From one film festival, and straight into another. This is an exciting time for being in the industry and returning to the Chicago International Film Festival, it is quite an experience for me. Coming off the Milwaukee Film Festival, there is a certain level of prestige attached to this fest, even going as far as honoring Patrick Stewart later. But though I enjoyed the intimacy of the previous fest and being in attendance with other film professionals, traveling often from Milwaukee to Chicago for the CIFF can be a bit of a hassle. Fortunately, I have access to screeners for this occasion so I don’t have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the windy city. So without further delay, let’s take a look at my first experience in seeing some films from this amazing festival.
Education is integral to our society’s development. But for certain minority communities, it has been a hard-fought battle that’s caused more separation than unity. ’63 Boycott is a miniature documentary that focuses on the 1963 protests of the Chicago Public School system and how that fight has affected the city’s communities today.
The protests were a response to racist government policies, such as the rampant segregation of the CPS system, which placed blacks into overcrowded trailer homes, dubbed “Willis Wagons” after the then Superintendent of CPS, Benjamin Willis, rather than nearby all-white schools.
Driven to give their children a proper education, parents organized a city-wide boycott of schools, with many keeping their children home, and calling for Willis’ resignation. ’63 Boycott uses vintage, unseen footage, much from the uprising itself, interviews with participants, discussions of the events that led to the uprising, and just how Chicago’s infrastructure led to these issues being a part of everyday life.
It’s a small but effective short documentary that shows how, even today, Chicago is a battleground for equality in education and civil rights, and that protesting does implement changes when groups band together and say, “Enough is enough.”
EDITH + EDDIE
Love can blossom in the most unlikely of circumstances, and in Edith + Eddie, age has no bearing on the connection of two souls who feel passionate affection for one another.
This short film focuses on Eddie Harrison and Edith Hill, a pair of elderly folks who met through randomly playing the lottery and fell in love. Getting wed by a local minister, the two then became America’s oldest newlywed interracial couple after the 95-year-old white man married this 96-year-old black woman. But while their love for one another melted many hearts, one of Edith’s daughters believed she was not safe where she was, and assigned a guardian to move Edith back to the daughter’s home in Florida. This threatened to break the couple up, and speaks volumes about our elder care system in America, giving viewers enough deeply penetrating, heart-rending emotion to render them speechless. In that sense, Edith + Eddie displays a love that can never die, no matter what life’s circumstances are.
BEFORE THE SUMMER ENDS
When a man’s passion for studying abroad gets dull, he feels that returning home might be his best option. In Maryam Goormaghtigh’s Before the Summer Ends, this is the main situation that Arash faces while studying in France. Unable to adapt to French life after five years and wishing to return to Iran, Arash’s two friends decide to take him on a road trip to the beach and try to convince him to stay. What lies ahead for the trio is a storied journey of camaraderie, reflection, and laughter as they travel across France’s countryside in a lighthearted depiction of life.
As a docucomedy, this film is a simple sequence of events that looks at the life of three Iranian friends who share a close bond. Arash with his big stature and aloof character is the most personable, while the girl-crazy Ashkan and poetic Hossein are the comic relief and the romantic respectively. But while the trio’s friendship is quite entertaining, the road trip itself is too straightforward. Instead of really exploring the characters’ pasts and how it affects their present, the film gives us some scattered conversations about growing up in Iran, a few comical shots of the three sleeping at a camp, some scenes of hanging with a pair of musically-talented female companions, and simple, everyday socializing (and lots of drinking) that friends participate in. The audience never gets a chance to feel for these men or their situations, connect to their personalities (outside of Arash, possibly), feel profoundly about life, or cackle at a hysterical level of slapstick that would at least keep them engaged. It is a pleasant film with a raw and proper shooting style, but one that might not catch the public’s eye or imagination. Some might be pleased with what this film has to offer, but Before the Summer Ends is not memorable enough to keep people coming back.
Growing up is an adventure filled with new experiences and excitement, where we ultimately come to discover who we are and how we fit (or don’t) into the world. This is Cydney Loughlin’s (Jessie Pinnick) discovery in Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd. The daughter of a family with a tragic past, Cyd’s father sends the teen to visit her Aunt Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence) for the summer in Chicago. Upon her arrival, Cyd is overwhelmed with Miranda’s love of books and her work as a famous novelist. Additionally, Cyd meets Katie Sauter (Malic White), a young barista in a local coffee shop and is immediately attracted to her, eventually falling in love. By discovering her own sexuality through Katie and understanding how to be a woman through her Aunt Miranda, Cyd’s adolescence blossoms into a character of depth, maturity, and love as she learns about the joys of life in the midst of a painful past.
This film is wonderfully-paced, well-organized, and a beautiful piece of cinematography. From the moment that Cyd is in Chicago, there is evidence of a great story led by Miranda and the legendary novelists she refers to and keeps on hand (like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jane Austen). Miranda’s perspectives and insights give Cyd a positive female perspective on the world that she slowly comes to understand.
The introduction of Katie to the story also gives Cyd a beautiful exposure to love, as the pair connects so effortlessly, they appear to have been best friends for years. Their mutual sentiments of intimacy, love, and conversation come naturally and don’t feel forced or lifeless. Most importantly, however, is how themes of religion and abuse test the characters in their personalities and bonds. Though Miranda is slightly religious in her dealings, she encourages her niece to discover who she wants to be and supports her in her efforts, even going as far as to personally help Katie when she gets in a bind. The abuse and pain are shown sensitively, and they gradually strengthen Cyd in the knowledge that while life can be beautiful, it isn’t without its trials. So as a coming-of-age story, Princess Cyd is a phenomenal representation of acceptance, love, and pure emotion in striking out into the world with all that we have.
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