Previewing the Highlights of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival

Image courtesy of Cinema/Chicago.
The banner of the Chicago International Film Festival
Image courtesy of Cinema/Chicago

The prestigious 57th Chicago International Film Festival will run from October 13-24. Spinning out of a virtual 2020 year of limited online screenings, drive-in accommodations, and a limited slate, this year’s festival roars back to expand across the city. After many years centered at the AMC River East homebase location, the 57th CIFF is branching out across the Windy City. Film events will also be hosted by The Gene Siskel Film Center, the historic Music Box Theatre, the returning drive-in ChiTown Movies in Pilsen, and neighborhood pop-up screenings at Bronzeville’s historic Parkway Ballroom. This proud festival finally has the full coverage across the city it has long deserved. 

This year’s eclectic program includes nearly 90 feature films and 70 shorts, four World Premieres, one International Premiere, 17 North American Premieres, and 17 U.S. Premieres, and showcases cinema from countries including France, Turkey, Colombia, Sweden, Japan, Canada, India, Chile, and Egypt, representing every continent – including the Antarctic. Nearly 50 titles will also be available virtually for in-home screenings via the Festival’s streaming platform to audiences throughout Illinois and six other states, including Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. 

Festival Passes are on sale now, with individual tickets going on sale September 21 for Cinema/Chicago members and September 24 to the general public. Passes can be purchased at their online ticketing website. The full schedule is available in the digital Festival Program.


The French Dispatch

The 57th Chicago International Film Festival opens with a pair of high profile films playing at two of the new satellite locations. First, the Music Box Theatre rolls out the red carpet for Wes Anderson’s hotly anticipated The French Dispatch, a love letter to journalists featuring a who’s who cast of Hollywood favorites and indie darlings. 

The Velvet Underground

The second Opening Night film is the well-received Todd Haynes documentary The Velvet Underground. The film will play as a drive-in presentation at ChiTown Movies in Pilsen, with a special virtual Q&A with director Todd Haynes following the film. Drive-in audiences will receive alcohol-free Heineken 0.0 beer. For an extra perk, Dark Matter Coffee will be on hand distributing cans of their new Director’s Cut Cold Brew, part of a first-ever partnership between the Chicago coffee company and the Festival.

King Richard

The Closing Night film this year is King Richard starring Will Smith. The Black Perspectives sports drama chronicles the inspirational journey of Richard Williams (Smith) as the undeterred father raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all-time– two girls who will grow up to become Venus and Serena Williams. Catch this awards contender a full month before its theatrical release date. 

C’mon C’mon

Lastly, the Centerpiece Film of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival is C’mon C’mon directed by Mike Mills, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker of Beginners and 20th Century Woman. His newest film presents a powerfully resonant and hopeful portrait of our times starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, and Scoot McNairy. The A24 film recently had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. 

As if a few of those notable films in the leading and anchoring positions were not big enough, the 57th Chicago International Film Festival as boasts several Chicago premieres and first local looks other high profile releases:



The Festival will host the Chicago premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s hotly anticipated science fiction epic Dune on Monday, October 18, 2021 at 6:30pm on the big screen of the Music Box Theatre in Lakeview. With its posh lounge and old school styling, the Music Box is a supremely stellar location to catch this big holiday hitter that many people (myself included) have been waiting years for.


Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast, a humorous, tender and intensely personal story of one boy’s childhood amid the tumult of 1960s Northern Ireland, is standing tall currently during this awards season as the celebrated People’s Choice Award winner of the Toronto International Film Festival. The Thursday, October 21st screening of Belfast will include a tribute to director Kenneth Branaugh and presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award. 


The Last Duel

The first headlining Chicago premiere will be Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, collecting the talented triumvirate of Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer. The movie is a gripping tale of betrayal and vengeance set against the brutality of 14th century France. The Last Duel plays Thursday, October 14, 2021 at 8:15pm at the AMC River East festival location.


In yet another Chicago premiere, Spencer, the intimate biopic of the late Princess Diana from Jackie and Eva director Pablo Larrain. The Kristen Stewart Oscar hopeful plays later in the festival at AMC River East on Friday, October 22, 2021 at 8:00pm.


Beloved actress Rebecca Hall makes her directorial debut with Passing, the story of two childhood friends whose reunion threatens their carefully constructed realities. The film bears triple honors at a Special Presentation, Black Perspectives, and Women in Cinema festival selection for this 57th Festival. This screening of Passing will include a Q&A with director Rebecca Hall and presentation of an Artistic Achievement Award.

Follow our film writer Don Shanahan’s coverage here on 25YL during the entirety of the festival as he presents more previews, features, and collected capsule reviews. For the latest on the festival at least, follow these social media spots:


Twitter: @ChiFilmFest

Instagram: @ChiFilmFest

Hashtag: #ChiFilmFest

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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