Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Premieres
January 5 - February 1
The Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates the art of the documentary, presenting the Chicago debuts of eight new documentary releases. Twelve different producing nations are represented in films offering perspectives from Chicago to Alaska, and from Israel and Japan to Mexico and Qatar.
The series opens and closes with films by Chicago directors. Director Karen Weinberg will be present for opening week screenings of KEEP TALKING, produced by Chicago’s own internationally renowned Kartemquin Films, and exploring the transformation of a Native American community when women take the initiative to preserve their ancient language. Director Jack C. Newell will be present for discussion of our closing film 42 GRAMS, following the inside story of a critically acclaimed but short-lived Chicago restaurant.
Real-life stories set in the arts world are front and center. BOBBI JENE follows the American former star of Israel’s avant-garde Batsheva Dance Company as she returns home to rethink her career amid personal challenges. BEUYS is a portrait of artist-philosopher Joseph Beuys, including a trove of never before seen material, while SHADOWMAN profiles the rocky career trajectory of Manhattan street artist Richard Hambleton, whose late-life embrace by the art elite proves a mixed blessing.
A struggle for marriage equality in Mexico is woven into a heartwarming and often humorous tale in NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED, while the esoteric leisure activities of oil-rich sheiks are seen in the elegantly dreamy THE CHALLENGE. Check back often for guest appearance updates.
— Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming
2017, Karen Weinberg, USA, 80 min.
“A look forward to women as the guardians of their culture and agents of change.” — Tania Ehret, Rabble
"A deftly-woven ode to language as identity and community.” — Zoe Grams, 24 Hours Vancouver
The power of language transforms the lives of four young women and becomes a cultural catalyst in this vibrant saga set in and around Kodiak, Alaska. Director Weinberg spent five years following the efforts of a handful of elders in a struggling Alaska Native community who refuse to let their ancient Alutiiq language die. Teaching it with love and patience to a new generation, they spark a new strength and pride in heritage. Women of all ages are seen in the forefront, not least of all those whose futures are threatened in the yawning gap between a traditional way of life and the rootlessness of the mainstream American culture. The film focuses in part on Sadie, a withdrawn 13-year-old, whose discovery of the language, songs, and dances of her ancestors becomes a joyful turning point. In English and Kodiak Alutiiq with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2017, Elvira Lind, Denmark/Sweden/Israel, 95 min.
“Unfolds with uncommon grace… anyone with a passing passion for the arts should be hooked.” — Tom Grierson, Screen Daily
“Beguiling, often heart-breaking to witness… it’s the artist’s thrilling dedication to her craft that offers the most sublime state of grace.” — Ally Johnson, The Playlist
This profile of dancer Bobbi Jene Smith, a star of Israel’s avant-garde Batsheva Dance Company, catches the thirty-year-old performer at a critical turning point in her personal life and career. After a decade in Israel, the Iowa-bred former Juilliard student, protégé of choreographer Ohad “Mr. Gaga” Naharin, makes the hard decision to return home to pursue a solo career. Director Lind traces the steps as Bobbi Jene juggles her long-distance relationship with a younger dancer and ruefully regards the ticking of her biological clock. Reinventing herself in New York with a dangerously provocative, physically demanding piece challenges her conservative Christian family and may risk her future with her lover. Note: Includes nudity and sexually explicit content. In English. DCP digital. (BS)
2017, Kyoko Miyake, Canada/UK/Japan, 90 min.
“Peers into a strange niche in Japanese culture.” — Jason Anderson, Point of View Magazine
This documentary takes an inside look at the uniquely Japanese cult surrounding young female J-pop stars known as “idols,” a phenomenon sustained largely by scores of middle-aged men. The girls — bouncy, cute, some underage — energetically belt out saccharine rock anthems in tightly choreographed routines, while their aging male fans dance and sing along with frenzied fervor, spending freely on overpriced merchandise and ritualized “handshake” events with tame but distinctly erotic undertones. Director Miyake focuses on mega-star teen diva RioRio, who is at a turning point, admitting at age nineteen that she’s almost too old for fan tastes. On the flip side, the film examines the cult of the idols’ fans, consisting of lonely single men whose fetishized fixation on these barely legal girls has nurtured a billion-dollar industry. In Japanese with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2016, Yuri Ancarani, France/Italy/Switzerland, 70 min.
