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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago International Film Festival’

The 50th Chicago International Film Festival

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

photo 1The 50th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) opened on Oct. 9, the day I rushed back from a 10-day trip to China. I cherished the hope of making it on time to cover the Red Carpet opening at the Harris Theater for Xinhua News, and had arranged for a colleague to pick up my badge. Although my flight arrived shortly after 4 p.m. and I cleared custom in record time, I found myself still in traffic on my way to the city at 6 p.m. when the celebration was supposed to kick off.

At 50, CIFF is the oldest film festival in the U.S., definitely something to be proud of. Over the years, the Festival featured many emerging directors who are now well known, with Liv Ullmann, who made her debut as director at the Festival, bringing her latest film Miss Julie to the opening evening. Kathleen Turner is here, too, presiding over the international film competition jury.

photo 2This year’s festival features more than 150 films from over 50 countries, among them, eight films from Asia. Most of the films are shown at River East AMC, with multiple screenings running simultaneously. The Festival will continue till Wednesday, October 22. In addition to showcasing a variety of films, the Festival also offers panels on filmmaking and distribution. Columbia College, the key presenter of the Festival, also offers a “Master Class,” accompanied with a film screening, in the afternoon of Wed., Oct 15.

I’ve been to the Festival almost everyday, attending panel discussions and talking with filmmakers after the screenings of their films. That’s one of the best benefit of attending film festivals—you have a chance to meet and talk with the people behind the scene. Grace McPhillips was one I

The Other One, Dir. Josef Steiff

The Other One, Dir. Josef Steiff

particularly enjoyed talking with. She is Executive Producer of The Other One, a locally made feature film. She readily shared information on the film’s budget, grassroots fundraising, and forms of in-kind donation that made the production of the film possible. I raised questions to her as a filmmaker, not a journalist, and was impressed by her openness and generosity. “Here is my card,” she said as we parted our way. “We can talk over coffee if you have more questions.” That shows so much of the spirit of the film festival.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was shown on national PBS in May 2014.

Vitus, an entertaining and enlightening film

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

VitusVitus, a Swedish film by director Fredi M. Murel, is very sweet, entertaining, yet enlightening film. The film was released in 2006 and shown at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) the same year and won the Audience Choice Award. Vitus, a young piano prodigy, and genius in many other areas, wants to be “normal” and control his own growing up path, vs. being dictated by his well-meaning parents. There is no villain in the film, and no tragic ending, despite the accidental death of Vitus’ grandfather.

The film was shown at the Chicago’s Cultural Center last night to a packed audience, followed by a nice discussion led by Ron Falzone, professor of film at Columbia College. It was part of CIFF’s Annual International Screenings Program.

I like the film because of the multiple levels of relationship presented—Vitus with his parents, and the real connection he has with his grandfather, his disconnect with his peers as a talent child, and his clever way of out-smart his controlling mother. Unlike many films that present “dis-functioning” families, Vitus’ parents love each other and love him, he loves them. His faked fall from their apartment building not only manipulated his way out of his mother’s tight grip, but also the perception of the audience. It was not because he didn’t want to practice piano, but practice the way he sees fit.

Vitus (film)

Vitus (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end, Vitus lets go of his cover and performs brilliantly with a first rate symphony orchestra, to the fullest satisfaction any parents could have. That, along with the surreal happenings in which that he helps his grandfather realizing his pilot dream and helps his father restores his dignity and company position. But what lingers in my mind most is the relationship between his nurturing grandfather and him. Very sweet and touching. Highly recommend it.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014.

Call for action – Honor Diaries

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

honor diaryHonor Diary, a documentary film denouncing the cruelty against women in the name of culture and family honor, will be shown at the Chicago Int’l Film Festival (CIFF).

Nine courageous women’s rights advocates voiced their stance against gender inequality, “honor killing,” female body mutilation, and forced marriage in this film.

“Culture is no excuse for abuse,” said Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Executive Producer of Honor Diaries. “I am proud to join these courageous women to speak the truth.”

Some numbers the film presented serve strongly as wake up calls—such actions are not only in the Arabic world, but here in the U.S. as well.

“In male-dominated cultures, like Saudi Arabia, women and girls are treated like property, forced into marriage, and suffer female genital mutilation,” the film states.  “Now, these barbaric practices are coming to America, with 3,000 cases of forced marriage occurring in the US over the past two years, and 150,000 – 200,000 girls in the United States at risk of being forced to undergo female genital mutilation.”

Star advocates in Honor Diaries

Star advocates in Honor Diaries

As I watched the film at the press screening at the CIFF, I couldn’t help from thinking how similar women were regarded in the traditional Chinese culture in that they were supposed to obey their father, husband, or son.

These women advocates, including the “expert interviewees,” such as fellow writer and friend Qanta Ahmed (In the Land of Invisible Women,) should be hailed for their courage and efforts.

“When women suffer in silence, they suffer alone, and their suffering grows,” said Raheel Raza, President of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and co-star of Honor Diaries. “Only when women come together and break the silence can this suffering end. ”

Honor Diaries will be shown at AMC River East at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13 and 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 15. Producer Paula Kweskin will be at the screenings and do Q & A.

