Senior Contributor Stephanie Taylor recaps CIFF “Best of the Fest”

The 53rd annual Chicago International Film Festival began Oct. 12 and will end Oct. 26 at the AMC 21 River East Theater. In total, 5,190 films were entered for consideration from 95 countries – 36 final films were directed by women. The following is my “Best of the Fest,” six films I screened and snippet-reviewed: Nancy Buirski (U.S.) The Rape of Recy Taylor, Tracy Heather Strain (U.S.) Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, Laura Mora (Colombia/Argentina) Killing Jesús, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh (U.S./Qatar) They, Kathleen Hepburn (Canada) Never Steady, Never Still, Carolina Jabor (Brazil) Liquid Truth. Here are the sneak peeks:


The Rape of Recy Taylor

Director/writer Nancy Buirski creates a poignant and intense documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor. During the Jim Crow era, a 24-year-old woman is kidnapped and gang raped by six white men in 1944 in Alabama. At this time, many rape victims (particularly Black women) did not report their violation out of fear. Taylor, however, spoke up. With the support of the NAACP and its chief investigator, Rosa Parks, she identifies the men. With audio and video archival footage along with interviews from the family, we have a peek inside of the life of a woman who had been violated… and changed.

It’s an ugly truth that needs to be told– and, it was told beautifully. This film will erupt a plethora of emotions: sadness, empathy and anger. But it will also enlighten by bringing notice to an atrocious crime that is all too common. (SAT: 5/5)


Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart

Tracy Heather Strain directs, produces and writes a masterpiece beyond words. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is a documentary of Raisin in the Sun’s playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Strain added a three-dimensional quality to Hansberry who was not only a playwright but an outspoken and intelligent activist and journalist. She was born in Chicago in the early 1930s and was the daughter of a wealthy realtor developer and activist.

Hansberry’s words come to life with archival footage of interviews and people who knew her. Strain shows Hansberry thirst for knowledge and justice. She dropped out of college and went to New York looking for a different kind of education (in Hansberry’s own words). She worked at a progressive Black newspaper in Harlem and wrote on oppressed people such as African Americans and women.

While Strain’s portrayal of Hansberry, who was certainly a force to be reckoned with, she also shows a vulnerable women who lets you into her inner most deepest thoughts. (SAT: 5/5)


Killing Jesús (Matar a Jesus)

Laura Mora writes and directs a film that is filled with suspense and drama, Killing Jesús. “Lita’s” (Natasha Jaramillo) father is murdered before her eyes, and catches a glimpse of the killer, “Jesus” (Giovanny Rodríguez). She runs into him at a club and seriously considers avenging her father’s death, especially since her impatience with the police department increases tremendously. This film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

The acting looks effortless from both actors. Jaramillo makes the character Lita comes to life. In certain scenes, when she’s quiet, her face says more than any words could. Rodriguez plays a convincing criminal. This film feels like you’re outside looking into other people’s lives as events unfold and tensions increase. (SAT:4.5/5)


Liquid Truth

“Rubens” (Daniel de Oliveira) is a popular swim instructor who is accused of inappropriate behavior toward an 8-year-old boy named “Alex” (Luiz Felipe Mello). Alex tells his mom. She then tells his father. Both parents have different ways of handling the situation.  The father confronts the principal while the mother goes viral by alerting the parents in a group text. Rubens is later condemned by most of the community. But did he do it?  Carolina Jabor directs a compelling film which is filled with drama and suspense. This film is in Portuguese with English subtitles.

In the beginning there’s a slow build up for about three minutes of the movie. The plot is solid and slowly unfolds into an intense work of art. It’s filled with suspense and drama. One minute, it’s implied that he may have done it. The next is implied that he might’ve not done it. You want to know more with each passing moment. (SAT:4.5/5)


Never Steady, Never Still

“Judy,” (Shirley Henderson), a mother and wife, endures the daily struggle of life as she lives with Parkinson’s disease. Her son ”Jamie” (Théodore Pellerin) has his on troubles, as he comes to terms with adulthood, his sexuality and working on the oil fields. There seems to be a sort of calmness with the film despite the major adversities of both Jamie and Judy. Her son seems distracted with his own life issues, as she deals with her own adversities. You feel empathetic for the main character as she tries to dress herself, drives, chop wood, etc. There is a pivotal scene in the film where Judy and Jamie become closer.

Henderson’s mannerisms, as a person with Parkinson’s, are very believable. (SAT:4/5)



“J,” (Rhys Fehrenbacher) a 14-year-old, is put on hormone blockers to postpone puberty in order to determine their gender. J doesn’t go by the pronouns, “she” or “he” because they are unsure of their sex. Their older sister “Lauren” (Nicole Coffineau) along with her boyfriend/fiance “Araz” (Koohyar Hosseini) look after J for the weekend while their parents are out of town. This film is directed, written and edited by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh.

The film is off to a slow start and takes a while to get into. It begins with J being in the doctor’s office. As he describes J’s progress, it’s evident that they seem distracted as they try to remember a poem. The acting is not contrived in the slightest. But, more focus on J and their internal struggles would have been appreciated. Instead, it was focused more on Lauren, Araz and a party scene with Araz’s family. In this particular scene J seems more like a fly on the wall than the main character. (SAT: 3/5)

© Stephanie A. Taylor (10/24/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Recy Taylor, Never Steady Never Still, Killing Jesús

Photo Credits: Chicago International Film Festival

Related Posts

Stephanie A. Taylor is a multi-award-winning journalist whose accolades span three publications including FF2. Some of her favorite articles she's written are Emma Cooper’s ‘The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Tapes, FACETS Honors Chaz Ebert F2F at Screen Gems 2022 Benefit, and Dorothy Arzner’s ‘Merrily We Go to Hell’ Discusses Modern Day Problems. She currently lives in Chicago. Reading, writing, and watching old films are some of her many passions.
Previous Post Next Post