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10th Chicago Critics Film Fest Features Past Lives, Blackberry, Sanctuary, Theater Camp, and Many More

The CFCA announced the line-up and full schedule for the 10th Chicago Critics Film Festival, which unfolds at the Music Box in Chicago from May 5-11. Highlights include the Chicago premieres of Celine Song's wildly acclaimed "Past Lives," Ira Sachs' "Passages," Paul Schrader's "The Master Gardener," "Theater Camp," "Sanctuary," "Blackberry," and 35mm anniversary screenings of "The Right Stuff" and "Dark City." Special guests include Laura Moss, Clement Virgo, Morrisa Maltz, and more!

The details and time for each screening can be found below. Find out more and get your tickets and passes here.

"AFIRE" 

Director: Christian Petzold | 102 mins

A small holiday house by the Baltic sea. The days are hot and it hasn’t rained in weeks. Four young people come together, friends old and new. As the parched forests around them begin to ignite, so do their emotions. Happiness, lust and love; but also jealousies, resentments and tensions. Meanwhile the forests burn. And before long, the flames are there. (Sneak preview courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films.) 

Screens Saturday, May 6th, 2:15pm

"BIRTH/REBIRTH"

Director: Laura Moss (they/them) | 98 mins

Rose is a pathologist who prefers working with corpses over social interaction. She also has an obsession — the reanimation of the dead. Celie is a maternity nurse who has built her life around her bouncy, chatterbox 6-year-old daughter, Lila. One unfortunate day, their worlds crash into each other. The two women and young girl embark on a dark path of no return where they will be forced to confront how far they are willing to go to protect what they hold most dear. 

Screens Saturday, May 6th, 7:15pm with Director/Co-Writer Laura Moss scheduled to attend

"BLACKBERRY"

Director: Matt Johnson | 122 mins

‘BlackBerry’ investigates the brilliance of the individuals that invented the world’s first smartphone. Recounting the Canadian company’s humble yet chaotic rise to market dominance, ‘BlackBerry’ is a darkly comedic telling of the tragic tale of a Canadian company that revolutionized the way we communicate, before swiftly plummeting into obsolescence.

Screens Friday, May 5th, 7pm

"BLUE JEAN"

Director: Georgia Oakley | 97 mins

In Georgia Oakley’s stunning directorial debut BLUE JEAN, it’s 1988 England and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government is about to pass a law stigmatizing gays and lesbians, forcing Jean (Rosy McEwen, in a powerhouse performance), a gym teacher, to live a double life. As pressure mounts from all sides, the arrival of a new student catalyzes a crisis that will challenge Jean to her core. The BAFTA-nominated film won the Venice Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award, as well as four British Independent Film Awards.

Screens Tuesday, May 9th, 4:45pm

"BROOKLYN 45"

Director: Ted Geoghegan | 92 mins

Friday, December 27, 1945. Five military veterans gather in the ornate parlor of a Brooklyn brownstone. Best friends since childhood, they’ve reunited to support their troubled host – but when his invitation for cocktails turns into an impromptu séance, the metaphoric ghosts of their past become all-too-literal. Trapped in their host’s lounge, the Greatest Generation now finds themselves put to one final test...with their only route to freedom being more bloodshed. 

Screens Saturday, May 6th, 9:45pm

"BROTHER"

Director: Clement Virgo | 119 mins

Propelled by the pulsing beats of Toronto's early hip hop scene, BROTHER is the story of Francis and Michael, sons of Caribbean immigrants maturing into young men. Exploring themes of masculinity, identity and family, a mystery unfolds during the sweltering summer of 1991, and escalating tensions set off a series of events that change the course of the brothers' lives forever. BROTHER crafts a timely story about the profound bond between siblings, the resilience of a community and the irrepressible power of music. (Guest: Director/Co-Writer Clement Virgo.)

Screens Wednesday, May 10th, 7pm with director/co-writer Clement Virgo scheduled to attend

"DARK CITY" 25th Anniversary Screening presented in 35mm

Director: Alex Proyas | 100 mins

Alex Proyas’ 1998 film about a man struggling with memories of his past, which include a wife he cannot remember and a nightmarish world no one else ever seems to wake up from. 

