Stranger Than Fiction:
January 6 - February 2
From January 6 through February 2, the Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates the art of the documentary in a special way. This selection of ten Chicago premieres includes films made from a highly personal point of view, as well as those that delve into issues, personalities, or evolving communities through personal interaction.
In the wry BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED…, Broadway director Lonny Price fondly reconstructs the brief glory days of the original production of Sondheim’s ill-fated musical "Merrily We Roll Along," when he and a handful of other young hopefuls believed they were headed for stardom. In THEO WHO LIVED, journalist Theo Padnos uniquely reenacts his imprisonment in Syria by Al-Qaeda, with gallows humor and deep insight into the psychology of his captors. Austrian film essayist extraordinaire Nikolaus Geyrhalter explores the aura of abandoned places in his haunting HOMO SAPIENS. Felines rule in a sneak preview of KEDI, an irresistible profile of the unusually privileged street cats of Istanbul.
Native American teens on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation speak to their challenges, their connection to the land, and their passion for their heritage in Chicago filmmaker Seth McClellan’s LITTLE WOUND’S WARRIORS. The interconnectedness of all life forms and the multiple ways in which cruelty to animals and disrespect for the environment serve to degrade human life is at the heart of Kevin Mukherji’s WE ARE ONE.
Susan Morgan Cooper connects an adoptive family’s tragedy to the Russian ban on U.S. adoptions in her powerfully emotional TO THE MOON AND BACK. Survivors of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting find a new source of healing as performers in a pop musical in MIDSUMMER IN NEWTOWN. Director Benjamin Lear goes behind prison walls to encounter boys facing life sentences for adult crimes including murder in THEY CALL US MONSTERS.
Director appearances include Seth McClellan with LITTLE WOUND’S WARRIORS; Kevin Mukherji with WE ARE ONE; and Susan Morgan Cooper with TO THE MOON AND BACK.
MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI, Steven Okazaki’s portrait of the legendary Japanese star Toshiro Mifune, inspired us to mount a retrospective of his best-known films this month. "Click here" for all the details.
— Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming
2016, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Austria, 94 min.
“Rendered as a tableau of breathtaking precision, augmented by a sound design so immersive you can feel each of the spaces extending outward way beyond the frame.” — James Lattimer, Slant Magazine
The earth abandoned by humans is the singular vision conveyed by renowned director Geyrhalter (PRIPYAT, OUR DAILY BREAD) in an ironically titled serial portrait of lonely decaying architectural sites around the world. This beautifully stark composition without dialogue reveals the crumbling detritus of a departed civilization — shopping malls, train stations, churches, homes, monuments, and more — as nature engages in the process of reclaiming its own. An eerie sense of post-apocalyptic timelessness lends a meditative air to images of once-vibrant gathering places, now seen with vegetation, birds, and the wind as their sole inhabitants. DCP digital. (BS)
2016, Ceyda Torun, USA/Turkey, 80 min.
“Splendidly graceful and quietly magical…at once dreamy and precise.” — Joe Leydon, Variety
“An unashamed love letter to the compelling creatures at its center, but peppered with wisdom and warmth…more than just the ultimate cat video.” — Sarah Ward, ScreenHub
Life is close to cushy for the cherished street cats of Istanbul, as seen in this marvelously cat-action-packed look at the purring mascots that have roamed the streets of the ancient capital for millennia — protected, admired, and honored for their beauty and their skill as mousers. In a film that no card-carrying cat lover will be able to resist, director Torun alternates stories of the people who love these independent street-dwellers, offering food, nests and hidey-holes, with cat-eye views of life at ground level. Istanbul itself comes in for an atmospheric portrait, from the fabled waterfront to the colorful maze of historic streets. In Turkish with English subtitles. DCP digital. Special advance screening courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories. (BS)
Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened...
2016, Lonny Price, USA, 95 min.
★★★½ "A beautiful Broadway memoir ... fond, swift, bittersweet." — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“Should be catnip for Sondheim aficionados, musical theater geeks, and anyone who loves a how-did-you-get-there-from-here story.” — Robert Abele, The Wrap
"A love letter to the theater — and a deeply poignant one at that — BEST WORST THING... is a bittersweet gem." — Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
In this personal behind-the-scenes tale of one of Broadway’s legendary flops, director/actor Price chronicles the strange, exhilarating, and career-changing experience of being cast as a lead in Stephen Sondheim’s short-lived "Merrily We Roll Along." In 1981, fresh from a string of hits including "Sweeney Todd," the duo of Sondheim and Hal Prince geared up to stage their next show, hiring a cast of young unknowns. Dreams of stardom are dashed when, amid scathing reviews, the show closes after only sixteen performances. Price, now a renowned Broadway director in his own right (he also played a supporting role in DIRTY DANCING), pieces together the musical’s rise, fall, and reemergence as a classic through rediscovered audition and rehearsal videos, footage of a 2002 original cast reunion concert with Sondheim and Prince in attendance, and an insightful look at how the experience impacted the careers of a clutch devastated young actors. DCP digital. (BS)
Theo Who Lived
2016, David Schisgall, USA/Israel, 86 min.
