Stranger Than Fiction
January 3 - 29
From January 3 through 29, the Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates the art of the documentary in a special way, with the series Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Premieres. Dreams, obsessions, and power plays figure in many of these eight films, in which a search for truth or meaning is often an underlying theme.
The final harrowing chapter in director Terry Gilliam’s attempt to complete his dream project, THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, unfolds in HE DREAMS OF GIANTS. The story of an African American librarian who devoted thirty years of her life to capturing network news on a battery of home VHS recorders comes to light in RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT. Septuagenarian feminist Benedetta Barzini meets with resistance from her filmmaker son over her desire to become invisible despite her international cover-girl fame in THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MY MOTHER.
A Mexico City family chases an elusive dream of prosperity while running down car wrecks in their maverick ambulance in MIDNIGHT FAMILY. Love for the mom n’ pop neighborhood video store still burns bright for filmmakers including John Waters in AT THE VIDEO STORE, featuring some hardy survivors including Chicago’s own Odd Obsession Movies. Dogged investigative reporting by the filmmaker gives BETRAYAL: WHEN THE GOVERNMENT TOOK OVER THE TEAMSTER’S UNION a timely resonance with a First Amendment angle and a Chicago setting.
A millennial filmmaker accompanies a group of aged veterans to Europe for the 70th commemoration of D-Day and gains new insight into history in SUNKEN ROADS: THREE GENERATIONS AFTER D-DAY. Two long-vacated homes, one in Tehran and the other in Alabama, are featured in A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME: WRIGHT OR WRONG, a mediation on displacement focusing on the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house where film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum grew up.
Filmmaker appearances are scheduled with BETRAYAL, SUNKEN ROADS, A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME, and AT THE VIDEO STORE. Check this web site for exact details and guest appearance updates.
2019, Luke Lorentzen, Mexico, 90 min.
- Fri, Jan 17th 8:15pm
- Tue, Jan 21st 8:15pm
- Wed, Jan 22nd 6:00pm
- Thu, Jan 23rd 8:15pm
“Profound and thrilling cinema verité filmmaking…extremely visceral in the best ways.”—Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com
“Compelling…blends the engaging family dynamic of a Kore-eda drama with the socio-economic realities of a Ken Loach classic.”—Allan Hunter, Screen International
Emergency healthcare provided at breakneck speed and with the precarious action-packed outcome of a video game is the astonishing subject of this documentary set in the late-night streets of Mexico City, where ambulance service is largely left to the self-taught ministrations of wildcat EMT crews. The Ochoa family business is a private ambulance operated with gutsy determination but iffy compensation by dad Fernando, his two sons, and a family friend. Director Lorentzen’s camera captures the urgency and the drama of a life spent in the margins where other lives hang in the balance. Seventeen-year-old Juan emerges as the backbone of the family and the film’s level-headed hero, careening through the streets to beat competitors to accident sites and efficiently aiding victims of everything from traffic collisions to a beating by an abusive boyfriend. In Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
A House is Not a Home: Wright or Wrong
2020, Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, USA, 74 min.
- Sat, Jan 18th 5:15pm
- Mon, Jan 20th 7:45pm
This intimate real-life saga links the filmmaker’s family and long-lost home in Tehran, an historic Frank Lloyd Wright house in Florence, Alabama, and the formative years of renowned film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum (Placing Movies), in a reflection on the life impact of space, place, and displacement. Rosenbaum, son of a family that owned a chain of movie theaters, grew up in the Wright house, now restored as a museum. Documenting the home over a period of years, beginning at a time when it was still occupied by the critic’s mother, Saeed-Vafa (JERRY & ME, A DIFFERENT MOON) finds parallels between the design eccentricities that the famously inflexible architect imposed on his clients and the twisting and constricted course of dysfunctional family histories that veer into alienation and tragedy. DCP digital. (BS)
Director Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and subject Jonathan Rosenbaum are scheduled to appear for audience discussion at both screenings.
At the Video Store
2019, James Westby, USA, 72 min.
- Fri, Jan 24th 8:00pm
- Sat, Jan 25th 5:30pm
"Perfectly captures the often shambolic nature of these home video emporiums... The film also serves as a wistful time capsule."—Robert Ham, Portland Mercury
The independent neighborhood video store is both celebrated and eulogized in this lively documentary recalling the heyday of what was once a democratic temple of high art and movie madness like no other. Director Westby (FILM GEEK, THE AUTEUR) conjures up an age when wildly eclectic selections of VHS tapes graced the shelves of these establishments like rare volumes presided over by intensely knowledgeable—and often geeky and eccentric—curator/ clerks. It’s not all nostalgia, as the featured presence of a handful of surviving mom n’ pop stores reveals, including Chicago’s own Odd Obsession Movies. Entertainment world movers and shakers including John Waters, Bill Hader, Thelma Schoonmaker, Todd Haynes, Nicole Holofcener, and more testify to the life-altering and career-making effects of their video store experience. DCP digital. (BS)
Director James Westby is scheduled to appear for audience discussion at both screenings.
The Disappearance of My Mother
Storia di B. - La scomparsa di mia madre
2019, Beniamino Barrese, Italy, 94 min.
- Sun, Jan 26th 5:00pm
- Wed, Jan 29th 8:00pm
“An interesting exercise in cinema-as-weapon…entertaining and dexterously crafted.”—Dennis Harvey, Variety
“A tumultuous muse story in which the artist and his inspiration just happen to be blood relations.”—Keith Uhlich, Hollywood Reporter
Mother-son tensions escalate into guerilla warfare filtered through the camera lens when the unwilling subject is legendary Italian model Benedetta Barzini, a Sixties icon, and her son is the fledgling filmmaker hellbent on documenting his mother’s life whether she likes it or not. Now a prominent Marxist feminist and Milan university professor who rejects the commercialism of the fashion world, 76-year-old Barzini had early in life forged a brilliant career as an international cover-girl, protégé of Diana Vreeland, and muse of artists including Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dalí. The push-pull of this filmmaking process teeters between abuse and love, revealing a headstrong shape-shifter who revels in the slovenly demeanor of a chain-smoking bag-lady to thwart her director, but who is yet a lioness in the classroom, and a blazing goddess in a rare guest turn on the catwalk for London Fashion Week. In Italian and English with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
He Dreams of Giants
2019, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, UK, 85 min.
- Fri, Jan 3rd 2:00pm
- Sun, Jan 5th 3:00pm
- Wed, Jan 8th 8:00pm
“Irresistible…a rare unvarnished look at the filmmaking process with full access to Gilliam’s frustrations and indefatigable spirit.”—Stephen Saito, Moveable Feast
“A moody plunge into the anguish of the artistic process…you’ll realize that Gilliam’s struggles are humanity’s struggles.”—Jordan Hoffman, Guardian
Filmmakers Fulton and Pepe have been chronicling the brainstorms, travails, and pratfalls of director Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) as he grappled with successive attempts to produce THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, his obsessive project of a lifetime, since their 2002 film LOST IN LA MANCHA. With first-hand access to the final chapter in the bizarre 25-year journey, the filmmakers bring it all full-circle, as an angst-ridden, conspicuously older, but perhaps not wiser Gilliam muses on his complex creative process while he finally brings the film to the finish line with a start-over cast headlining Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce. A recap of the phases, permutations, and disasters that led up to the film's rebirth provide an enlightening look behind the scenes. See our companion screenings of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE on January 3 and 5. DCP digital. (BS)
Betrayal: When the Government Took Over the Teamster's Union
2019, George Bogdanich, USA 70 min.
Narration by William Forsythe
- Sat, Jan 4th 7:30pm
- Thu, Jan 9th 7:45pm
“Gets at the truth behind the legend.”—Daniel Patton, Reel Chicago
Now seen here in the completed full-length version, BETRAYAL outlines three decades of government overreach into Teamster Union affairs, led by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who, in 1989, issued a Consent Decree that ultimately resulted in a massive government cash grab, suppression of Constitutional rights, and the destruction of the careers of a number of dedicated union officials who had never been accused of a crime. The hard-hitting sleuthing of director Bogdanich (YUGOSLAVIA: THE AVOIDABLE WAR) unearths a far-reaching and convoluted story, with a major Chicago angle, of a Justice Department action that went disastrously and dangerously awry when the government set out to purge the powerful union of mob influence. DCP digital. (BS)
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
2019, Matt Wolf, USA, 87 min.
“Compelling…weirdly exhilarating.”—Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
“Remarkable…weird and often quite moving.”—Kate Erbland, Indiewire
In the course of roughly thirty years, Marion Stokes, a Philadelphia African American librarian, leftwing activist, and borderline hoarder, obsessively recorded more than 70,000 VHS tapes charting news events large and small, national and local, as seen on TV — from the Iran hostage crisis to Sandy Hook. This oddly compelling documentary pieces together the bizarre story of the creation of a vast and now historically priceless unfiltered archive of news events as they unfolded simultaneously on multiple channels of network television. Was she an obsessive crank or a brilliant visionary? Filmmaker Wolf delves into the life of a woman with a drive to ferret out truth in the public realm. Her second marriage to a wealthy like-minded man enabled her to pursue her passion day and night, even as it alienated families and turned them both into hermits. DCP digital. (BS)
Sunken Roads: Three Generations After D-Day
2019, Charlotte Juergens, USA, 91 min.
A commemorative pilgrimage to Omaha Beach for the 70th anniversary by a group of D-Day veterans is seen from a new perspective through the eyes of the 20-year-old filmmaker. A project begun as a tribute to the great-grandfather she never knew becomes for millennial director Juergens a reconstruction of a wrenching history through the stories and still-fresh haunted memories of the aged survivors she accompanies on an emotional encounter with the past. As the men come to rely on and bond with her as a surrogate granddaughter, the journey extends from Cornwall, England, where troops trained for the invasion, to joyful and tear-filled welcomes in the villages and towns they liberated throughout Normandy. In English and French with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)