Stranger Than Fiction:
January 2 – February 3
From January 2 though February 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center welcomes you to Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Premieres, our annual January showcase for the new, adventurous, and/or literally stranger than fiction in the documentary world.
A film critic goes in search of the real-life models for the comic book teens who were his childhood idols in ARCHIE’S BETTY, while the tragic tale of the lounge singer whose star-crossed career was burdened by his vocal twinship with Elvis unreels in ORION: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. The filmmaker who became known as “the father of African cinema” is profiled with truthfulness and affection in SEMBENE!, and the innovations and rivalries of the maverick artists who created a movement are detailed in TROUBLEMAKERS: THE STORY OF LAND ART.
Chicago filmmaker Holly De Ruyter appears in person with her delightfully nostalgic road movie documentary OLD-FASHIONED: THE STORY OF THE WISCONSIN SUPPER CLUB. Former Chicagoan Annika Iltis and co-director Tim Kane appear with THE BARKLEY MARATHONS: THE RACE THAT EATS ITS YOUNG, their festival-favorite chronicle of the world’s most eccentric marathon. Another former Chicagoan, director Holly Morris, appears with THE BABUSHKAS OF CHERNOBYL, a moving account of the grandmothers who tempt fate by refusing to move from the Ukraine’s radiation-poisoned “Dead Zone.”
British standup comic Russell Brand is seen employing Michael Moore-like tactics as a firebrand crusader for income equality in Michael Winterbottom’s THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES. WESTERN explores the threatened friendship of two bicultural towns facing each other across the Rio Grande. ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS is sure to resonate with anyone who remembers the fabled music mecca fondly.
Be sure to check back for updates on personal appearances.
– Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming, Gene Siskel Film Center
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
2015, Jeanie Finlay, UK, 86 min.
"Wonderfully weird ... as moving as it is entertaining." – Mark Kermode, The Observer
In a story that is truly stranger than fiction, ORION traces the bizarre star-crossed history of Jimmy Ellis, a would-be lounge singer from rural Alabama, whose gift and curse was to be an uncanny Elvis sound-alike. Success eluded Jimmy, dismissed as just another Elvis imitator, until a shady Nashville promoter bestows on him a backstory ripped from a purloined novel, and he rockets to Southern-circuit fame as Orion, performing Elvis-like, but in a glittering mask. Women scream and faint, recording contracts come his way, and rumors and mysterious theories thrive. Is Orion the King back from the dead? Is he Presley’s illegitimate half-brother? Adulation and fame prove heavy burdens behind the mask. DCP digital. (BS)
2015, Gerald Peary, USA, 70 min.
"Appealing, homespun … terrific visual treats." – Tom Russo, Boston Globe
As the son of Jewish immigrant parents growing up in the segregated South in the 1950s, Boston journalist and filmmaker Peary became obsessed with the all-American small-town wholesomeness of the “Archie” comic strip, originated by cartoonist Bob Montana. A youthful inspiration becomes an adult passion when Peary goes in search of the real people who may have been the prototypes for Montana’s iconic teens, including red-headed Archie, alluring social butterflies Betty and Veronica, and goofball sidekick Jughead. Rival stories and multiple contenders for the honors complicate the search that eventually leads the filmmaker to a 91-year-old front-runner prospect, the cartoonist’s real-life Betty. DCP digital. (BS)
2015, Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, Mexico/USA, 92 min.
"Reveals a border where Texans and Mexicans are united, rather than divided … has the feel of a high lonesome country song crossed with a narcocorrido." – Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
The co-dependent relationship of two towns, Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Mexico, facing each other across the Rio Grande, is challenged by outside forces that threaten the easygoing biculturalism of a long established way of life. Through three key subjects, an amiable cattleman and two mayors, the Ross brothers (TCHOUPITOULAS) explore colorful combined celebrations, traditions, and livelihoods against the stark beauty of the Tex-Mex borderland, as the shadow of violent change falls across the land and brings the realities of the drug trade and new U.S. antipathy toward Latino neighbors roaring into a once-placid culture. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
The Emperor's New Clothes
2015, Michael Winterbottom, USA/UK/France, 101 min. With Russell Brand.
"Made with the same crusading zeal and humor as Michael Moore’s best docs … lucid and entertaining." – Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent
British comedian Russell Brand, recently minted champion for income equality, teams up with director Winterbottom (THE TRIP, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE) for a stand-up activist’s view of the financial crisis. True to form, the irreverent performer storms the bastions of the rich and powerful brandishing a megaphone à la Michael Moore, and stages exercises with school kids, using the grossly unequal distribution of foil-wrapped candies to represent wealth. There’s method to the madness, and Brand effectively employs his fame and his easy rapport with working class fans (he’s not beyond kissing babies) to provide a stinging critique of a system that tramples the well-being of the 99%. DCP digital. (BS)
2015, Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, USA/Senegal, 86 min.
