Stranger Than Fiction 2019
January 4 - 31
From January 4 through 31, the Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates the art of the documentary in a special way with the series "Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Premieres." Identity in its many meanings and permutations is the theme that weaves through seven features and two shorts, as the subjects of these films explore what it means to be true to themselves, true to their values, and true to their dreams.
In FAMILY IN TRANSITION, the relationship of spouses, children, friends and neighbors shifts when an Israeli father of four comes out as a transgender woman. THE SUNDAY SESSIONS goes inside the heavily discredited process of conversion therapy with a religiously devout young actor who seeks to change his sexual orientation. A filmmaker/artist follows the trail of the family secrets that shaped his childhood in PATERNAL RITES. Men and women who find solace in the live-in companionship of life-size dolls form a little-known subculture in SILICONE SOUL.
A uniquely Chicago story unfolds in F*** YOUR HAIR, when a small Chicago South Side brewery stands up to the president’s slurs against immigrants in the way they know best--with beer. This short documentary will be joined on the program by ’63 BOYCOTT (previously screened in Chicago), the rousing story of a time when thousands of Chicagoans stood up against a series of longstanding wrongs in the public school system. Avant-garde dancer Rocío Molina takes the art of flamenco to radical heights of self-expression as she creates a new piece in IMPULSO. In ON HER SHOULDERS, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and massacre survivor Nadia Murad struggles to overcome her personal trauma in order to become the face of ISIS victims to the world. OWNED, A TALE OF TWO AMERICAS
examines how government policies, racism, and a series of financial debacles have served to deny many minority Americans the validating status of home ownership. Gone but not forgotten, prehistoric DNA may be heading for a comeback as scientists seek to clone a woolly mammoth in GENESIS 2.0.
Filmmaker appearances are expected with PATERNAL RITES, SILICONE SOUL, F*** YOUR HAIR, and ’63 BOYCOTT.
Family in Transition
2018, Ofir Trainin, Israel, 70 min.
The Israeli couple Amit and Galit had appeared to have the ideal marriage, but, twenty years and
four children later, the husband Amit comes out as a transgender woman. Filmmaker Trainin
follows the family’s journey over two years in which the transitions take many forms, and
challenges come from unexpected quarters. Conservative neighbors may look askance, but the
concept of two moms comes easily to the kids, and the in-laws are wholeheartedly accepting.
Galit accompanies Amit to Thailand for the surgery that will complete her transformation, and
supports her through a recovery in which all does not go as planned. To all appearances, it
couldn’t be better when the couple remarry as women at Galit’s suggestion, but the happy
wedding day signals a new period of rocky adjustment when the two begin to evolve in different
directions. In Hebrew with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Christian Frei and Maxim Arbugaev, Switzerland/China, 112 min.
“Stunning…begs the question, how far away are we from Jurassic Park becoming a reality.”--
Jim Dobson, Forbes
Global warming yields a bizarre bonanza when ivory hunters digging for the prized tusks of the
long-extinct woolly mammoth on an Arctic Ocean island unearth the preserved but thawing body
of one of these immense creatures, complete with still-fresh blood. Winner of the Special Jury
Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, this haunting documentary explores poetic and mythic
angles as it delves into science’s futuristic quest to create life from organic remnants from the
prehistoric age. Director Frei (Oscar-nominated WAR PHOTOGRAPHER) follows the trail of
the mammoth DNA to the laboratories of Russian and Korean clone researchers and monitors
science community expectations from Boston to Beijing, while co-director Arbugaev covers the
continuing excavation of the gigantic but fragile carcass from the Siberian permafrost. DCP
The Sunday Sessions
2018, Richard Yeagley, USA, 89 min.
“An impressive feat of filmmaking…effectively conveys the strangeness of 'conversion therapy.'”--James Croft, The Humanist
This searing fly-on-the-wall journey inside so-called conversion therapy follows a young actor’s troubled two-year quest to change his sexual orientation. Although the practice is outlawed in many states, Nathan, a passionately committed Catholic in his late twenties, voluntarily submits to treatment by controversial therapist Christopher Doyle, a gay man who now boasts of a new heterosexual life that includes a wife and children. With unprecedented access to Nathan’s therapy sessions, which include bullying exercises and directives to “grow a pair of balls,” as well as emotional confrontations with his parents and a stay at an all-male “conversion camp,” filmmaker Yeagley lets the images speak for themselves as Nathan’s faith-based resolve is seen as increasingly at odds with his attraction to men. DCP digital. (BS)
2017, Emilio Belmonte, Spain, 87 min.
“Thrilling to behold…a demystification of the artistic process.”--Ben Kenigsberg, The New York
Flamenco like you’ve never experienced it is centerstage in this dynamic profile of avant-garde
dancer Rocío Molina, who expands and liberates the techniques of an ancient form through wild
athleticism and the improvisational spirit of performance art. Providing a veritable compendium
of the unorthodox scenarios and the rousingly passionate choreography that brings Molina’s
audiences to their feet, director Belmonte presents the charismatic dancer in rehearsals and
public performances throughout Spain, including one featuring a guest appearance by revered
flamenco veteran Antonia Santiago Amador, aka La Chana. Working with trusted musicians at
her Paris studio and at her family’s Andalusian home, Molina engages in the physically and
emotionally draining months-long preparation of a demanding new piece to be performed at the
Chaillot National Theater in Paris. In Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Owned, A Tale of Two Americas
2018, Giorgio Angelini, USA, 83 min.
