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Telling Stories, Watching Stories

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 12, 2007 3:05PM

The death of storytelling has been predicted at least since the dawn of the Industrial Age. And in 1936, philosopher Walter Benjamin declared, "the art of storytelling is reaching its end." It's nonsense, of course; even if storytelling itself has taken on some "new" forms, it's still as prevalent as ever, perhaps even more so with the rise of the blogosphere and the millions of people unfurling their own personal narratives.

Even after a hundred years, cinema's foundation is still the telling of a story, and it isn't hard to argue that the most engaging stories are now being told in documentaries. While the same dozen plotlines are rehashed over and over each weekend at the typical multiplex, documentaries are capturing bits of people's lives and cultures in unique and surprising ways.

2007_3cidf_01_02_b.jpgFrom March 30-April 8 the Chicago International Documentary Festival will highlight the best in non-fiction filmmaking from around the globe. The main venue is Facets, but there will also be lots of screenings on the northwest (at the Portage Theater) and south sides (Beverly Arts Center and U of C DOC Films) as well as at a handful of other venues. That will give everyone in Chicago the opportunity to see some of the more than 100 films that are part of the lineup.

What makes this year even more exciting (aside from the $50,000 in prize money up for grabs) is that included among the films is a Frederick Wiseman retrospective. You've probably heard us babble on about him before, only to wonder "Who the hell is he?" Sadly, his films are often hard to find outside of film school; they're still unreleased on video. Usually Wiseman takes a societal topic (among the films screening are Welfare, Domestic Violence, Basic Training and High School II) and examines it in minute detail, in the process forcing us to see a commonplace institution as if for the first time. This overview is your chance to discover the work of one of the greatest documentarians in the history of film.

Also screening is the work-in-progress Senator Obama Goes to Africa by local filmmaker Bob Hercules, which follows Barack on his recent trip. You can bet that tickets will be selling out faster than Lollapolooza (after all, Facets is slightly smaller than Grant Park). Tickets can be purchased online in advance or by calling 773-486-9612. Check out the festival's website for more information.