Chicago United Film Fest Makes Its Debut Print E-mail
Written by Kerry Reid   
Friday, 18 September 2009 09:58

The Chicago International Film Festival, now entering its 45th year, gets most of the glory when it comes to showcasing cinematic treasures. But there’s a new kid in town this year getting a jump out of the gate. The Chicago United Film Festival makes its debut at the Music Box Theatre this Friday and runs through Sept. 24.

The festival, one of several sponsored around the nation by Tulsa, Oklahoma native Jason Connell and his company, Connell Creations, started in Connell’s hometown in 2002 and has since expanded to encompass Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and London. Connell, who now lives in Hollywood, made his first feature-length film, Strictly Background, a documentary about film extras, in 2007. The doc gets its local premiere in the festival.

A fascination with, and sympathy for, people on the margins seems to be present in many of the selections for the United Film Festival. A family’s life is turned upside down in Jon Gunn’s Like Dandelion Dust, based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury, when their adopted son’s biological father gets out of prison and finds a loophole in the adoption papers. The film, starring Mira Sorvino, makes its Chicago debut in the festival. Another Chicago premiere, the documentary Facing the Fat, features morbidly obese director Kenny Saylors as he embarks on a 55-day water fast.

Baseball fans will probably enjoy Bleacher Boys (not to be confused with Joe Mantegna’s chestnut Bleacher Bums) in which six men, who dreamed of careers in the major leagues as kids, face blindness as adults. Ziad H. Hamzeh’s documentary gets its world premiere in the festival.

The documentary with the most local cred is I Am Hip Hop: The Chicago Hip Hop Documentary, also in its world premiere. Aspiring MCs, freestylers, and beat boxers all across the city work street corners and underground parties in their quest for fame.

And 180 degrees removed from the world of gritty urban rap, Scott Marshall’s comedy All’s Faire in Love, starring Christina Ricci and Ann-Margret, follows the travails of a troupe of actors at a raggedy Renaissance faire when snooty Shakespeareans move in on their turf.

Award-winning short films will precede many of the full-length features and documentaries, in keeping with the festival’s goal of creating a “united” space for filmmakers and the community. Tickets are $10 per screening, $70 for an all-festival pass.