Mimi Plauche grew up in Evanston but came to her job as programming director for the Chicago International Film Festival by way of Asia. A student of Japanese film and literature, she volunteered at a documentary festival in Kyoto and from there was hired on at Cinema/Chicago, the festival’s parent organization. In 2006 she was promoted to feature film programmer; this year’s festival will be her second in that role. —J.R. Jones
Do you think the mission of a festival here in the midwest is different from one in New York or Los Angeles?
We have always seen ourselves as an audience-based festival, so our mission is to bring the best in international cinema to Chicago, with the view that film is a wonderful tool for cross-cultural understanding. There are other festivals that maybe are more market-based than we are. But every year there are films that do get picked up here. We have U.S. distributors as well as European distributors, and recently I’ve been getting requests from Asian distributors to come to the festival. We want to promote film in every way possible, so if we can help the filmmakers out, that’s an added bonus.
What do you think are the most interesting national cinemas now?
In the last several years there’s been a lot of great stuff coming out of Argentina, Mexico. This year there’s fantastic films coming out of Sweden, or I guess northern Europe. We see more films that are trying to do new things coming out of China. And Russia this year is really interesting as well.
As the world gets smaller, do you think it’s still valid to program a festival by nationality?
It’s an interesting issue that needs to be thought about, because there’s a huge rise in coproduction. You might have a film that is essentially being shot, say, in Palestine, but it’s getting money from the Netherlands and a variety of countries. The whole concept of national cinema has to be rethought or reconfigured in some way.
What were the best attended screenings last year?
I know [Cristian Mungiu’s] 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days sold out almost immediately, as did [Hou Hsiao-hsien’s] Flight of the Red Balloon.
It’s not a situation where American films are better attended?
Definitely not. We have a very sophisticated film-loving audience. Directors that already have an international reputation will immediately attract attention, as will the winner of the Cannes film festival. And then there are certain ethnic communities in Chicago that come to see films from particular countries. Polish films always do well. I think that highlights the multiculturalism of Chicago. Our gala presentations are more high-profile American films; those always do well. But so do a lot of the U.S. independent films. We have a very strong Cinema of the Americas section, but if you look at the attendance, it’s a real cross section of the Chicago population.
From last year, what are you most proud of bringing to Chicago?
One of the motivations for the festival has always been the new director’s competition—first- and second-time filmmakers. We had an exceptionally high percentage of really excellent films by new directors last year. The film in the new directors competition that took the Silver Hugo was by a Brazilian filmmaker named Philippe Barcinsky. And maybe four, five years before that, his short film had won the Gold Hugo. This, I think, happened several years: we’ll have a filmmaker whose short film has won the prize, who then submits to the festival with their first feature, and it gets programmed. To see that transition, and then to see the film do well beyond the festival, is really exciting. —J.R. Jones