“Holy smokes this is good…it’s fun to watch, it’s fascinating and amazing.”--Chris Hayes, NBC
The dark side of the middle class ideal of home ownership, a bedrock component of the
American Dream, is explored with briskly-paced verve, giving this twisty tale of myth-making,
entrenched racism, and financial manipulation an urgent vibrancy. The explosive growth of
post-WWII suburbia, exemplified by developments like Levittown, launched legions of returning
white G.I.s into a class upgrade that made them lords of the lawnmower and backyard grill,
while minorities were simultaneously being barred from the giddy prosperity party of the Fifties
by practices that included extensive redlining and covenant deeds that mandated racial and ethnic
exclusions. Director Angelini (producer of MY FRIEND DAHMER) moves forward through
the decades to link house flipping, the McMansion craze, underwater mortgages, and the 2008
crash with the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Jules Rosskam, USA, 82 min.
A road movie of the mind, this documentary/personal essay follows a transformative route to catharsis for a gay transgender Jewish filmmaker. With a plan to trace the route of a Boston-to-Vancouver road trip that his parents took just prior to his birth, director Rosskam (THICK RELATIONS, TRANSPARENT) and his partner set out using the parents’ diaries and photos as guides. The journey evolves into an interior one that reveals secrets of physical and sexual abuse and long-suppressed trauma, and shines a new light on three generations of family dynamic.Deftly combining techniques and media that include animation, personal narrative, home movies, and layered imagery, Rosskam, an alum of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, reaches
beneath the surface for a way to truth and healing. DCP digital. (BS)
2016, Gordon Quinn, USA, 30 min.
This then-and-now look at the historic 1963 boycott against the Chicago Public Schools focuses on a massive protest that brought 200,000 students to the streets and ultimately brought down schools superintendent Benjamin Willis for promoting discriminatory practices and de facto segregation in South Side schools. Director Quinn updates the fight for equality in the schools to the present day, with a contrasting look at the same issues in new guises under the administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. DCP digital. (BS)
F*** Your Hair
Chinga Tu Pelo
2018, Jason Polevoi, USA, 38 min.
The triumphant story of how a little Chicago microbrewery succeeded in flipping off the president and mobilizing a community got its start after the 5 Rabbit Cervecería received a major order with a downside. Married brewery owners Andres Araya and Mila Ramirez, Latin American immigrants, rejoiced when they were selected to brew the house brand for the new Trump Tower, a coup for such a small business. Joy turned to horror with Trump’s shocking public characterizations of Hispanic immigrants. They pulled their beer out of the tower, but what to do with all that product? The answer lay in imaginative relabeling of the golden ale as Chinga Tu Pelo, or F••• Your Hair. Thirsty Chicago beer drinkers, bar owners and restaurateurs rose to the protest challenge with glee, and set 5 Rabbit on a new path to social action. DCP digital.
Preceded by ’63 BOYCOTT (previously screened in Chicago). This then-and-now look at the historic 1963 boycott against the Chicago Public Schools focuses on a massive protest that brought 200,000 students to the streets and ultimately brought down schools superintendent Benjamin Willis for promoting discriminatory practices and de facto segregation in South Side schools. Director Quinn updates the fight for equality in the schools to the present day, with a contrasting look at the same issues in new guises under the administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Melody Gilbert, USA, 71 min.
“Casts a non-judgmental eye…a glimpse into a hidden world.”--Bianca-Olivia Nita, Modern
SILICONE SOUL compassionately explores the connection between lonely humans and the non-human silicone companions that serve to fill a range of their emotional needs. John, a retiree, readily introduces his “wife” Jackie to family, neighbors, and curious strangers, and is hurt if some aren’t kind to this beautiful young woman in a wheelchair. Jackie is a life-size silicone doll that he lovingly dresses, grooms, and cuddles daily. The face of an aged woman with Alzheimer’s lights up as she tenderly rocks and caresses the adorably lifelike silicone infant that a visitor places in her eager arms. Director Gilbert (THE SUMMER HELP, A LIFE WITHOUT PAIN) records scenarios like these and more, as she moves though the intricate and little-known world of silicone surrogates, more commonly regarded as mere sex toys, and discovers the ways in which they become for their owners, wives, mistresses, friends, or children. DCP digital. (BS)
On Her Shoulders
2018, Alexandria Bombach, USA, 95 min.
“Direction and editing are exceptional; captures images that are both subtle and formidable.”--
Ken Jaworowski, The New York Times
The transition of Nadia Murad, survivor of an ISIS massacre, to her unfamiliar but determined
role as activist on a global scale is chronicled as this member of Iraq’s non-Muslim Yazidi
minority prepares for her speech before the UN. Her quiet teenage life ended in 2014, when ISIS
forces descended on her village to wipe out her immediate family and more than one-third of the
population, taking Murad and all the other women and girls as sex slaves. Following her subject
a few months before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, director Bombach (multi-award-
winning FRAME BY FRAME) sensitively observes the once-sheltered young woman as she
comes to grips with the pain of repeatedly reliving her trauma and humiliation in interviews and
public statements, and faces world leaders, the international press, and the curious public with
stoic grace, all in the name of giving a voice to the thousands of victims of genocide carried out
by the Islamic State. In English and Arabic with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen.