Chicago International Documentary Film Festival
Society for the Arts

2006 David di Donatello Award for Best Documentary Feauture at RomeFilm Fest (Wise Cat Catches Mice); 2006 Academy Award Winner - Best Short Documentary (The Blood of Yingzhou District)

52 films screened over 10 days.
""All good film festivals provide platforms for the underscreened, but a ten-day festival devoted exclusively to documentaries does something more

03/31/07 - 04/08/07

Fri - Sun at various times

""All good film festivals provide platforms for the underscreened, but a ten-day festival devoted exclusively to documentaries does something more. It forces engagement with the nature of nonfiction filmmaking, inviting a discussion on the medium’s ethics, strategies and its gradual erosion—or is that elevation?—by Michael Moore. From a retrospective on Frederick Wiseman (see “Frederick the Great”), who takes directorial noninvolvement to an almost ludicrous extreme, to a film like King Corn, a Super Size Me–inspired investigation of the corn industry, the Chicago International Documentary Festival, which runs Friday 30 through April 8, has docs of all shapes, bents and subgenres. A scan of the lineup also reveals documentary clichés. Seems there’s no better way to explicate a crisis than to present it through the eyes of a child, a ploy that proves both manipulative and informative in shorts like “The Tea Boy of Gaza” and “Children of Darfur.” (Ignorant of the politics around them, kids often serve as apt surrogates for viewers.) One of the more unusual uses of the strategy can be found in On a Tightrope, a film about China’s minority Uighur population (a Muslim sect), which on one hand participates in the government-mandated, antireligion loyalty rituals, and on another quietly carries on its Uighur heritage through a unique tradition: tightrope walking. The CIDF doesn’t discriminate based on length, and its selections range from shorts to the 225-minute A Lion in the House, a portrait of five families coping with cancer. In terms of subject matter, the films run the gamut from intimate to world-historic. One of the more compelling entries is Orange Revolution, a soup-to-nuts chronicle of Ukraine’s 2004 election, in which opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko survived dioxin poisoning and went on to topple the establishment in a runoff. (It would have made a great double bill with the opening-night film, In Memoriam Alexander Litvinenko, about the former KGB spy who died from radiation poisoning last year.) Having hosted such famous names as Werner Herzog (Wheel of Time), Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith), and Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), CIDF this year offers the latest from Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney), whose His Big White Self is a sequel of sorts to his 1991 The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife. Revisiting the remnants of South Africa’s white-supremacist movement 13 years after the fall of Apartheid, Self finds the tabloid-muckraker director in an unusually sober mode. Hitting closer to home, the festival will screen Senator Obama Goes to Africa, which shows the senator keeping his impossible cool—and his penchant for reaching out to others—in the Kenyan heat. Likewise local (but in a different sense), Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street may receive an even more enthusiastic reception. An affectionate elegy for Maxwell Street’s days as a melting pot—featuring plenty of anecdotes by local personalities like the late Nate Duncan of Nate’s Deli—it’s also a rueful chronicle of UIC’s city-abetted gentrification of the neighborhood. Like a lot of good docs, it finds a poignant mix of history and advocacy Ben Kenigsberg, TimeOut Chicago 3/29/07

"They might not have well-known names but over the next 10 days, a gaggle of directors and producers will arrive in town to celebrate a specific cinematic art form. The in-person appearances by both rookie and veteran filmmakers, about 80 in total, are a primary component of the Chicago International Documentary Festival, kicking off tonight and running through next weekend. This is the essence of the festival and our mission," says Christopher Kamyszew, festival director. "We would like to have this be the meeting spot between veterans and young filmmakers, to be a platform for exchanging of ideas. Run by the Society for Arts, a Wicker Park-based non-profit dedicated to cultural exchange between the U.S. and Europe, the fourth documentary fest includes more than 100 films (both feature-length and shorts) from 35 countries. Another essential thrust of the festival is fulfilling the "international" part of its name; the directors coming to town hail from countries including Argentina, Israel, Poland, Nigeria and New Zealand. (This geographic diversity is reflected in microcosm in the spread of the festival’s venues: eight different cinemas, from the Wilmette Theatre in the north to Beverly Arts Center in the south.) Among the many docs on the program are two shorts honored earlier this year by the Academy (nominee "Recycled Life" and eventual Oscar winner "The Blood of Yingzhou District"); a special screening of "The Murder of Fred Hampton," the 1971 recounting of the Chicago police raid that killed the Black Panther; and a work in progress, "Senator Obama Goes to Africa," which surely snagged the coveted closing-night slot given the popularity of its subject" - Web Behrens, Michael Wilmington and Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune 3/30/07

