. There was a little boy taken by his kindergarten teacher because she believed his wealthy restauranteur father would never appreciate his talents (he was a child prodigy in poetry), another little boy taken by a man who told his wife, heartbroken after their son had died in a tragic accident, that the child's parents were neglectful, and even a short film about a third-grade girl who takes a toddler home with her because she thinks she'd do a better job raising her than the girl's mother!
|"Even though I'm only eight, I'm gonna take you home and call you Mary."|
There was an elderly man who plotted to kidnap another elderly man he believed to be a fugitive so he could bring him to justice (while leaving a legacy and making a name for himself before he died.) The Boxtrolls were feared by townspeople who believed they took a baby from his family, and in Gone Girl, the police think that Amy Dunne may have been kidnapped. (Yes, between the indie films I found time to watch some regular movies, too.)
Fortunately, not all the movies I saw were about characters who tried to justify taking other people's kids (or grandparents). Some of my favorites were in the Locally Sourced Short Films program. I recommend Un Mujer Sin Precio, Speed Dating, and Parietal Guidance.
As for feature films, I really liked Maestro, a charming French film about a friendship between a young actor getting his first big break and a famous director nearing the end of his career, as well as the tearjerker Marie's Story, which is like a French version of The Miracle Worker. I had the privilege of seeing a long-lost film by silent film star Colleen Moore, whose name I know because I've always loved the dollhouse she bequeathed to the Museum of Science and Industry. The film, Why Be Good?, was a romantic comedy from the late 20's and Moore starred as an adorable flapper girl.
During the festival I also attended my first fun alumni event (I don't count that one time I went to Story Week) for my long-neglected alma mater, Columbia College. The only school I ever dropped out of, (blame writer's block), its very name had filled me with a sense of shame for years. But after getting serious about writing again, I decided to sign up for alumni e-mails and see what it had to offer. And what it had to offer this year was a free special event at the film festival that had delicious food, two short films, and a feature film called Animals made here in Chicago by Columbia alumni. And I even got a badge and a name tag with the year I would have graduated on it. I felt so official for once. Seeing my name next to my major, fiction writing, really did something for me.
|My first film fest badge. I feel so official now!|
Of course, tickets for some festival films can be hard to get. And that's why I didn't get to see Dear White People at the festival. At first I felt bad because I have been looking forward to seeing it ever since I happened upon a trailer for it over a year ago, but then I realized that it would be opening here just a few days later than its festival screening date. Plus, I will get to see it with some friends tonight. I was tempted to take one of the promo posters and hang it in my studio because of the recent spate of microagressions I've had to deal with during my public events. Here are some examples:
"I never knew there were Black people named Tiffany!"
"I'm surprised you would even have Barbies since you're Black."
Where do these people come from? And why do they come to my studio? And did you know that 80% of people with art school degrees are white? Which is why the theme of Dear White People, being "a Black face in a White space" is so relevant to me personally.
But that's another topic for another blog post. Anyway, back to the subject. I'm really glad I had a chance to see so many great films this year. Even though there wasn't enough time to go to everything I had put on my calendar, I am glad I was able to see so much. As always, there was the problem of needing to be in two places at once, like this past Saturday when I was attending free panels about filmmaking at the festival while the Fine Arts Building was inundated with visitors during Open House Chicago, or not going to see a film this past Wednesday evening because I opened my studio for a tour that never came. But maybe next year I can finally hire an assistant. There is so much to do in October in this city, and I don't want to miss out.