We're heading into a crowded weekend for film fests in Chicago, with no fewer than three major events competing for attention. This kind of overlap is far from ideal, but then again filmgoers are a self-selecting bunch, and the three festivals on tap speak to distinct interests. I'll take a closer look at two of them, while my colleague Michael Phillips tackles the 28th Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival this week in Specialty Screenings.
The Architecture & Design Film Festival (adfilmfest.com; through Monday), formerly headquartered at the Siskel Film Center, has moved north to the Music Box Theatre this year. If there was a town suited for just this kind of fest, it would be Chicago. Though it seems worth noting that this is not a locally crafted fest, but one that comes to Chicago pre-packaged from New York. That detail might feel a tad off-putting — if we're such an architectural powerhouse, why aren't we taking ownership and programming this thing ourselves? To be fair, the New York-based organizers saw an opening and took it. The bigger challenge they must contend with is a limited pool of films available on these subjects. Last year featured more wonky documentaries than one might have hoped for.
But one title that caught my eye on the 2012 lineup (and is sure to bring audiences out in droves) is the spirited portrait "Eames: The Architect and the Painter" (7 p.m. Friday, Saturday) about the eccentric husband-and-wife team best known for their mid-Century furniture designs. The doc is followed by "Elephant Safari-Into the Wild," a whimsical naturalistic stop-motion short film "starring" multiple versions of the Eames elephant stools. (It took some digging on the web to get even this cursory bit of info about the short, as neither the Music Box nor the festival's web sites offers anything approaching a useful description. Something to work on for next year.)
Changing gears, Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (better known as CIMMfest; cimmfest.org) returns for a fourth year, ambitious as ever with its unique pairing of music-themed movies and live performances through Sunday. Co-founder Josh Chicoine has done his research, and "it doesn't look like there is another stand-alone film festival (anywhere) that is so focused in on music the way we are."
That can only bode well for the festival's future, particularly in terms of broadening its reputation outside of Chicago. As many fests as play here throughout the year, many feel somewhat provincial. What the city lacks is a singular high-profile fest in the vein of South by Southwest, the kind that makes national news outside Chicago and draws interest from a wider scope of pop culture and film publications, which in turn might gin up the city's national profile. CIMMfest certainly hopes it is headed in that direction. Last year SXSW co-founder Louis Black came to the fest "and now he's working with us more closely on our board of directors," Chicoine told me.
This year's lineup includes the documentary "I Want My Name Back," which traces the highs and lows of the Sugar Hill Gang — the group that recorded the disco-inflected "Rapper's Delight" in 1979, widely considered the first rap song — which screens 7 p.m. Friday at the Wicker Park Arts Center, followed by a performance by the Sugar Hill Gang (sharing a bill with up-and-coming rap artists) at 9 p.m. just around the corner at the Double Door.
There is also the strange and bizarre on the schedule, including the Chicago-produced film "Sci Fi Sol," a musical about a lonely video game designer who creates a rock star character who comes to life and takes over the world (10:30 p.m. Saturday), plus the stoner comedy "High Road" (7 p.m. Friday), a mostly improvised film from former Chicagoan and Upright Citizens Brigade founder Matt Walsh (who comes to town for the screening), about a failed drummer-turned-idiot-pot-dealer, co-starring "Saturday Night Live's" Abby Elliott. "I think it's very common," Walsh said when I rang him up last week, "that group art, like a band or an improv group, inevitably some people quit and get real jobs, and there's always someone in the group who struggles longer with that. And I think the main character in our movie suffers from that, calling his friends sell-outs." And be sure to check out "Parallax Sounds" (5:30 p.m. Saturday) an abstract music documentary conceived by Italian experimental filmmaker Augusto Contento, who explores "Chicago's singular urban landscape through the prism of its adventurous '90s music scene," as the fest's website puts it, "part sonic history, part tone poem, and 100 percent paean to the rhythm and energy of a great American city."
More info and a full lineup of films for the Architecture & Design Film Festival can be found at musicboxtheatre.com. For more info about CIMMfest, go to cimmfest.org.
What's your story
The Chicago Documentary Summit takes place next weekend (April 21 and 22) and features a lineup of speakers, including filmmakers Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel ("Louder Than a Bomb," about Chicago poetry slams) and Ruth Leitman ("Lipstick & Dynamite," about women's professional wrestling), and includes seminars on how to sell your project to public television or raise funding through Kickstarter campaigns. Go to documentarysummit.com.
The hormone debate
Should women brave their menopausal years with or without the help hormone replacement therapy? The documentary "Hot Flash Havoc" come down on the side of drugs, disputing the 2002 Women's Health Initiative study that pointed potential cancers risks associated with HRT. The film screens Monday at the Portage Theater, and producers — aware of the embattled venue's uncertain future — have said they will donate all of the box office revenue to the current management in a gesture of support. Go to portagetheater.org.
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, of public radio's "Sound Opinions," will host a screening of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" Thursday at the Music Box. The 1973 documentary (from D.A. Pennebaker) captures Bowie's final concert performance in the guise of his trippy alter ego. Go to soundopinions.org.