Highlights include the Chicago Film Society’s international selections, the Milwaukee-shot “Give Me Liberty,” Kiarostami’s “Koker Trilogy,” and a month-long celebration of documentarian Julia Reichert. (Image: Hal Hartley’s “Trust” screens on September 28.)
For the final months of 2019, the folks at UW Cinematheque have curated yet another robust lineup, with a number of films that emphasize Midwestern connections, either by shooting locations, filmmakers, or titles fondly selected by the Chicago Film Society. In what is the most sizable series, nearly every Sunday at the Chazen Museum from September 1 through December 15, CFS founding members Julian Antos, Becca Hall, and Kyle Westphal have pulled together an all-35mm array of familiar and obscure films that span 70 years—from Curtis Bernhardt’s Juke Girl (1942) to Jane Campion’s Sweetie (1989) to Moshen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1996) to Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s Paranorman (2012).
Antos, Hall, and Westphal have all worked as projectionists during the annual Wisconsin Film Festival, at various venues on and off campus. As a commemoration of their own restoration work with the Chicago Film Society since its inception in 2011, Antos and Hall will even make a personal visit on September 28 at 4070 Vilas Hall to present a 35mm print of Hal Hartley’s independent dark romantic comedy Trust (1991), featuring a vulnerable and thrilling performance from Adrienne Shelly, alongside Martin Donovan and Edie Falco in their own compelling turns.
The first screening of the fall schedule also flexes certain local ties. Before a proper theatrical run at the Marcus and AMC chains, the Cinematheque will host the Madison premiere of Russian-born director Kiril Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty on Thursday, August 29. Filmed on Milwaukee’s north and east sides, and in the suburb of Shorewood, and featuring locations like the Eisenhower Center and Ma Fischer’s restaurant, the film is a chaotic but comedic story about a medical transport driver (Chris Galust), who uses his privileges to go for a joyride (in a manner of speaking) with a group of Russian seniors who need to be escorted to a funeral across the city. This causes an obvious stir with his boss and a new passenger, the iron-willed Tracy (Lauren Spencer), who’s simply using the transport service to get to and from work amidst street protests.
Despite this season’s pronounced regional flavor Cinematheque still has an international scope. Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami’s “Koker Trilogy” has long-remained out-of-print and difficult to see for years until a recent restoration (even remaining elusive to senior Cinematheque programmer Mike King). Overlapping with the Criterion Collection box set release in late September, the 1989 documentary, Homework, is additionally receiving a special spotlight here, preceding the three films in the Trilogy on Friday, September 20. Inspired by Kiarostami’s own son’s academic challenges, Homework‘s interviews with grade school students are as insightful as Kiarostami’s approach is formally innovative, complementing his signature humanist marriage of documentary and narrative forms that find their way into the Trilogy—Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987) And Life Goes On (1992), and perhaps the most revered Through The Olive Trees (1994), which was recently tributed in Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces (which screened as part of MMoCA’s Spotlight Cinema series last November). If that weren’t enough, the Cinematheque will be introducing all these features with contextual shorts that Kiarostami made in the 1970s and early 1980s, including Orderly Or Disorderly (on Friday, September 20) and The Chorus (on Friday, October 2).
Throughout November, acclaimed Ohioan documentary filmmaker Julia Reichert (and co-director of 2019 Wisconsin Film Festival selection American Factory) will be honored with at least one film every Saturday prior to Thanksgiving, beginning with the groundbreaking sociological study of six young women in Growing Up Female (1971) on Saturday, November 2. It is frequently cited as a true feminist film and the first of the modern women’s equality movement. The month peaks on November 16 with a personal visit from Reichert for the multiple Academy Award-nominated Seeing Red: Stories Of American Communists (1983), which details the Red Scare of the 1950s, amidst other tales of oppression that show right-wing politicians weaponizing glib, misapplied rhetoric that will feel very familiar today.
In addition to all the screenings, Cinematheque is also recruiting some of the aforementioned filmmakers and organizational founders, but also looking provide deeper historical perspectives with in-person visits from a few film scholars. Among the latter, particularly notable is George Eastman Museum archivist Nancy Kauffman, who will give an in-depth talk on the lost Pre-Code era comedy Convention City ahead of Roy Del Ruth’s 1933 feature, Employees’ Entrance, on Saturday, October 19. (Convention City itself will not be screened and indeed cannot be screened, for reasons Kauffman will explain.) The evening is a companion of sorts to this past summer‘s dive into “Poverty Row” features of the 1930s. Other scheduled visits include Stéphane Vieyra, daughter of African cinema godfather Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, experimental filmmaker Larry Gottheim, and 3-D Archive founder Bob Furmanek during late October’s “Halloween Horror” block.
As usual, Cinematheque gives viewers a lot to savor with its regional “Premiere Showcase” series, which includes the alternately daring and intimate surrealistic epic Our Time from Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas (which he also stars in) on Saturday, September 21, and Asian-American Media Spotlight finale Ms. Purple, a Los Angeles-centric familial drama, with post-screening discussion led by co-writer Chris Dinh on Saturday, October 5. Even the odds and ends of individual presentations in the schedule include several gems, like Daniel Petrie’s A Raisin In The Sun (1961) on Friday, November 1 and Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (2004) on Friday, November 22. The year concludes on Sunday, December 15, with Die Hard on 35mm, as the Chicago Film Society settles, once and for all whether the action classic is, in fact, a Christmas movie.