“A non-fictive but scarcely less fantastical equivalent to Matthew Barney’s cinematic oeuvre.” — Dennis Harvey, Variety
“Brings alive a phrase that you normally think of as being simply a conventional pairing of words: ‘fabulous wealth.’” — Jonathan Romney, Film Comment
In the seclusion of the Qatar desert, a band of young oil-rich sheiks pursue the arcane pastime of falconry and show off pricey vehicles and high-tech toys in a hallucinatory film that is less a documentary than a starkly elegant composition of tableaux vivants. A full-grown cheetah is perched in the front seat of a Lamborghini speeding across the sand to the desolate spot where his white-robed master will join fellow sheiks (including one arriving on a gold-plated Harley) for a high-stakes falconry competition. Pampered birds valued at upwards of $24,000 pursue a doomed pigeon, while their owners gamble fortunes on the outcome. Director Ancarani’s distanced observation eschews overt social comment for a surreal portrait of an exclusive and very private subculture. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Locarno Film Festival. In Arabic with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen. (BS)
2017, Andres Veiel, Germany, 107 min.
“An in-depth look…brings light to a man of profound intellectual capacity in the vein of Goethe, Voltaire and Machiavelli.” — Larry Gleeson, Hollywood Glee
“Stands out for its unique approach to the work of Beuys…recognizable and less emblematic works come alive on screen.” — Joseph Proimakis, Cineuropa
This telling portrait of Joseph Beuys makes plain the audacity and intellectual depth of this avant-garde artist-philosopher, who maintained that “everyone is an artist.” Labeled “the Andy Warhol of Germany” but often ridiculed in his homeland, Beuys created daring consciousness-expanding work that reverberated through the international art world in the Sixties and beyond. He challenged the very definition of art with revolutionary performance pieces including “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare,” “I Like America, and America Likes Me,” and “7,000 Oaks,” hailed by critics as one of the most important artworks of the 20th century. Director Veiel includes a trove of never-before-seen interviews and footage showing Beuys in action. In German and English with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
No Dress Code Required
Etiqueta no rigurosa
2017, Cristina Herrera Borquez, Mexico, 92 min.
“A wonderfully joyous tale, beautifully told…totally unmissable.” — Roger Walker-Dack, Queer Guru
“Long before the movie’s over you’ll be as much in love with its subjects as they obviously are with each other…offers a heartwarming affirmation that decency sometimes prevails.” — Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
After a Mexican Supreme Court judge rules gay marriage legal, long-time partners Victor and Fernando decide to marry in their hometown of Mexicali, Baja California, touching off a two-year bureaucratic panic among local civil authorities that is central to this bizarre, often comic, and ultimately heartwarming tale. From the governor to the mayor to the lowest clerks, all the machinery of government is mobilized against two men in love, who manage to maintain a healthy sense of humor even as their birth certificates are challenged, they are declared mentally unfit, and bureaucrats even fake a bomb scare to keep them out of city hall. Director Herrera Borquez covers the proceedings with a jaunty approach to storytelling and an eye to history in the making. In Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2017, Oren Jacoby, USA, 81 min.
“A wholly engaging and often gripping look at the chaotic career of troubled 1980s graffiti artist Richard Hambleton.” — Fionnuala Halligan, Screen Daily
“A captivating portrait of the modern art world, and the manner in which it repackages and resells its icons.” — Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
The rise, fall, and brief resurrection of pre-Banksy street artist Richard Hambleton, aka Shadowman, also provides a compelling look at the machinery of fame in this art-world chronicle. Dying young was not the fate of hard-living outsider Hambleton, a distinction that enhanced the viral legends of his 80s compatriots Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His haunting “crime scene” shadow figures on the walls and in the alleys of lower Manhattan made him an underground star, but addiction and illness brought him to homelessness. Twenty years later, director Jacoby follows Hambleton’s unlikely rise from obscurity to become the reluctant toast of the high-art gallery scene. DCP digital. (BS)
2017, Jack C. Newell, USA, 82 min.
Chicago chef Jake Bickelhaupt’s pursuit of two Michelin stars as the fulfillment of his take on the American dream is chronicled in this intimate documentary tracing the rise and demise of 42 Grams, the chef’s much-lauded restaurant. This refined temple of haute cuisine, located for a time in a repurposed fast-food joint in Chicago’s seedy Uptown neighborhood, grew out of an elite supper club that Bickelhaupt and his then-wife Alexa hosted in their small apartment, serving fifteen-course dinners to small groups of guests. Director Newell follows the trajectory of the dream, as hope, ambition, and success are newly seasoned with discord for an unexpected recipe for the future. DCP digital. (BS)