“Imaginative and affecting…a potent and vital film.” — Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
“A riveting work…a cross-pollination of performance art and self-purging.” — Andrew Crump, The Playlist
Stranger than fiction indeed is this reenactment by American journalist Theo Padnos, aka Peter Theo Curtis, of his 2012 capture by Al-Qaeda and his two-year imprisonment and torturous ordeal in Syria. In the hands of this supremely gifted storyteller, the brutal and sometimes macabre subject matter first detailed in the 2014 The New York Times Magazine story “My Captivity,” is inflected with ample self-deprecating humor and layered with compassionate insights into the psychology of his captors. Fluent in Arabic, Padnos provides not only a chilling first-person account of the price exacted by U.S. engagement in the Middle East, but a rare and powerfully humanist interpretation of the underlying issues. In English and Arabic with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
They Call Us Monsters
2016, Benjamin Lear, USA, 82 min.
“Haunting and provocative…powerful and eye-opening.” — Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter
“Doesn’t simply paint the issue as a black-and-white one…intellectually satisfying and emotionally resonant.” — Richard Propes, The Independent Critic
Three California teens charged as adults for offenses including first-degree murder await sentences of up to 200 years each in this provocative documentary that brings the dilemma surrounding juvenile perpetrators of heinous crimes into the light in all its complexity. Director Lear suggests no easy answers, but creates a troubling group portrait of the three youngsters, each a gang member who targeted supposed gang rivals. Jarad (charged with an attempted killing spree that left one victim paralyzed for life), Juan (charged with first degree murder), and Antonio (charged with two attempted murders) are followed through the weeks of a prison screenwriting class, where rambunctious hijinks, imaginative autobiographical scenarios, and pranks reveal an immaturity that gives glaring testimony to their imperfect understanding of the gravity of their crimes. DCP digital. (BS)
Little Wound's Warriors
2016, Seth McClellan, USA, 57 min.
Native American high school students born and raised on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation are the focus of this complex and hopeful portrait by Chicago filmmaker McClellan (KING IN CHICAGO, CREATIVE WRITING). These young heirs to Lakota warriors fight personal battles in the face of poverty, alcoholism, the historical wrongs visited upon their people, and their school’s ominous epidemic of teen suicide. An intense love for the windswept vistas of the Badlands, underlined by the film’s evocative cinematography, supports their expressed newfound passion for preservation of their ancient language and heritage. In English and Lakota with English translation. DCP digital. (BS)
To The Moon and Back
2016, Susan Morgan Cooper, USA/Russia, 85 min. Narrated by Jessica Long.
“As unnerving and convoluted as a byzantine plot…a powerful cry for justice.” — Herbert Paine, BroadwayWorld.com
The political murder of a Moscow lawyer and the cancellation of 259 pending American adoptions of Russian orphans are seemingly disparate events found to have a deep and insidious connection in director Cooper’s (MULBERRY CHILD) emotional exposé. Connecting the dots from Russia’s warehousing of abandoned and special needs children to the cross-borders dealings of a billionaire investment banker to one American family’s tragedy, the film explores how Russian political corruption is linked to a single adopted child, whose accidental death becomes the declared reason behind Putin’s Russian Adoption Ban. In English and Russian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
We Are One
I Am You
2016, Kevin Mukherji, USA, 86 min. Narrated by Forest Whitaker.
In this very personal documentary, director and former Chicagoan Mukherji takes a global look at mankind’s treatment of animals. An in-depth look at the issue of animal cruelty expands into an engaging examination of the basic creature relationship between humans, all other living beings, and the environment through the eyes of science, politics, secular philosophy, and religion across cultures and historical time frames. Interviews with director Harold Ramis, former president Jimmy Carter, animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi, Madeline Bernstein, president of the Los Angeles SPCA, and more, provide broad and differing perspectives. DCP digital. (BS)
Midsummer in Newtown
2016, Lloyd Kramer, USA, 81 min.
“A deeply moving film…one of the most compelling and beautifully told documentaries I have ever seen.” — Zack Walsh, PunchDrunkCritics.com
The power of art to assist in healing even the most profound grief is a reality that unfolds in tentative and ultimately joyful steps as director Kramer follows a troupe of Broadway artists who come to Newtown, Connecticut, to stage the pop musical "A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream." Cast largely with children who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the production galvanizes the once-close small town from the start, bringing withdrawn and fearful kids and heartbroken moms and dads into a creative process where trust is restored and hidden talents shine in the safe space of the performing community. DCP digital. (BS)