Visit for more information.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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49th Chicago Int’l Film Festival is about to start

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
A Thousand Times Good Night

A Thousand Times Good Night

The annual fanfare of the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) will run from Oct. 10 to 24. It will feature 180 films from 60 countries this year.

There are several competition categories at CIFF: the International Feature, New Directors, Docufest, After Dark, Q Hugo, and Short Film. In addition, CIFF also presents films in seven out-of-competition sections, including Special Presentations, World Cinema, Black Perspectives, Cinema of the Americas, City & State, Docufest, OUT-Look, REELWOMEN, and Spotlight Africa. A new program added this year is Comedy Focus, a celebration of the role comedy has played in film history.

Blinding Sunlight, China

Blinding Sunlight, China

I had the privilege of watching the first advance screening for media and industry earlier this week, a feature film from Norway titled A Thousand Times Good Night by Erik Poppe. It tells the story of a driven and talented war photographer Rebecca (Juliette Binoche). While photographing suicide bombers, she is badly hurt in an explosion. When she returns home to Norway, her husband (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and daughter, who are worried-sick of her dangerous assignments, give her an ultimatum to choose between her work and her family. The film was very moving and gripping, and the ending leaves you pondering life’s choices and their impact on us. Juliette Binoche’s performance was most powerful. A film definitely worth seeing.

As a journalist, I will have access to the Red Carpet opening, all the screenings, and special events. I interviewed actress Joan Allen last year, and would like to find out how many stars will be present this year, and whom I can interview for coverage. I’m a little disappointed that there are less than 15 films from Asia.

Hope to see some of you at the AMC River North where all the films will be shown. For more information on the Festival and how to obtain tickets, visit:

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. For more information, visit

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At the Chicago International Film Festival

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Two more days left for the two-week long Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). Hope those of you living in Chicago have watched a few film like I did. If not, tomorrow is the “Best of the Fest”, showing films that have either won awards or have been returned by popular demand.

Al Pacino at CIFF

Partially due to the fact that I have been covering CIFF for Xinhua, I attended more screenings and events than I had ever done before. The privilege of a Gold Press pass that allows me to walk into all the screenings at the last minute with a reserved seat certainly makes it an easier and more enjoyable experience.

I must say I’m quite impressed by CIFF, not only the quality of the films that I have seen, but also the scale and organization of the festival. Because of my film Mulberry Child, I had attended several film festivals around the country over the past twelve months. CIFF, with all the screenings shown at multiple theaters in one location (AMC River East), the appearance of big stars such as Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Joan Allen, Helen Hunt, and Viola Davis, and the various types of films selected (a total of 175 from 50 countries), is truly a wonderful event that enriches the cultural life of Chicago.

A scene in A Royal Affair

Among the films I attended, I enjoyed The Last Sentence, a Sweden film, the best (Great film, well made and performed). Next in line is A Royal Affair, a Danish film (such a historical tragedy, wonderfully staged). Hometown Boy and Full Circle, two films from China, each presents a glimpse of today’s life in the country, with the former slow-moving and the latter very dramatized and predicable. Shun Li and the Poet, an Italian film on the subtle friendship between a Chinese woman and an older fisherman from Slovakia, which was cut short by prejudice and interference of the “Chinese mafia”, was subtle and depressing. The disappointment was Empire Builder, an American film, and Mekong Hotel from Thailand (walked out of the latter, so it may not be a fair view.) I also watched Dreams for Sale, a Japanese film. It’s 134 minutes and I had to leave before finishing it. No idea how the film ended with the young couple’s game of alluring women to give the husband money to open a dream restaurant.

A scene in Shun Li and the Poet

Didn’t get a chance to watch the big Hollywood production Stand Up Guys, but did watch The Sessions starring Helen Hunt and John Hawks. A unique story. Still feel unsettled by the excessive nudity and puzzled by the conversion to Judaism of the “sex therapist” played by Hunt.

Go check out the films today and tomorrow for yourself.

Check out the listing from the link below:

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jackqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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Joan Allen at CIFF

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Joan Allen on red carpet at CIFF on Oct. 14

The red carpet rolled out for Joan Allen at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) for the recognition of her noteworthy accomplishments and contributions to the arts last night at the AMC Theatre at River East.

I had the pleasure to attend the ceremony as a journalist for Xinhua News and interviewed Allen briefly.

She arrived on time and dressed in a pair of tight black pants, a loose black top, and a pair of black boots, looking more like a next-door neighbor than a big star. She posed for photos and answered all the questions by the journalists present in a very down to earth and friendly manner. I took a liking of her immediately.

Michael Phillips and Joan Allen discussing about Allen’s career achievements at CIFF

“You worked with both Ang Lee ( The Ice Storm) and John Woo (Face/Off),” I said to her. “How was your experience collaborating with them?” I asked. “Do you have plans to work with any other Chinese directors?” I added.

She gave a big smile. “Wow,” she said. “I’d say working with them was extraordinary. They are both incredibly smart and articulate.”

She said she had no plans of working with a Chinese director at the moment but would love to work with Lee or Woo “at any day.”