"`The Shawshank Redemption’ is not nominated tonight, but these five incredibly depressing movies are," Jerry Seinfeld quipped at last month’s Oscars telecast, as he presented the award for Best Documentary. Of course, it was a joke. Not a very good one, perhaps, but an indicator that even in the current surging state of popularity--at least compared to past years--of documentaries, the genre’s still often pigeonholed as a tiny gateway of material we might necessarily want to see, nor take the time to consider, because it makes us uncomfortable, makes us work, makes us learn. For many moviegoers, school is out, and reality TV is in. Unless the film is about a guy stuffing his face with McDonald’s cheeseburgers just to see if he gets fat and sick. The Chicago International Documentary Festival raises the stakes. Launched in 2003, the fest brings in documentaries from around the world, inviting to our screens the other big foe of American mainstream audiences, the subtitle. It’s a gargantuan feat that expands each year and shows that there is an audience willing to educate itself with a brand of pulsing cinema that transcends language and race and nationality. "When we started the festival the perception was that there will be interest within the younger community," says Christopher Kamyszew, the director and founder of the CIDF. "Look at what happens in Europe--you have really poor festivals, and the young people flock to the theaters. Here students are overworked and they don’t have time to attend. It’s a paradox." With little to no financial help from the city itself, the organizers depend on the public and "friends" to fund the fest each year, according to Kamyszew, which is flying in and housing nearly a hundred filmmakers from around the globe and awards select filmmakers $100,000 in cash and prizes from a panel of judges (on which Newcity’s film editor Ray Pride is serving this year). "We are in the major league in terms of prize-giving," says Kamyszew, "so the perception is that we’re very wealthy. No. That’s our expression of commitment to the filmmakers. We realize that Chicago will never be the market spot that could compete with Sundance, Tribeca, Amsterdam. So we have to offer something different. We want to be the public-based festival." Kamyszew says that a reason why the festival keeps churning--and a reason why it began in the first place--was because of the multi-ethnic nature of Chicago’s population, a mix of different communities that would be more than just willing, maybe even dedicated, to seeing films produced and filmed in their home country. "You have all these melting-pot communities," Kamyszew says. "It’s a great satisfaction to see the public--Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Poles, Cubans, various nationalities--discuss movies, argue, have different perspectives. It’s fantastic--the key to solving any problems." The first festival, in 2003, brought in about 6,000 attendees. That rose to 20,000 last year, and this year Kamyszew hopes the numbers will reach 25,000. Still, with the public’s continual fascination with celebrity, not having Tom Cruise or Paris Hilton on a red carpet deters some. "We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture," Kamyszew says. "You go to the sponsors, [and they’re like] `Who’s coming?’ They want the stars. Herzog? Who is he? That’s the problem. We don’t want to be a red-carpet event, we want to throw the red carpet before the filmmakers... the reputation of the festival in terms of programming, treating filmmakers, is certainly very strong, and we want the festival to be meeting spot for veterans and youngsters." That, it seems, is the major objective for Kamyszew, to discover new filmmakers from around the world and, in essence, give them their chance to be seen and heard. "Instead of a first-class ticket for Magic Johnson, I prefer to bring ten young filmmakers, for who this could become--and I really hate this term--a life-changing experience, where they can learn from their elders. So the ambition of this festival is to be a discovery spot. That’s why this was established." Kamyszew estimates that the festival receives about 2,500 submissions every year, of which only two percent are selected--matched with the films that are to be screened from invitations, retrospectives (this time, Frederick Wiseman, who gets a lifetime achievement award) and a "country in the spotlight" program, this year featuring films made in or about China. There’s even a program dedicated to Cuban student films, plus Chicago-minded projects like Bob Hercules’ much anticipated "Senator Obama Goes to Africa" and Phil Ranstrom’s "Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street." Plus, a tribute to the late Krzysztof Kieslowski (a friend of Kamyszew), not through his films, but through two photo exhibitions, and also a variety of world premieres, another aspect the fest prides itself on--a few years ago the festival screened "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" to a sold-out crowd. "We have a very autonomous programming--the festival is not backed by any major TV stations. We have CNN as a sponsor, but they are not backing us financially, just advertising. So we don’t have any--how can I say this