Chicago Critics Film Festival Unveils Full Program, Special Guests, Grant Recipients

The Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA), the Chicago-area print, online and broadcast critics group that celebrates the art of film and film criticism, today announces the complete lineup, schedule and special guests expected for the tenth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, May 5-11 at the city’s historic Music Box Theatre. The festival opens with a screening of SXSW Official Selection BLACKBERRY and closes with Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Special Award winner THEATER CAMP, a mockumentary send-up of summer camp culture and musical theater die-hards. The 2023 festival line-up includes Chicago premieres of the newest films from some of the most acclaimed filmmakers working today, including Paul Schrader’s MASTER GARDENER, Ira Sachs’ PASSAGES and Christian Petzold’s AFIRE

In addition to the 20 acclaimed new feature films and two short film programs making their Chicago premieres, the festival will present two special events: THE RIGHT STUFF (Philip Kaufman) 40th anniversary screening and DARK CITY (Alex Proyas) 25th anniversary screening, both presented on 35mm film. Filmmakers expected to attend and participate in post-film Q&As include Morrisa Maltz (director/co-writer, THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY); Laura Moss (they/them; director and co-writer, birth/rebirth); Celine Song (writer/director, PAST LIVES); Clement Virgo (director/co-writer, BROTHER) and Linh Tran, director and co-writer of Chicago-produced and Slamdance Award-winning WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE.  

Here is your first look at WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE…

The program also includes five documentaries and two midnight screenings; the festival’s two short film programs, featuring a total of fourteen film premieres, screen on Saturday, May 6 and Tuesday, May 9 (full shorts program descriptions online here).

This year, the Chicago Critics Film Festival welcomes Rotten Tomatoes as official sponsor of the Audience Award; the two organizations have again partnered to present the CFCA / Rotten Tomatoes Emerging Critics Grant, this year awarded to Cortlyn Kelly (she/her, @coolkidcort and online at theartidiot.substack.com) and Zachary Lee (he/him, letterboxd.com/zlee729). Kelly and Lee will each receive a $2,500 grant, an all-access pass to the Chicago Critics Film Festival, as well as mentorship opportunities with Chicago Film Critics Association members and the change to pitch story ideas to Rotten Tomatoes editorial staff. Based on the strong applicant pool of this year’s grant program, the Emerging Critics Grant selection committee also recognizes three “writers to watch” in Maxwell Rabb (he/him, maxwellrabb.com); Sheri Terrar (she/her, sheritarrer.wordpress.com); and Texas Smith (they/he, ​​prairiecreek.pro). Learn more about this year’s selected honorees here. 

Annually, the Chicago Critics Film Festival features a selection of acclaimed films chosen by members of the organization, films that are a combination of recent festival favorites and as-yet-undistributed works from a variety of filmmakers, from established Oscar winners to talented newcomers. In recent years, the festival has provided Chicagoans their first opportunity to see acclaimed films like Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter and The Power of the Dog, for which Jane Campion won the Oscar for Best Director. The best way to ensure access to every aspect of the week-long event is to secure a festival pass, just $175 and available online here. Follow the CFCA and the festival on Twitter at @chicagocritics and on Facebook.

The complete lineup for the tenth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival is below, including screening dates/times and special guests expected to attend. Explore the entire schedule and secure tickets/passes in advance at www.chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com. Select films are available for advanced review and interviews; interested media should apply for accreditation online here.

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

 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

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

Here’s a look at BLACKBERRY…

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

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

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 Sunday, 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

 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

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

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

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

 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

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

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

 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

 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 

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

 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

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

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

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

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