She also said she would like to go visit China and meet with her fans there.

Michael Kutza, Founder and Creative Director of CIFF, presented the Silver Hugo Award to her. “You are the one,” Kutza said. “You are the star on stage and on screen,” he continued, acknowledging that Allen’s performance was “stunning”.

Joan Allen with her Silver Hugo Award

Allen accepted the Award in the midst of applauses from the audience. Helen Hunt and Viola Davis are the other two recipients of the Silver Hugo Award at CIFF this year.

Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune conducted an in-depth discussion with Allen about her career accomplishments and called her “Illinois’ very own.”

Allen was born in a small town near Chicago in 1956 and started her acting career at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Phillips showed many astonishing clippings of her films during the discussion. All very impressive.

“Is it true that you didn’t make the cut to join your school’s cheerleading team?” Phillips asked.

Allen laughed.

“It was true that I couldn’t get into the cheerleading team, so I turned to act in a play,” she said. “I wanted to get boys’ attention.”

She fell in love with acting as a result. Her start-up at the Steppenwolf Theatre eventually led her to her career at Broadway and major roles in film and television.

Over the years, she has won a Tony Award for a Broadway show (Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This”) and has been nominated for Oscar Award three times (“Nixon”, “The Crucible” and “The Contender”).

She talked about her upbringing in the Midwest, saying its strong work ethics attributed to her career success. She shared experience of doing tons of research before taking on high-profile roles so she could “learn about them, their lives, and their struggles” and bring their characters to life on screen. She also shared anecdotes of working with different directors.

It was an evening of delight.

It was also my first experience of interviewing a big Hollywood star. Quite fun.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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48th Chicago International Film Festival (Oct. 11 -25)

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Cast of Stand Up Guys on stage at CIFF‘s opening night

The 48 Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) rolled out its red carpet to film stars and directors with an opening night gala at the Harris Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 11.

I had the pleasure of covering the event as a journalist and watched Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin walk the red carpet within close range. Bon Jovi, who contributed two songs to the soundtrack of Stand Up Guys (the opening night’s featured film), was also side by side with these super stars.

Christopher Walken walking the red carpet

The opening night generated a buzz with all the Hollywood power and a short 2-minute show capturing the history of CIFF.

Fisher Stevens personally introduced the cast of Stand Up Guys on stage and stated that “There isn’t a better place than Chicago to have the world premiere of the film.”

A total of 175 films from over 50 countries across the world are selected for the 48th CIFF. The competitive programs were divided into different categories of competition, including the main international competition, new directors competition, dark/horror competition, documentaries, and shorts.

This year’s “Spotlight” program is focused on Middle East (last year was on Southeast Asia and next year will be on Africa.)

Jian Ping (right) and Wei Zhang (left) covering CIFF’s opening event, photo courtesy of Steve Starr

A selection of “Best of the Fest” will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Several Asian films entered the Festival, including Full Circle (Fei Yue Lao Ren Yuan) by Zhang Yang from mainland China, Dragon (Wu Xia) by Peter Chan from Hong Kong, and Hometown Boy (Gin Chen Xiao Ze) by Hung-I Yao from Taiwan.

For those in Chicago, hope you will find time to watch a few films at the Festival, which will last till Oct. 25. I certainly will.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. For more information, visit

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Louder Than A Bomb – Inspirational Students

Thursday, October 14th, 2010


By:  Ellis Goodman

This last Monday, I saw the Chicago premiere of the new Jon Siskel, Gary Jacobs documentary feature, “Louder Than A Bomb” at the Chicago International Film Festival.  Jon Siskel and Gary Jacobs are the Emmy-Award winning directors of “102 Minutes That Changed America,” the brilliant documentary about 9/11. “Louder Than A Bomb” is a beautifully made, moving and emotional movie which follows the efforts of four Chicago high schools as they compete in the Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam competition. 

The students as both individual and team performers rattle off their incredible stories, mainly from their own personal and social environment experiences.  The movie follows the four schools and their teams as they move through the preliminary rounds to semi-finals and the nail-biting finals.  The personal stories of four of the leading students are dramas of their own.  For the most part, they come from broken homes with single mothers and often drug or alcohol problems.  These young people of 16 and 17 are mature beyond their years.  Their personal family responsibilities range from a young woman raising an autistic brother from the date of his birth to his teenage years, to a handsome young man who preferred books to playing basketball and hanging out on street corners, protected by his grandmother and eventually his former drug-addicted mother, who realized that he had real writing talent, to a cocky rapper who had the gift of the gab and real leadership qualities that had to overcome the limited resources and low expectations of one of the toughest schools in Chicago, to a brilliant young writer, whose warmth, kindness and genuine concern for his fellow man endeared him to all.

I urge you all to see this incredible movie which will move you to tears.  It made me realize that, despite the failures of our current educational system and the high drop-out rates, crime and violence in our schools and neighborhoods, success and a sense of community can still be achieved by talented and committed young people.  All four of these leading students are currently doing well in major prestigious colleges.

Go see this movie.  It will leave you with a warm and uplifted feeling.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: