The Windy City International Film Festival (WCFF) returns this Friday to the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park. Now in its third year, the festival will feature 84 short films, four TV pilots, three feature films, and a program of staged screenplay readings over the course of four days.

Since it began in 2017, WCFF has shown films across a range of genres from all over the world, but a huge focus is placed on emphasizing the voices of Chicago filmmakers. “We launched the fest because there was a great need in Chicago for more local screening opportunities for our homegrown filmmakers,” says festival director Mindy Fay Parks.

She and programming director Josh Hope noticed the disparity in opportunities for local filmmakers when they entered the festival circuit in 2015 with The Life and Death of an Unhappily Married Man, a Chicago-made feature film that Hope wrote and directed and Parks acted in. “We screened at nearly 100 festivals but had a hard time finding a place to make our Chicago premiere,” says Hope. “And we kept running into Chicago filmmakers on the road who had similar stories. We were seeing great Chicago-made indie films screening everywhere except Chicago.” With this in mind, Hope and Parks created their own festival that would give local filmmakers the opportunity to premiere their work here.

For this year’s festival, they, along with a screening committee of about a dozen people, watched and graded the submissions they received over the course of eight months and filled the festival program with a mix of films made in Chicago or by Chicago filmmakers.

Banana Season

Among them were two of the three feature films in this year’s festival. James C. and Melissa Boratyn’s Ginger follows a 23-year-old recent college graduate who, aside from dealing with career uncertainty and familial pressure to succeed, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sanghoon Lee’s Banana Season is the tale of the unique relationship between a little person and an MMA cage fighter.

The festival also includes three programs of Chicago shorts curated by Hope and Parks, each speaking to a different theme. “Having a multigenre fest like ours makes it so fun and enjoyable to put blocks together with films that may be vastly different in genre but blend seamlessly together as a larger piece,” says Hope.

Volume one features films about identity, including Jennifer Stachovic’s animated short Limbo, which follows a lonely ghost trying to cross over by following a phantom limb, and Sammy Zeisel’s bloody coming-of-age story The Care and Keeping of You. Volume two is a series of films dealing with the formation of unlikely friendships, including Trevor Morgan’s Ten Hours, which follows a ride-share passenger and her driver on a ten-hour trip. The third volume which shines a light on human creativity, includes Mariah Woods’s Redlining, about a woman who takes the Red Line and encounters a variety of characters from both ends of the train’s route. There’s also C.A. Davis’s endearing Roano Moreno’s Colorful Canvases, the story of a starving artist attempting to rediscover himself through the lessons of his deceased father.

But Hope and Parks wanted to open the festival to a wider audience. “We took it a step further by becoming an international fest so that we could bring industry professionals into our city to broaden collaborations,” says Parks.

The international shorts are also organized by theme, like the Chicago shorts programs, and are interspersed with films made in the U.S. They explore a wide range of subjects, from destinations to unlikely friendships to scientific exploration. From the Netherlands, there’s Skogafass, Niels Bourgonje’s complex depiction of mental health and motherhood. In New Mars, from the UK’s Susie Jones, a new generation living on Mars tries to avoid repeating the same destructive mistakes humans made on earth. Japan’s Paleonaut follows a scientist who is studying time travel but falls in love with her subject and will either have to connect with him across the years or lose him forever.

In addition to these heavier topics, there are lighthearted and comedic international selections. Sweden’s How It Feels to Be Hungover is the humorous tale of a man who wakes up in a clinic that specializes in curing hangovers and, in addition to receiving a prescription for ice cream and action movies, learns some news from the doctor that changes everything.

Following the spirit of the multigenre festival, WCFF also features several eccentric TV pilots. The neighbor comedy 5A5B is about two best friends, a gay nerd in his 30s and a 50-year-old divorcee, and their search for love, jobs, and self-acceptance. #BrownBridgetMD is an opposites-attract story that follows an awkward Indian American doctor who meets someone completely different from herself at a patient’s funeral. In the webseries Neither Here Nor There, a Chinese American ad executive tries to revolutionize sexual power dynamics through condom ads.

Aside from screenings, there will be other events for movie lovers and aspiring film professionals. On Friday morning Chicago actors perform readings of new screenplays while audience members enjoy free coffee and doughnuts. There will also be an educational happy hour and seminar on how to secure insurance for short-term film productions. The festival concludes with an awards ceremony and an encore presentation of more Chicago- made shorts at Navigator Taproom.

Hope and Parks are confident there’s something for all independent film lovers at the festival. If nothing else, WCFF has created a space for some of Chicago’s most underlooked filmmakers to showcase their work.

“The talent pool in Chicago is rich,” says Hope. “Local filmmakers are making amazing stuff, and we’re thrilled to provide a great place for them to show off their work in their hometown.”   v