Chicago Hosts 55th Annual International Film Festival

Lisa Fielding
October 03, 2019 - 2:13 pm

CIFF (Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Before, Sundance, before Toronto, there was Chicago.

Recognized as the first competitive international film festival in North America, this year marks the city's 55th Annual International Film Fest and festival organizers are promising something for everyone.

"We screen more than 6,000 films," said Artistic Director Mimi Plauche. "We travel to other festivals, we meet with producers, with sales agents that represents the films. Thousands of films are also submitted. That's where we find a lot of hidden gems as well."

The CIFF was founded in 1964 and has been bringing commercial, independent and foreign films to the masses for years.

"Last year was our founder's last year, so we begin a new era. We just hope to continue Michael Kutza's phenomenal work," Plauche said.

Mimi Plauche, left, and Vivian Teng (WBBM NEWSRADIO/Lisa Fielding)

She and Managing Director Vivian Teng have worked together for 15 years.

"We both felt equipped to take on the new leadership. We worked with Michael so closely. It's about honoring the past too," said Teng.

Plauche said she and her team start searching for films each January.

"We look at a lot of amazing films. As an audience driven festival, we always look to see what's exciting, what will relate well to our audiences," said Teng. "We always try to find these connections to the community, ties to Chicago."

Plauche said the team is constantly researching trends in the movie industry and up-and-coming filmmakers. 

"We always try to have a diversity of programming that represents what's happening in contemporary and independent cinema. We also like to find those exciting new voices too," said Plauche.

Documentaries continue to be more popular with theater goers.

"There's a new hunger for documentaries. We ask, is it cinematic? Will it bring a new experience to the big screen?," she said. "We're always thinking, 'Will this be a cinematic experience for our audience? Is this a unique story? Is it educational?' These are all things we think about when we choose what to include in the festival."

With the expansion of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, Teng said there are still consumers who love seeing new releases in the theater and the Film Fest does that each year. And it's more than simply going to the movies, she said. 

(Courtesy CIFF)

"It's an emmerisve experience. It's the engagement with directors, the Q and A's at the end," she said. "Nothing beats seeing something on the big screen with a group of people. The film is scarier on the big screen, the comedy is funnier. It creates community; it's about experiencing things together."

Over the past 55 years, everyone from Bette Davis to Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood have either been featured or were in attendance.

This year, four production designers will be honored for their work behind the scenes. This year's opening film is Edward Norton's "Motherless Brooklyn" and closing night features "The Torch," a documentary about musician Buddy Guy.

50,000 people are expected to attend this year's festival, which opens Oct. 16 and runs through Oct. 27 at AMC River East Theaters.