There are two overwhelmingly positive developments to this year's Chicago International Film Festival. One is that the fest will present a program of experimental cinema for the first time in decades; that screens on Monday, October 15, at 8:30 PM and features short works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and local filmmakers Melika Bass and Deborah Stratman. The second is that the festival will screen more features directed by women than ever before, most of them first- or second-time filmmakers. The festival is also trying out a new virtual reality sidebar, with five "immersive cinema" experiences that attendees can engage with for free (admission is on a first-come, first-served basis). I've never experienced VR myself, so I can't speak to its quality as a storytelling medium, but its inclusion in the festival speaks to the programmers' willingness to explore new ideas.
As usual, the Chicago International is defined as much by the movies that aren't showing as by the movies the programmers have selected. Reports from this year's festivals at Cannes, Locarno, Venice, and Toronto have created the impression that 2018 is an especially exciting year for world cinema. Alas, many of the movies that have generated this excitement—Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Asako I & II, Federico Veiroj's Belmonte, Lee Chang-dong's Burning, Wang Bing's Dead Souls, Hong Sang-soo's Grass and Hotel by the River, Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell, Claire Denis's High Life, Jean-Luc Godard's The Image Book, Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey Into Night, Frederick Wiseman's Monrovia, Indiana, Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale, Lav Diaz's Season of the Devil, and Jafar Panahi's Three Faces—are not in Chicago's lineup. Thankfully our town has no shortage of great film programmers; between Facets Multimedia, the Nightingale, the Music Box, Block Cinema, Doc Films, Asian Pop-Up Cinema, the U. of C. Film Studies Center, and the Gene Siskel Film Center, I'm confident that most (if not all) of these titles will arrive here eventually. —Ben Sachs