57th Chicago International Film Festival debuted multi-venue hybrid format


Source: Cinema/Chicago Facebook

Photo caption: The Chicago International Film Festival returns for its 57th year as the longest-running film competition in North America.

Kalina Pierga, Reporter

The Chicago International Film Festival concluded Sunday, marking the end of the festival’s debut in-person, virtual and drive-in hybrid format.

Last year, CIFF ran virtually with several opportunities to attend drive-in screenings. This year, festival organizers transitioned back to in-person screenings while maintaining the option to stream films virtually and attend drive-ins.

The new format aimed to maximize inclusivity for all who wanted to attend the festival, either in-person or from a distance. The festival’s use of multiple venues and formats for film screenings has proven to be an interesting organizational shift for CIFF, said Juan Linares, an operations coordinator for the festival.

“It’s super hybrid,” Linares said. “We have online, we have in-person and we had the MusicBox drive-in and Siskel (film center). In the four years that I’ve worked at the festival, it has been at the AMC (River East), so it was interesting to figure out the logistics.”

To attend, patrons had to provide proof of vaccination and a photo ID or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of attendance. Wristbands were then distributed to patrons who provided this documentation, which were checked by festival staff prior to entry in each theater.

Anthony Kaufman, CIFF’s senior programmer, pointed out that COVID-19 protocols are not the only thing that changed about CIFF since the beginning of the pandemic.

Normally, guests would come in from all over the world, which increases the “international feel,” he said.

”There was a lot less of that this year,” Kaufman said. “Less travel, less hosting, less parties. That changes the amount of staffing, that changes the amount of people involved.”

This year’s reduction in staff has impacted the programming process, as the number of films CIFF featured increased significantly this year compared to last year, Kaufman said.

“We’ve actually had more submissions to the festival than ever before this year,” Kaufman said. “This year we hit a record, so sifting through all those films was a big task.”

CIFF experienced a dip in film submissions last year, according to Kaufman. This decrease reflects the stall the pandemic caused in the film industry at large.

Kaufman said this may stem from filmmakers’ apprehension to premier films online rather than in theaters. In-theater viewing is uniquely important to arthouse films, which are generally more niche in audience and content and comprise a vast amount of films CIFF screens.

“We want people to see the movies in the theaters, particularly arthouse films,” Kaufman said. “It remains to be seen where we will land in the future because I think the theatrical experience, particularly for arthouse movies, is important and also under threat. I think there is something lost in seeing films through streaming.”

Kaufman said he expects CIFF to return fully to in-person screenings once health risks are no longer a concern. As CIFF trends toward an in-person return, questions of financial accessibility are becoming increasingly important.

CIFF’s non-member single ticket price for regular screenings sits at $20 this year, a price point that may have rendered the festival inaccessible to many patrons.

“I felt like the prices were a little steep, especially compared to regular movie tickets,” Veronika Wojda, a University of Illinois Chicago student and first-time CIFF attendee, said. “It definitely impacts accessibility especially for people with less disposable income.”

Despite rising ticket prices, CIFF housed audiences in multiple venues for screenings of a diverse set of films, from blockbuster “Dune” to “Memoria,” an experimental Colombian film which won CIFF’s Gold Hugo award.

Kaufman said CIFF’s 57th festival proved to be a success, especially for film submissions.

“We have cool filmmakers from all over the world who are breaking new ground cinematically,” Kaufman said. “They’re representing the cutting edge of filmmaking in the world today.”

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