Screens Friday, May 5th, 11:59pm

"A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE"

Directors: Jeremy Coon, Steve Kozak | 85 mins

In 1977, "Star Wars" became a cultural phenomenon that single-handedly revitalized a stagnant film industry, and forever changed how films were sold, made, and marketed. Movies would never be the same again.  A year later, neither would television. In 1978, CBS aired the two-hour "Star Wars Holiday Special" during the week of Thanksgiving; it was watched by 13 million people. Considered one of the worst shows ever broadcast, it was never re-aired. While some fans of the franchise are aware of the production, this bizarre two hours of television still remains relatively unknown among the general public. A Disturbance in the Force answers how and why the infamous "Holiday Special" got made. 

Screens Saturday, May 6th, 11:59pm

"ERNEST & CELESTINE: A TRIP TO GIBBERITIA"

Directors: Julien Chheng, Jean-Christophe Roger | 80 mins

Ernest and Celestine are traveling back to Ernest’s country, Gibberitia, to fix his broken violin. This exotic land is home to the best musicians on earth and music constantly fills the air with joy. However, upon arriving, our two heroes discover that all forms of music have been banned there for many years – and for them, a life without music is unthinkable. Along with their friends and a mysterious masked outlaw, Ernest and Celestine must try their best to bring music and happiness back to the land of bears. 

Screens Sunday, May 7th, 12pm

"FANTASTIC MACHINE"

Directors: Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck | 88 mins | Documentary 

What happens when humanity’s infatuation with itself and an untethered free market meet 45 billion cameras…Filmmakers Axel Danielson & Maximilien Van Aertryck (Ten Meter Tower, Jobs For All!) once again turn their cameras directly on society, this time to explore, explain and expose how our unchecked obsession with image has grown to change our human behavior. From Camera Obscura and the Lumieres Brothers all the way to Youtube and the world of social media, the film chronicles how we went from capturing the image of a backyard to a multi-billion- euro content industry in just 200 years. With an exclusive use of archival and found footage, the film uses the very medium it examines, in a self-reflective yet hilarious montage. 

Screens Wednesday, May 10th, 5pm

"KOKOMO CITY"

Director: D. Smith | 73 mins | Documentary

KOKOMO CITY is the feature directorial debut of two-time Grammy-nominated producer, singer and songwriter D. Smith. Smith, who made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show, also filmed and edited this wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered documentary that passes the mic to four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City – Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver - as they hold nothing back while breaking down the walls of their profession. Executive produced by Lena Waithe, the film won the Sundance Film Festival NEXT Innovator Award and the NEXT Audience Award. 

Screens Tuesday, May 9th, 9:45pm

"LAKOTA NATION VS. THE UNITED STATES"

Directors: Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli | 120 mins | Documentary 

LAKOTA NATION VS. UNITED STATES chronicles the Lakota Indians’ quest to reclaim the Black Hills, sacred land that was stolen in violation of treaty agreements. A searing, timely portrait of resistance, the film explores the ways America has ignored its debt to Indigenous communities, and ponders what might be done today to repair the wrongs of the past. 

Screens Sunday May 7th, 9:30pm

"MASTER GARDENER"

Director: Paul Schrader | 107 mins 

Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens. He is as much devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate, as he is to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). However, chaos enters Narvel’s spartan existence when Mrs Haverhill demands that he take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as a new apprentice, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all. 

Screens Sunday, May 7th, 2:15pm

"PASSAGES"

Director: Ira Sachs | 91 mins 

After completing his latest project, filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) impulsively begins a heated love affair with a young school teacher, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). For Tomas, the novelty of being with a woman is an exciting experience that he is eager to explore despite his marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw). But when Martin begins his own affair, the mercurial Tomas refocuses his attention on his husband. Set in contemporary Paris, PASSAGES charts an escalating battle of desire between three people, where want is a constant and happiness is just out of reach. Exquisitely shot and featuring honest, emotionally nuanced performances, Sachs has created a breathtakingly intimate and insightful drama exploring the complexities, contradictions, and cruelties of love and longing. 