diplomatically--influences, agendas, suggestions. Very often we dismiss films that could be profitable here. And that’s the great part of the festival--the autonomy." Not that he and his screening team automatically disregard established filmmakers. "We absolutely don’t want to ignore subjects or big names, but our ambition is to discover, to show something different. This year we will have Fernando Birri, who is like the South American Martin Scorsese. He’s a celebrity, and here nobody knows about him at all." Unlike a Sundance or a Toronto Film Festival, Kamyszew does not necessarily want only members of the film industry to attend screenings and programs. He says that if a festival, like Amsterdam’s, brings in 2,000 guests, that crowd fills the theaters by itself, leaving no room for the public to indulge. The public-based festival is a fine intent, but it all leads back to the one major problem, getting the public to show up. "[Some] people don’t know what a documentary is," he says. "In recent years, a zeitgeist for documentaries, they have flourished, got theatrical distribution, got deals from major players. But the general public, they disregard it because they don’t know. We got a phone call last year from a lady who asked `What is a documentary? Is it a reality show?’" He adds: "The perception is that documentaries require a higher education--but what they [really] require is an openness, an opening of the mind, and interest in the world." Born in Warsaw, Kamyszew spent his early years traveling between Poland and the States, spending time with both his mother and his father. He started in theater and film directing (he had a stint assisting director Franco Zeffirelli in the late seventies)--studied at the University of Warsaw and Columbia College--and lived in Los Angeles for a while, working in the Hollywood system. "At some point I left Hollywood," he says. "I didn’t like the vanity, the atmosphere of competition." He keeps a double citizenship with the U.S. and Poland, but settled here for good in the mid-eighties, after he was imprisoned in Poland for anticommunist activities for overseeing a staging of Polish playwright Witkacy’s "The Mother." He founded the Polish Film Festival in America in 1989--which, still going strong here in Chicago, is now the world’s largest festival of his native country’s cinema. It was here that the idea of CIDF was born: one year, because of a lack of solid films slated for the program, he included a documentary section. The response was overwhelming and he knew then that there was an audience for nonfiction film. "We sat down and said, `This city is a perfect spot for documentaries, you have so many ethnic groups, those people are more or less interested in what’s going on with their native countries or the countries of their fathers or grandfathers. Is there something like this going on in the city? No. So let’s do it.’" Kamyszew took over The Society for Arts--a nonprofit that promotes artistic and cultural exchange between the U.S. and Europe, organizing exhibitions, concerts, cinema events and so forth, and also offering various scholarships and artists-in-residence programs--in 1993 after a stint as the director of the Polish Museum of America. He’s since relinquished directing duties for the Polish Film Festival to his wife Ewa, and he has three sons, the oldest studying sound recording in Arizona and youngest not even 2. He says he spends a lot of time at the family’s wildlife estate, located at the border of Michigan and Indiana, where he watches the majority of each year’s submissions. His personal love for documentaries came later, with maturity, when he craved that sort of cinematic education. "For me, I learned so much personally from documentaries. They stimulate my imagination, help me determine who I am, where I’m going, what I’m doing. We live in an age when people don’t have time to read books. I talk to my son, he tells me `You should be proud, I read a book!’ Well, I’m very proud, but, you know, that’s the reality. The pace of life is very fast, so documentaries all of a sudden serve as a replacement form of education, contemplation, as the book used to be." He says that being behind the scenes as an organizer, not in the frontlines as a film director or producer, is just as rewarding. "For me," he says, "being this supportive part is as creative and enjoyable as making a documentary." The future holds a variety of new projects for Kamyszew and his CIDF crew, including a focus on children and children’s cinema, a Docs for Kids project, plus new workshops for aspiring filmmakers on how they can build their careers from the ground up. "We want to make a difference in the lives of individuals," Kamyszew says. He feels that the festival, and documentaries in general, has promising days ahead. "Here the sky is the limit," he says. "We believe we can get people to it, because we want to talk to people who don’t care about the shiny stuff, they don’t want to go to the red-carpet event. They don’t always have the money for that, but secondly, it doesn’t appeal to them, to have a photograph with Sharon Stone or shake hands with Tom Hanks, you know? And this is our ambition. To get such people from the whole world". - Nina Metz, NewCity Chicago 3/20/07

