Female directors stand out at 2018 Chicago Critics Film Festival

The curtains have drawn on the sixth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, a festival which ran from May 4-10 and featured a respectable percentage of women writers and directors, 37.5 percent. Of these films, both documentaries and features, there are a few that truly stood out among the rest.  Here are my top three picks of this year’s outstanding programming at the CCFF.

Puzzle:  Kelly Macdonald stars in this female-focused story originally written by Natalia Smirnoff which then became a 2009 Argentinian film.  With Oren Moverman’s (Diane, The Dinner, Love & Mercy) skilled writing and Marc Turtletaub’s (Little Miss Sunshine) deft direction, the film lives on in a second movement depicting a middle-aged wife and mother of two who discovers it’s not too late for firsts. Agnes (Macdonald) finds herself with a keen ability to complete puzzles.  This skill leads her on a journey of newfound self-discovery and independence; an awakening to a world she never knew existed. Macdonald is extraordinary in giving Smirnoff’s film a new life, and thanks to Moverman and Turtletaub, we have a poignantly beautiful story told from a woman’s point of view.

Leave No Trace: Debra Granik who created the Academy Award nominated film Winter’s Bone is back in the writer’s and director’s chair with the evocative tale Leave No Trace. The film ever-so-subtly addresses social issues within our current world while keeping our eyes on the main subject of a father and daughter whose lives are disrupted.  Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live off the grid in the temperate rainforest of Oregon and Washington. Their existence is peaceful and caring, yet there’s an underlying fear of being caught by authorities and one day this fear becomes a reality. The future becomes uncertain and the two must find a way to live in harmony within the confines of society’s rules. With genuine performances and artistically skilled direction and cinematography, we are brought into their world, experiencing their every thought and emotion and ultimately leaving us breathless and awestruck.

Abducted in Plain Sight: Current events continue to support the saying: truth is stranger than fiction. Skye Borgman has proved this with the Broberg family story. Jan, their oldest daughter, was abducted twice by a neighbor, Robert Berchtold. The mere thought brings an audible chuckle to the air, but as soon as you begin to learn about the depravity and sickening behavior of this abductor, it’s immediately clear this is no laughing matter. Borgman takes us back in time to the 1970s when the Berchtolds move into to a churchgoing and trusting little Idaho town. The Brobergs welcome their neighbors and the two families became quite close. As time goes by, odd behaviors from Robert are overlooked, and at times condoned, until one day when Jan Broberg went missing.  Borgman interviews the family and uses recreations to give the viewer a complete story filled with the emotional turmoil they all went through. It’s a riveting tale, at times incomprehensible, as you can’t imagine yourself allowing this to happen to your own children or family. The sharply honest and candid discussions are eye-opening, bringing to the forefront a topic matter that unfortunately is in our daily headlines—sexual abuse.

The exceptional lineup of films screened at the historic Music Box Theatre in Chicago welcomed a record number of patrons, with a nearly 15 percent increase in ticket sales from 2017. The films, the diversity, and the stars who attended the CCFF created one of the best fests yet.  And it’s encouraging to see yet another festival bring into focus many female-lead films. Let’s see this trend continue to the coming years!

© Pamela Powell (5/15/18) FF2 Media

Top photo: Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace (2018) (Photo by Scott Green)

Bottom photo: Skye Borgman in Forever ‘B’ (2017) (IMDb)

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New York native film critic and film critic Pamela Powell now resides near Chicago, interviewing screenwriters and directors of big blockbusters and independent gems as an Associate for FF2 Media. With a graduate degree from Northwestern in Speech-Language Pathology, she has tailored her writing, observational, and evaluative skills to encompass all aspects of film. With a focus on women in film, Pamela also gravitates toward films that are eye-opening, educational, and entertaining with the hopes of making this world a better place. 
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