Screens Sunday, May 7th, 4:30pm

"PAST LIVES" 

Director: Celine Song | 106 mins 

Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they are reunited in New York for one fateful week as they confront notions of destiny, love, and the choices that make a life, in this heartrending modern romance. (Guest: Writer/Director Celine Song.) 

Screens Tuesday, May 9th, 7pm with writer/director Celine Song scheduled to attend

"REVOIR PARIS"

Director: Alice Winocour | 105 mins

Three months after surviving a mass shooting at a Parisian bistro, Mia (Virginie Efira) is determined to reconstruct the sequence of events by bonding with fellow survivors, and piecing together their stories to rediscover her own.

Screens Wednesday, May 10th, 9:45pm

"THE RIGHT STUFF" 40th Anniversary Screening presented on 335mm

Director: Philip Kaufman | 193 mins

The U.S. space program's development from the breaking of the sound barrier to selection of the Mercury 7 astronauts, from a group of test pilots with a more seat-of-the-pants approach than the program's more cautious engineers preferred.

Screens Monday, May 8th, 7pm 

"SANCTUARY"

Director: Zachary Wigon | 96 mins

A wickedly dark comedy follows dominatrix Rebecca (Emmy Award® nominee Margaret Qualley), and her wealthy client, Hal (Christopher Abbott), as they engage in a high stakes role playing game for power and control. In the wake of inheriting his father’s hotel chain, Hal attempts to end his long and secret relationship with Rebecca. A battle of wills ensues over the course of one incredibly fraught night, with both Rebecca and Hal struggling to keep the upper hand as the power dynamics swing wildly back and forth. 

Screens Friday, May 5th, 9:45pm

"STARRING JERRY AS HIMSELF"

Director: Law Chen | 75 mins | Documentary

A family documents how their immigrant father Jerry, a recently retired Florida man, was recruited by the Chinese police to be an undercover agent, only to discover a darker truth. 

Screens Thursday, May 11th, 5pm

"THEATER CAMP"

Directors: Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman | 94 mins 

THEATER CAMP follows the eccentric staff running a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York. After its indomitable and beloved founder falls into a coma, they must band together with her clueless “crypto-bro” son to keep the thespian paradise afloat. 

Screens Thursday, May 11th, 7pm

"THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY"

Director: Morrisa Malz | 85 mins

An invitation to reunite with her estranged Lakota family launches a grieving young woman (Lily Gladstone) on an unexpected road trip from the Midwest toward the Texas-Mexico border. 

Screens Saturday, May 6th, 4:45pm with director/co-writer Morrisa Maltz scheduled to attend

"WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE" 

Director: Linh Tran | 89 mins

Best friends since high school, Kim and Amy haven’t seen each other since Amy moved to the west coast for grad school. Now the two are reunited as they join a group of friends for a trip to a lake house with Kim’s boyfriend, Jay. When Amy had left for the west coast, she was in love with Jay, though she never pursued it due to her insecurities thinking she was too fat and ugly. While she has changed physically, her feelings for Jay haven’t, and the reunion has brought them back to the surface. That maelstrom of emotions within her is poised to reveal itself at any moment as the group's struggles to find something to do in the empty little beach town turns into an unsuccessful effort by all of them to sort through attractions to each other, as well as suppress old resentments, jealousies and desires before they leave. 

Screens Sunday, May 7th, 7pm with director/co-writer Linh Tran scheduled to attend

SHORTS PROGRAM 1

Directors Nicole Daddona and Adam Wilder (“The Mundanes”) will be in attendance for a Q&A. 

The Mundanes - Get to know the Mundanes, a faceless suburban family with an unusual appetite. This "Guide to the Happy Family" is a surreal daymare homage to classic PSAs of mid-century America. Directed by Nicole Daddona and Adam Wilder. (4 min.)

Wüm - Bennett, a nonbinary new parent, joins a Mommy Group called "Wüm." What is supposed to be a supportive space turns into a Hipster-Stepford-Wife nightmare with Bennett being smothered by white lady wokeness. Directed by Anna Margaret Hollyman. (13 min.)

The Vacation - The Sundance Special Jury Award Winner for Directing follows a group of friends who attempt to take a vacation trip to the beach one summer but when their car won't start they are forced to take their vacation in their car. Directed by Jarreau Carrillo. (10 min.)

Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie - A surrealist exploration of dissociative identity disorder (DID) based on the lived experience of a Black, nonbinary, disabled artist and former sex worker. Directed by Nicole Bazuin. (10 min.)

Endless Sea - Carol begins a normal day only to find out that her heart medication has doubled in price. Afraid, but not without hope, she sets out to find a solution, but her journey doesn't lead to salvation, only a desperate act of revolution. Directed by Sam Shainberg. (19 min.)

Beyond the Fringe - An intriguing little paper figure magically emerges from a notebook on a quiet evening. At first, it was full of curiosity and excitement. But soon, when the little paper figure suddenly discovers how small and fragile and alone it is in this big, foreign world, fear sets in and causes it to crumble. This is a coming-of-age story about leaving home. Directed by Han Tang. (5 min.)

I Have No Tears, And I Must Cry - Maria Luisa is ready to escape immigration limbo, but when her green card interview takes an unexpected turn, she faces the anxiety of losing the life she had planned. Directed by Luis Fernando Puente (13 min.)

Breaking Silence - A verité portrait of Walker and Leslie Estes, a deaf father and CODA daughter from Baton Rouge, LA, who work together upon Leslie’s release from prison—driven by their shared experiences of incarceration and deafness—to help others in their community affected by the prison system. It is an intimate exploration into parenthood, regret, and,ultimately, healing. Directed by Amy Bench and Annie Silverstein. (18 min.)

SHORTS PROGRAM 2

Troy - Troy has loud sex. Troy has loud sex 24/7. Troy shares a wall with Thea and Charlie. Troy is ruining their lives… Or is he saving them? Directed by Mike Donahue. 

Sprout - After an agoraphobic scientist accidentally creates a baby-like plant creature, their connection threatens to upend his reclusive way of life. Directed by Zora Kovac.

A Shore Away - Newly employed in an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness, Genevieve is shocked to meet again with Camille, a young woman whom she believed to have successfully reinserted while being her social worker. Shot in a real emergency shelter for homeless people in Montreal, QC, Canada. Directed by Gaëlle Graton.

Call Me Mommy - Uncovering the multifaceted life of 40 year old single mother and online sex worker, Sinead. Call Me Mommy delves into the various origins and effects of ‘Mommy Issues’ in Sinead’s personal and professional world. Showing an intimate portrait of a modern day sex worker. Directed by Tara O’Callaghan.

In the Big Yard, In the Teeny-Weeny Pocket - When it shrinks, it expands. It floats and it sinks. It separates but connects. When I think I’m watching them, they're actually watching me. Directed by Yoko Yuki.

Sèt Lam - In an insular city’s ghetto, in the midst of a trance ritual, a young girl is paralyzed by fear. She is afraid her loved ones may be hurt or even disappear. It is then that her grandmother tells her the strange tale of Edwardo, the first one of his kin to have seen and fought death. The child is captivated, feeling that there is a reason her grandmother is recounting this tale. Directed by Vincent Fontano.

About the Chicago Film Critics Association

The Chicago Film Critics Association supports and celebrates quality filmmaking that has something to say about our world, our lives, and our society. In the past, while the CFCA’s priority was to support and fight for the continued role of film critics in the media, the CFCA's public interaction was limited to the announcement of its annual film awards. In recent years, the CFCA has expanded its presence on the Chicago arts scene, promoting critical thinking about cinema to a wider base through several initiatives, including the re-launch of a late-winter film awards ceremony; CFCA-hosted film screenings throughout Chicagoland; and an Emerging Critics Grant program in partnership with Rotten Tomatoes. The annual Chicago Critics Film Festival further builds on the organization’s goal to be an active part of the Chicago film landscape. 

About the Music Box Theatre

For more than 30 years, the Music Box Theatre has been the premier venue in Chicago for independent and foreign films, festivals and some of the greatest cinematic events in Chicago. It currently has the largest cinema space operated full-time in the city. The Music Box Theatre is independently owned & operated by the Southport Music Box Corporation. SMBC, through its Music Box Films division, also distributes foreign and independent films in the theatrical, DVD and television markets throughout the United States. For more information, please visit www.musicboxtheatre.com


Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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