"Mike Gray had been following Fred Hampton with a 16mm camera for about nine months when he got the early morning call saying the Illinois Black Panther leader had been shot down by police. Gray and his film crew rushed over to Hampton’s home on Dec. 4, 1969, to get footage of the carnage left from the police raid. He says the film led to the indictment of 14 Chicago police officers involved in the incident. Although all of the police were cleared of any wrongdoing, Gray contends that his 1971 documentary, The Murder of Fred Hampton, proves that the 21-year-old revolutionary was assassinated. "Hampton was breathtaking; he had a presence," Gray said, describing the Panther leader as a man without fear. "You can see why they had to kill him. He was truly a threat to the established organization." Gray, who went on to work on films such as The China Syndrome, The Fugitive and Star Trek: The Next Generation, will screen the remastered version of the film at this weekend’s Fifth Annual Chicago Documentary Film Festival. The festival, which runs through April 8 at seven theaters throughout the city (including the Chopin Theatre at 1543 W. Division). Festival founder Christopher Kamyszew said the venue aims to expose young documentarians with seasoned professionals. "Our primary objective is to discover new talent and give young filmmakers a venue where they can start showcasing their films," Kamyszew said. He said the documentary genre has grown in popularity over the last decade, but the increased interest could result in a decline in the honesty and quality of the films produced. Kamyszew said he doesn’t want to see documentary film festivals turn out like the famed Sundance Film Festival, which, he says, has become a venue for promoting big- budget movies. "Right now, when the big players get involved, they want to have control," Kamyszew said. "I think the festivals should be a venue to help expose the product." He said many up and coming documentary filmmakers have the talent to get their movie made but no budget to sell it. "We live in a time where you can have the best product, but if you don’t have the tools for the marketing and the money to promote the film, you will not sell the product," he said. This year’s festival features movies that cover heavy topics such as African genocide, subjugation of women in Pakistan, and the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Kamyszew said more than 2,500 films were submitted to the festival this year. The festival premieres with In Memoriam Alexander Litvinenko, a film that chronicles the final days of the Russian dissident and writer who died of polonium-210 radiation poisoning in November 2006. Kamyszew said Dutch filmmakers Jos de Putter and Masha Novikova filmed the former Soviet secret service officer for two years prior to his untimely death. It chronicles the agent’s decision to speak out against his superiors. After his arrest for voice a dissident opinion against the government, Litvinenko sought political asylum in the United Kingdom but later died of the radioactive poisoning. "The film itself is very, very fresh," he said, adding that Putter and Novikova completed the final cut three weeks ago. "It will probably start a huge festival circulation." Senator Obama Goes to Africa, an unfinished film that will be shown festival, follows the presidential hopeful across the continent as he visits South Africa, Kenya, Chad and Robben Island, where anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 21 years. Chicago director Bob Hercules said he plans to hold an informal question and answer forum after the film is shown to get feedback for the final edit. He said the trip across the continent culminates in a scene where Obama and his wife visit his father’s village near Kisumu in western Kenya. "It was a momentous kind of homecoming for him," Hercules said. "He and his wife took an AIDS test in public, and it created a sensation." He said that despite the AIDS pandemic in Africa, there sill exists a public stigma in testing for the disease. Hercules, who has produced a dozen documentaries through his company Media Process Group, said he still is looking for funding to finish the film, but he hopes to have it complete by this summer. Traveling with the politician in the official press pool was a new experience for him and co-owner Keith Walker. "We didn’t have the intimacy that we are normally accustomed to in other documentaries," he said. Kamyszew said that like the Obama film, many movies in the festival will be followed by question and answer sessions with the filmmakers.He said that unlike many other documentary festivals in the country, the Chicago International Documentary Festival will award big cash prizes for the best films. The top prize, the Chicago Doc Grand Prix, awards $25,000 for the best film over 60 minutes long. The best short documentary (under an hour) wins $5,000 and $2,500 awards are given for best cinematography and most innovative filmmaker. The Society for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that created the festival in 2003, covers the cost of the awards and the $700,000 price tag for putting on the festival, Kamyszew said". - Tim Inklebarger, Chicago Journal 3/28/07

