Chicago Int'l Film Festival kicks off at drive-in theater

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The world premiere of a documentary film kicks off the 56th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) at a drive-in theater in the south side of Chicago on Wednesday evening.

"Belushi," the opening night film, chronicles the celebrated career and untimely death of a Chicago's native son and The Second City alumnus John Belushi. He was an actor, comedian and singer, and was best-known for his role at NBC's comedy show Saturday Night Live.

"'Belushi' is a perceptive and engaging portrait that captures both the genius and the complexity of beloved Chicago icon John Belushi," said Mimi Plauche, artistic director of the festival.

A special livestream discussion with director R.J. Cutler, Belushi's surviving wife Judy Belushi, and Animal House producer Ivan Reitman was featured online to the public after the screening.

This year's film festival is a hybrid format, with both virtual and drive-in screenings. The hybrid format would expand audiences' access to the films nationwide, said Plauche.

A total of 114 films from 43 countries has been selected for this year's film festival, and among them, 41 are narrative features and 17 documentaries. The rest are shorts.

Chinese film "Striding into the Wind," directed by Wei Shujun, is in "New Directors" competition. This is Wei's feature directorial debut, and it was shortlisted in 2020 Cannes Film Festival.

The film is a coming of age story about Kun, a sound recordist who takes up a student production and goes on a journey of self-discovery across China. The film presents a keenly-observed meditation on movies, modern China, and the restlessness of youth.

In addition to the opening night's film, seven more movies will be presented at the drive-in, including "American Utopia," "The Dark and the Wicked," "Bad Hair," "Ammonite," "The Road Up," "One Night in Miami," and the closing night's feature "Nomadland" directed by Chloe Zhao, or Zhao Ting.

Zhao's two previous films on native American Indians, "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" and "The Rider," both received critical acclaim.

"We're thrilled to be able to present this amazing lineup of films on the big screen outside, rounding out the Festival with Chloe Zhao's masterful and moving 'Nomadland,'" said Plauche.

These films will also be streaming online, along with the rest of the festival's selections.

CIFF presents the Gold Hugo Awards in the following competitions: International Feature, New Directors, and International Documentary, Short Film, and Out-Look.

"We're bringing together a community of film lovers in Chicago, from across the Midwest, and around the country, to experience international and independent cinema together, even while apart," said managing director Vivian Teng.

The 56th CIFF started Wednesday and will run till Sunday. 

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