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An Open Letter to the Chicago International Film Festival

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 18, 2007 5:10PM

2007_10CIFFonourlist.jpg Dear CIFF,

We've got some beef with you. Here's a little list of pet peeves about this year's festival (summed up nicely by Phil Moreheart of Facets): screenings changing times and/or venues without staff knowledge; understaffed box offices; sound drops, framing issues that obscured subtitles, and even simple tasks like turning the theatre lights off before starting the movie.

But what happened Monday night at the Malcolm McDowell event was the last straw.

Mr. McDowell presented his movie Never Apologize (which, by the way, was wonderful) and then was being interviewed afterwards by the Trib's Michael Wilmington. The two were chatting very agreeably, and Malcolm had just told some very juicy stories about working with Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson. And then, about 20 minutes in, practically midsentence, a CIFF spokeswoman interrupted the proceedings to tell us that we'd all have to leave, it was over; there was another movie that had to use the theater and she was sorry. That's all folks. Malcom was pretty gracious under the circumstances, but all she gave him time to say was, "Well, thanks for having me anyway."

Do not bill an event as "An Evening with Malcolm McDowell" and charge people $13 and then just cut it off after 20 minutes. It's embarrassing. It shows a real lack of planning (i.e. you don't schedule another screening so soon afterwards when the whole point of the event is a postscreening discussion and Q & A).

But in the end, we just can't be that hard on you.

For one thing, you showed almost 150 films this year, which was many many more than we had a prayer of seeing. Your ambition and scope can't be faulted. And we did see some really good movies (Control, Home of the Giants), even saw some great ones (Stuck, America the Beautiful and You, the Living come to mind). For another thing, even if there were times when venues were understaffed and/or chaotic, the vast majority of staff was courteous, helpful and was able to maintain a decent sense of humor. And the queues for ticketholders were almost always clearly marked and easy to find.

Most importantly there was still the amazing, communal sense of adventure that comes from gorging on movies that otherwise might've slipped through the cracks.

So don't take our criticism the wrong way. We still love you. But the fact is if you want to get more Chicagoans excited about you then you've got some room for improvement. We humbly offer some suggestions:

We know that booking and scheduling 150 movies is tricky. But witholding information until virtually the last minute is not acceptable. We understand that the paper festival schedules take awhile to design, print and distribute. But it's 2007. Take advantage of the web, which is fast and easy (just like us). Put the schedule online, and do it three weeks before Opening Night. Create CIFF text messaging alerts that cinephiles can subscribe to, and use it to quickly spread the word that a film has sold out, or that a screening has been canceled or relocated.

Being properly staffed is always a challenge; we don't dispute that. But there need to be fewer people handing out ballots and more people manning the box office. We won't be voting on a movie if we can't get a ticket in a timely fashion.

This year you turned 43, so it's no big surprise that you're going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. We want you to get through this rough patch so that next year's festival can be the best yet. We promise to be there for you.


P.S. Thanks for giving Ken Nordine something to do year after year.