CRAZY SEXY CANCER Director/Producer: Kris Carr, Brian Fassett, Beth Nathanson, Script: Kris Carr, Cinematography: Kris Carr, Brian Fassett, David Zellerford, Editing: Brian Fassett, Pagan Harleman, Music: Mathew Puckett and Sound: Brian Fassett, David Zellerford; KILLING THE MESSENGER Director: Matthew Verboud and Jean Robert Villet, Producer: Bruno Nahon, Script: Mathieu Verboud & Jean Robert Villet and Cinematography: Jean Robert Villet, Editing: Tal Zana and Music: Tal Zana; CHEAT YOU FAIR: THE STORY OF MAXWELL STREET Director/Producer/Script: Phil Ranstrom, Script: Phil Ranstrom, Cinematography: Tony Medici, Greg Glomb, Don Murphy, Pat Prater, Phil Ranstrom, Randy Riesen, Luciano Sabin, Editing: Dan olodziej, Justin Kulovsek, Matt Mueller, Phil Ranstrom, Music: Patrick Yacano, “Signal Hill Sound” and Sound: Lee Hart; WORLD WAR IV Director/Producer: Don Craven, Cinematography/Sound: Bill , Brennan, Kenny Grant, Barry Hetch & Keith Walker, Editing: Chris Blakenship, Joe Ashe and Music: Kelly Bryarly; A LAWYER WALKS INTO A BAR : Director: Eric Chaikim, Producer: Tasha Oldham, Cinematography: Stephanie Martin and Editing: Deborah Barkow; KING CORN Director/Producer: Aaron Woolf, Script: Aaron Woolf, Ian Cheney, Curt Ellis, Jeffrey K. Miller, Cinematography: Sam Cullman, Ian Cheney, Aaron Woolf, Editing: Jeffrey K. Miller, Music: The WoWz, with Bo Ramsey and Spencer Chakedis and Sound: Richard Bock; DALE Director: Rory Korpf and Mike Viney, Producer: Jim Jorden & Jeff Hillegass, Script: Ryan Mcgee, Cinematography: Al Francesco, Editing: Rory Karpf & Mike Viney, Music: John Loeffler & David Wolfert and Sound: Scott Perry & David Colozzi; FREEHELD Director: Cynthia Wade, Producer: Vanessa Roth, Cinematography: Cynthia Wade, Editing: David Teague and Music: Rob Schwimmer; HAVE YOU SEEN ANDY Director/Producer: Melanie Perkins, Script: Melanie Perkins, Cinematography: Stephen Mc Carthy, Editing: Rachel Clark, Music: John Kusiak, Andrew Willis; ROW HARDER NO EXCUSES : Director: Luke Wolbach, Producer: Bill Wolbach & Luke Wolbach, Cinematography: Luke Wolbach, Tom Mailhot, John Zeigler, Editing: Traci Loth & Luke Wolbach, Music: B. Quincy Griffin and Sound: Bill Wolbach & Luke Wolbach; WISE CAT CATCHES MICE Director: Francesco Conversano and Nen Grignaffini, Producer: Paolo Ruffini, Script: Francesco Conversano & Nene Grignaffini, Cinematography: Roberto Cimatti, Liu Sen, Editing: Giusi Santoro and Sound: Stefano Barnaba; SECOND SPRING Director: Christine Choy, Producer: Julia Zhu, Script: Christine Choy, Cinematography: Ku-ling Siegel, Editing: Mathieu Borysevicz, Music:Jie Wang/ Gary Schreiner and Sound: Jing Li; THE NANJING MASSACRE Director: Michael Prazan, Producer: Sophie Goupil, Sylvain Bursztejn, Cinematography: Liu Yong Hong, Michaël Prazan, Takenori Yamada, Anaïs Martane, Editing: Christian Girier and Music: Gayo Nakagaki, Kaza No Kioku- I&M Co, Strobe nanafushi, Satori mix inspired by traditional music and Sound: Song Yu Zhe, George Obara; THEY CHOOSE CHINA Director: Shuibo Wang, Producer: Claude Bonin, Script: Shuibo Wang, Cinematography: Shuibo Wang, Editing: Ragnar van Leyden and Music: Peter Chase; SENIOR YEAR Director: Zhou Hao, Producer: Shen Hao, Script: Zhou Hao, Cinematography: Zhou Hao, Editing: Zhou Hao, Music: Pushu and Sound: Zhou Hao; THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU DISTRICT Director: Ruby Yang, Producer: Thomas Lennon, Cinematography: Jiangtao QU, Editing: Ruby Yang, Manchung Ma, Music: Brian Keane, and Sound: James Lebrecht, Patti Tauscher; RETURN TO THE BORDER Director: Zhao Liang, Producer: Sylvie Blum, Script: Zhao Liang, Cinematographer: Zhao Liang, Editing: Noja-Mary Stephen and Sound: Fanglei Zhang; LOSERS AND WINNERS Director: Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken, Producer: Michael Loeken, Script: Ulrike Franke, Michael Loeken, Cinematography: Michael Loeken, Ruediger Spott, Editing: Guido Krajewski, Music: Maciej Sledziecki and Sound: Ulrike Franke, Csaba Kulcsar; ON A TIGHTROPEDirector: Petr Lom, Producer: Torstein Grude, Script/Cinematography/Edditing and sound: Petr Lom); MYSTIC BALL Director:Greg Hamilton, Producer: Matthew London & Greg Hamilton, Cinematography: Jeremy Pollard and Others, Editing: Mary Manhardt, Music: Sambasunda and Others and Sound: Sean O’Neil; IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON Director: David Sington, Producer: John Battsek, Duncan Copp, Sarah Kinsella, Cinematography: Clive North and Editing: David Fairhead; BRITAIN

Tags: Film, Rest Of The World, 2007