"Endlessly fascinating … an enormously moving portrait of the profound way that art can transform those who come into contact with it." – Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine
With only a fifth-grade education and a past as a fisherman and Marseille dockworker, Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene (1923-2007), acclaimed as the father of African cinema, created his art and his career from scratch. For the first time, Africans saw themselves vibrantly through films that addressed the deepest concerns of African identity and culture, including immigration and exploitation (BLACK GIRL), government corruption (XALA), and female circumcision (MOOLAADÉ). Directors Gandigo (also Sembene’s official biographer) and Silverman bring a raw truthfulness to this portrait of a complex and driven man, who would stop at nothing to make a film, even diverting a student’s script and production money to make CAMP DE THIAROYE, his powerful indictment of colonialism. In English, French, and Wolof with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
The Babushkas of Chernobyl
2015, Holly Morris and Anne Bogart, USA, 71 min.
"A haunting and provocative movie, powerful and poignant and, frankly, unforgettable." – Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
"A testimony of love, compassion, solidarity, and proof of our ability to be self-sufficient despite our age." – Adriana Aristizábal, Huffington Post
BOTH SCREENINGS ARE NOW SOLD OUT!
Almost three decades following the nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl, a great swath of Ukraine’s heavily forested landscape remains eerily empty, frighteningly radioactive, and designated the “Dead Zone.” Into this treacherous environment, paradoxically fruitful and teeming with animal life, venture filmmakers Bogart and Morris, tracking a handful of rural grandmothers, the daring holdouts who stubbornly refused to evacuate their lifelong homes. Stoic and joyfully at peace, these elderly women continue daily life in a time warp, seeking each other’s company for the rare Easter feast punctuated by song, many shots of vodka, and tears for a time long gone and for loved ones lost. In English and Ukrainian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Old-Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club
2015, Holly De Ruyter, USA, 51 min.
"Sweet, nostalgic and fundamentally Midwestern." – Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times
Both screenings of this film are now SOLD OUT!
Revel in a nostalgic look at a Midwestern institution where maraschino-garnished drinks, plentiful comfort food, and family atmosphere reign supreme. Chicago filmmaker De Ruyter scours the hinterlands for an affectionate look at the still-thriving supper club. The Wisconsin-bred phenomenon historically ushered in an era of dining out that catered to the whole family, and made unaccompanied ladies welcome at the bar. These unique mom-and-pop restaurants beckon patrons with kitsch décor ranging from hunting cabin folksy to faux Oriental, and serve up live entertainment, fish fries, and prime rib specials with homegrown flavor. Present-day fans, owners, and connoisseurs voice their appreciation, along with fears for the future in the face of corporate chain competition. DCP digital. (BS)
All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records
2015, Colin Hanks, USA, 100 min.
"Freshly compelling, even poignant." – Joe Leydon, Variety
"Disarmingly intimate for a film about a massive retail chain." – Zach Schonfeld, Newsweek
The rags-to-riches story of music industry behemoth Tower Records, which earned an astonishing billion dollars annually in its heyday, had a riches-to-rags ending when owners turned a blind eye to the future, and consumer flight to the Internet doomed the iconic chain after four decades. Once the music-lover’s source for everything and anything, Tower was a magnet for artists including Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and John Lennon, while famously promoting a party-hard philosophy behind the scenes.
Founder Russ Solomon, the raconteur extraordinaire who got his start selling used jukebox singles from the back of his dad’s drugstore, holds a prime spot in this chronicle, but director Hanks ultimately tells a larger story of a lost era and the evolution of the music industry. DCP digital. (BS)
Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art
2015, James Crump, USA, 72 min.
"A cogent, brisk, sometimes thrilling documentary ... best seen on the largest screen available." – Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
"A thrilling and revealing look at the creators and myths of land art … captures the why and how of these sacred terrestrial forms." – Christopher Bollen, Interview Magazine
The revolutions and cultural evolutions of the Sixties and Seventies gave birth to a rule-shattering art movement that came to be known as land art, for taking the rugged monumental elements of the landscape itself as form and material. Filmmaker, author, and curator Crump (BLACK AND WHITE + GRAY) allows the vision of artists--
including Robert Smithson (“Spiral Jetty”), Walter De Maria (“The Lightning Field”), and Michael Heizer (“Double Negative”), rivals and prickly, enigmatic art-world bad boys all--speak for itself in big-screen imagery that conveys the transcendent mystery and awe-inspiring scale of work defiantly unable to be purchased or possessed. DCP digital. (BS)
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young
2015, Annika Iltis and Tim Kane, USA, 90 min.
"Audiences will be laughing and scratching their heads … by the end they’ll be cheering." – Andrew Parker, Toronto Film Scene
The world’s most eccentric marathon race, modeled on a failed prison escape in mountainous deep-woods Tennessee, leads filmmakers Iltis and Kane a grueling chase over a steep, ever-changing 130-mile course. Only ten runners have ever finished in the 25-year history of the cult-like event, which features secret rules, an ambiguous start date, and an admission price of $1.60, plus a license plate and a flannel shirt. This festival crowd-pleaser, winner of a host of prizes, has had engaged audiences raucously urging on their favorites as contestants attempt to defy the odds of spectacular failure through absurdly superhuman effort. DCP digital. (BS)