The 51st Chicago International Film Festival, taking place October 15 to 29, 2015, announced the film lineup for this year’s City & State program. The City & State program of narrative, documentary, and short films celebrates Illinois’ rich filmmaking tradition and showcases the best films with Illinois roots. Each Official Selection is eligible for the Chicago Award.
With the largest number of local film selections to date, this year’s City & State program is led by three World Premieres: 1) a documentary about Chicago’s beloved “Breakfast Queen,” 2) a portrait of the most sampled artist in hip hop, and 3) a big-hearted family drama.
The City & State program highlights the trendiest Chicago restaurants, a funny and heartbreakingly honest film from Chicagoan Stephen Cone, and an Evanston-set drama with a commanding performance from Taryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”). The program also includes the return of local Festival alumni including directors Bradley Bischoff, Joel Benjamin, Jack C. Newell, and Malik Bader, who also stars in Bishoff’s Nomad.
All films listed will receive their Chicago premiere at the Festival unless otherwise indicated.
Breakfast At Ina’s
Director: Mercedes Kane
Synopsis: Famous for its Heavenly Hots (pancakes topped with fruit compote), Ina’s was a Chicago breakfast institution. Every customer received a warm welcome from proprietor and chef Ina Pinkney, the “Breakfast Queen.” After 33 years in the restaurant business, Pinkney retired in 2013. Following the restaurant’s final month, Breakfast at Ina’s celebrates a beloved Chicago eatery and a woman who achieved her dream against the odds.
Director: Malik Bader
Synopsis: In this gritty Detroit-set thriller, Elvis Martini (writer-star Nickola Shreli, in a gripping performance) is a single Albanian father and landlord trying to do the right thing. But since he’s in debt to both bookies and his daughter’s school, Elvis needs to come up with some serious money fast. Chicago director Malik Bader delivers a riveting and assured genre film, complete with rich cultural details and a shockingly gruesome finale.
Director: Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski
Synopsis: After cooking his way through Chicago’s top kitchens, renowned Chef Curtis Duffy begins plans for his dream establishment, Grace. A delicious look at what it takes to build one of the world’s greatest restaurants, and the complex story of a man forging a new future out of his traumatic past.
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
Director: Stephen Cone
Synopsis: Henry’s turning 17, and he thinks he might be gay. But he’s not telling his pastor father, who’s throwing him a pool party. Soon, school mates and church friends are spending a sunny, hormonal afternoon together in their swimsuits. Unfolding over the course of one day, this funny and heartbreakingly honest portrait from Chicagoan Stephen Cone explores the intersection between devout faith and burgeoning sexuality.
A Light Beneath Their Feet
Director: Valerie Weiss
Synopsis: In a commanding performance, Taryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”) plays an Evanston mother, wrestling with bipolar disorder and an imminent empty nest. Dedicated daughter Beth has a bright future ahead, but must decide if she will stay near home to care for her unpredictable mom or follow her own path. Emotionally raw and bracingly honest, this coming-of-age drama balances the pull of family obligation against personal aspirations.
The Middle Distance
Director: Patrick Underwood
Synopsis: Womanizing workaholic Neil returns to Michigan to reunite with his brother after their father dies. As they try to renovate and sell the family home, their interactions are as chilly as the frost-covered February landscape. But Neil’s façade thaws under the glow of his brother’s charismatic fiancée. With his feature debut, Chicago writer-director Patrick Underwood crafts a big-hearted romantic melodrama about what it means to rebuild.
Director: Jack C. Newell
Synopsis: Food and conversation abound in this sumptuous comedy from Chicago writer-director-actor Jack C. Newell. Over dinner, friends trade wild stories about relationships, including a woman who falls in love with an amnesiac, a couple who met through their former partners, and an unforgettably sexy trip to Paris. Filmed locally, with improvisational dialogue and a cast plucked from the city’s improv scene, Open Tables is a smorgasbord of fun.
Director: Rebecca Parrish
Synopsis: Politically outspoken and unapologetically feminist, the “Nuns on the Bus” protest group rebels against a Vatican-ordered censure by embracing social activism as a form of spiritual practice. An indelible exploration of the evolving views changing the face of Catholicism under the leadership of Pope Francis, Chicago-based filmmaker Rebecca Parrish’s uplifting, humanistic documentary is a call for equality that transcends boundaries.
Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows
Director: Rob Hatch-Miller
Synopsis: Velvet-voiced soul singer Syl Johnson struggled for decades before leaving the biz in the 1980s to open a Chicago fried-fish chain. Since then, he’s become one of the most-sampled artists in hip-hop. With a lively soundtrack, this buoyant world premiere documentary celebrates one man who can’t stop the music.
Shorts Program: City & State
City & State shorts program featuring fiction, animation, and documentary works from local talent. In Nomad (directed by Brad Bischoff), a husband tries to take his wife out for the night, but their guests stand in his way. Discover a forbidden planet in Chasm (directed by Joel Benjamin). The documentary I Am the Passenger (directed by Todd Lauterbach) attempts to fill a hole in the filmmaker’s memory. In Unknown Unknown (directed by Ed Flynn) grocery shopping has never felt so off. Old-time radio undergoes an extreme makeover in Retrocognition (directed by Eric Patrick). An ominous announcement turns a young woman’s world upside down in Marlene (directed by Andy Berlin). Nick Santore (directed by Jake Zalutsky) documents a bittersweet relationship between a father and his son. The Same River Twice (directed by Weijia Ma) infuses childhood memories with life and color. 93 min