The Gene Siskel Film Center’s Chicago European Film Festival will run from March 8 to April 4. Of the 60 films featured, 22 were directed by women. A huge deal, considering last year there were only 10 films directed by female directors of 61 films. During the 2017 CEUFF, I saw Cézanne and I (Cézanne et Moi), a film that was so wonderfully emotional, deep and soulful that I had to reach out to the director, Danièle Thompson. During the interview she told me that, in France, there are many more female directors than in America. She said, “It’s not 50/50 yet. Will it ever be? I don’t know. But it’s definitely happening in France.” This gave me hope for the future of women who are making films and who aspire to make them. Between that interview and this year’s increase in female directors, I’d definitely say that we are on the right track. It’s a long road ahead but we are making an impact as filmmakers and as critics in the industry.
I’ve seen seven of the 22 films: Arantxa Echevarria Carmen & Lola (Spain), Peter Lataster and Petra Lataster-Czisch You Are My Friend (Netherlands), Liina Trishkina Take it Or Leave It (Estonia), Nicole Palo’s Emma Peeter (Belgium), Ute Wieland’s Tiger Milk (Germany) Adina Pintilie Touch Me Not (Romania) and Carmel Winters Float Like a Butterfly (Ireland). CEUFF is the largest film festival, on the continent, that shows films from the 28 European Union nations.
I started the festival by viewing the drama, Carmen & Lola. Set in a traditional Gypsy community in Spain, the film is about two girls who are attracted to each other, but due to societal demands, they have to be discrete. A girl is to follow the gender norm; marry young, have babies. The film shows that following your heart is more than a romantic idea, but a harsh reality that may or may not be worth it. That’s something we can all learn from.
To celebrate International SWAN Day, I caught up with my FF2 Media colleagues, Brigid and Georgi Presecky to see Emma Peeters. The film is a poignant, yet lighthearted film about a suicidal and unsuccessful actress. Disheartened, Emma (Monia Chokri) feels she has wasted much of her adult life, at age 34, and plans on killing herself on her birthday. She makes a detailed list of things to do before dying, and researches different ways on how to do the task at hand. One of my very favorite scenes is when Emma attempts to take a lethal pill. Startled by her ringing cell phone, she drops the pill into her cat’s water dish. Terrified, Emma shakes the cat in hopes of shaking the pill out of him.
The next film was Take it or Leave It. It shows a strong sense of love. Erik (Reimo Sagor) is shocked to find that his ex-girlfriend, Moonika (Liis Lass) contacts him months later, after a sexual encounter, only to tell him that she’s recently given birth to his baby. She hands over custody to him. Initially reluctant, Erik eventually bonds with his daughter Mai (Nora Altrov). My favorite scene happened a few years later when Moonika drops by to see Mai, on her third birthday and is shunned by Erik. After being rejected she begins legal proceedings that may change both Erik and Mai’s lives, and Erik is willing to do anything to keep her.
The film Tiger Milk is based on the bestselling novel by Stefanie de Velasco. Two teenage girls live a fast-paced lifestyle of sex, drugs, and alcohol. This includes drinking tiger milk (also the name of the film), which is a variety of alcohol mixed with milk. Best friends, German native Nini (Flora Thiemann) and Iraqi refugee Jameelah (Emily Kusche) are inseparable as they do reckless things, like theft and partying. At age 14 they talk about wanting to lose their virginity over their Summer break. Life is fast-paced, fun, and carefree, for a time. Then, a devastating ending.
The film, Touch Me Not, explores sexual freedom, body image, and comfort with yourself despite having a mental or physical disability. The film bounces between fiction and documentary analysis with reenactments. I like that the film demonstrates that despite adversities you have a right to be comfortable with yourself and have fun while doing it.
Most of the films here had romantic and/or explicit sexual themes except for You Are My Friend. This documentary is the sequel to Miss Kiet’s Children. It returns to an elementary classroom for immigrants who are yet to speak Dutch. One boy named Branche, from Macedonia, struggles immensely with adjusting to a new country and language. While it is gut-wrenching to see Branche sob and cling to his father at school, it’s interesting to view his progress and make friends. The film is inspiring in the sense that the teacher promotes unity, and instills in them that while there are differences, everyone can get along. Which is something we all need to be reminded of
On Saturday, March 30, Brigid, Georgi and I met back up to see the screening of Float Like a Butterfly followed by a Q&A with the director of the film Carmel Winters and production designer Toma McCullim. Winters went on to say that “Ali was a champion of justice. He’s the ultimate storyteller. And I don’t think we’d be the country today without him coming to us and telling us that we too can be the greatest.” Jamillah Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter was also part of the audience that night. When Winters stepped up to the podium she said, “I have shivers going up and down my spine right now, ever since I heard that Muhammad Ali’s daughter would be here to see this film. It never, never, never occurred to me that such a thing would happen.” While not part of the panel, I have to say that her presence was more than enough. Winters film took seven years to make. She described it as an uphill battle, one of the reasons being the weather. Winters told the audience, “I’m not religious in the usual sense. But I prayed to two people to make it work. One was Mother Nature and the other was Muhammad Ali.” The crowd exploded with applauds.
The closing words of Winters were focused on female filmmakers. “It seems to me that when the guys got their hands on the filmmaking, they kind of felt a bit like how women feel; a paler version of the act of childbirth. I think that when they got their hands on the tools, they really did not want to share them. And maybe women didn’t fight so hard because we are the ultimate creators. I haven’t given birth, but I think, because I haven’t, I have the utmost regards for a woman’s capacity to create life. And what you’re doing with film is you’re kind of imitating life and hoping to catch the pulse of life in your imitation. Women and men need the films that women make. I’ve found it very hard to get my hands on the tools over the years. But I’m not going to waste any more time complaining. I’m just going to go out there and try and activate potential in every single young girl I see and just bat [for] them all the way. It’s really easy to open up doors for people other than yourself. Opening the door for yourself is tough because, when you ask somebody for something for yourself, they feel like you’re taking something from them or that you want something. So, I’m really inspired. At the very worst, I’m going to give my absolute best to supporting some really great gals.” Although I’m not a filmmaker myself, I was very much inspired, and can take these words to heart with my own creations.
More about the Chicago European Union Film Festival
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All screenings and events are at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, located at 164 N. State St.
Tickets to each screening–unless stated otherwise—are $11/general admission, $7/students, $6/Film Center members, and $5/Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) staff and School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) faculty, staff, and students. All tickets may be purchased at the Film Center Box Office. Both general admission and Film Center member tickets are available through the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website www.siskelfilmcenter.org/content/tickets or through the individual films’ weblinks on www.siskelfilmcenter.org. There is a surcharge of $1.50 per ticket. The Film Center and its box office are open 5:00 to 8:30 pm, Monday through Thursday; 1:00 to 8:30 pm, Friday; 2:00 to 8:30 pm, Saturday; and 2:00 to 5:30 pm, Sunday.
© Stephanie A. Taylor (3/8/19) FF2 Media
Featured photo: Carmen & Lola; 2018, ARANTXA ECHEVARRIA, SPAIN, 103 MIN.
Photos: Gene Siskel Film Center