a small grey animated mouse with a violin case, on the shoulder of a bear in a shirt, hat, and jacket
Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger's Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia. Courtesy Chicago Critics Film Festival

Finding the time to see every movie on your watch list is a bold—often stressful—commitment. Luckily, Chicago film lovers will get the chance to mark off a massive chunk of their movie lists at the tenth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF). The festival, curated entirely by members of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA), will feature a weeklong schedule of the most anticipated films of the year. Programmed by a team of local critics, the festival aims to champion the year’s best movies, but more importantly, intends to bring those movies to Chicago first.

“The event was launched because of the sense that Chicago film fans were reading about major works from events like Sundance and Toronto without the chance to actually see the films,” says Brian Tallerico, president of the CFCA and coproducer of the film festival. “We wanted to change that.”

Unlike other film festivals, the CCFF is the only festival exclusively curated by critics. Composed of recent festival favorites and not-yet-distributed films by both new and renowned directors, the festival is devoted to facilitating a space where Chicagoland residents can experience the most exciting films of the year for an affordable price. Most notably, Tallerico hopes that CCFF will encourage people to return to the theater rather than rely on streaming services, invigorating the local film scene. 

Especially after the last few years, we want to bring people back to the movies; we want audiences to recapture that amazing feeling of seeing a great film on the big screen,” Tallerico says. “We want Chicagoans to be proud of our film scene and be a part of the conversation on these movies from the start.”

The festival’s introductory lineup features seven films, including the premiere of Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener and the 40th-anniversary screening of The Right Stuff, presented in 35mm. This year’s festival will also show Chicago-based filmmaker Linh Tran’s Waiting for the Light to Change, an emotional drama interrogating loyalty and attraction between the protagonist Amy, her best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend. 

Other titles include Birth/Rebirth, a modern female-driven horror film directed by Laura Moss; Brother, Clement Virgo’s film on Toronto’s early hip-hop scene; Passages, the French romance from director Ira Sachs; and Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia, a touching animated film from Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger about a couple looking to fix a beloved violin. 

On April 17, the CFCA plans to announce the festival’s entire film selection, alongside a full screening schedule. During the festival, the Music Box Theatre will feature more than 30 critically acclaimed films as well as guest appearances from filmmakers. For regular visitors or newcomers to the Music Box, the CCFF’s programming aligns with Chicago’s premier local theater’s general pursuit of introducing important films to locals.

“Given the state of the movies right now, some of these presentations might be the only chance a Chicago audience has to see a certain movie on the big screen,” says Buck LePard, marketing manager and senior operations manager at the Music Box. “The Music Box has a lot of different types of film fans in our audience, and we’re always trying to make sure that we have something for everyone on our schedule. CCFF does that too, except they condense it all into one huge film-filled week.”

Coinciding with the festival, the CFCA partnered with Rotten Tomatoes to launch the Emerging Critics Program. The educational initiative provides two emerging film critics in the Chicagoland area with editorial mentorship, festival access, and a $2,500 stipend. The grant is devoted to fostering an interest in film criticism among students and young writers working to start their careers. The winners of the grant will be awarded before this year’s festival and will be given the opportunity to pitch stories about the festival’s lineup to Rotten Tomatoes. 

Since its inception, the CCFF has grown from its inaugural three-day event in 2013 into a momentous weeklong film celebration, and the CFCA has continued to promote the importance of film criticism and the local film scene. 

Chicago Critics Film Festival
Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport
$150 early-bird festival passes, $200 after March 24

“I am just so proud of what this team has done,” says Erik Childress, founder and coproducer of the CCFF. “All of them [are] close friends who did not hesitate given the opportunity to participate, and for it to succeed as it has for ten years—I have never been prouder of anything in my life. The full lineup just keeps getting better every year thanks to the many filmmakers and partners who have understood and appreciated the value of what we do.”