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CIFF 2020 Dispatch: ‘Kubrick by Kubrick’ and ‘City So Real’ Reviews

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In the final days of the 56th Chicago International Film Festival, staff writer Emily Jacobson explored some of the documentaries on offer.


French director Gregory Monro takes a brief look into the mind of Stanley Kubrick in Kubrick by Kubrick. Using rare material from interviews with the prolific filmmaker by French film critic Michel Ciment, the documentary covers his various works and offers unheard insight into the director’s thoughts. Although non-exhaustive, Monro’s film allows fans of Kubrick and cinema alike to hear the process behind some of the director’s greatest feats while addressing some of the rumors surrounding this grand figure in cinema history. 

Kubrick by Kubrick uses the white room from 2001: A Space Odyssey to center itself, often returning back to it, and filling it with artifacts from Kubrick’s filmography. The room acts as a metaphor for the great director’s mind, one that no one will ever fully understand — similar to the ending of his iconic space epic. Through this room, the audience is shown archival interviews featuring Kubrick’s collaborators, who offer differing opinions on the man, never revealing a true or coherent image of who he really was. 

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The interviews between Ciment and Kubrick are fascinating. Although Kubrick states he isn’t a fan of revealing the thought process behind his films, he still offers insights on the details of his career. This is the most rewarding part of this documentary: hearing him speak on his work in a way we have rarely seen. Specifically, Kubrick discusses the politics of his movies and how he never wanted to make anything “hollow.”

Don’t expect a deep dive into Kubrick’s entire filmography, but fans are unlikely to be disappointed by this insightful study.


The second documentary screened was the National Geographic miniseries City So Real, directed by Steve James. This five-parter attempts to unravel the complexities and nuances of Chicago politics. Covering the mayoral race of 2019 in which Lori Lightfoot rose victorious, the series focuses on the numerous candidates involved in the lead up to the election, as well as Chicago constituents.

Watching City So Real during the current pandemic and high-pressure political climate, one might see the series as already being dated, but its last episode — which covers the handling of COVID-19 as it coincided with the protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd — is timely.

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Although it’s a complicated task, City So Real paints a picture of a diverse and separated Chicago. This is done by moving from neighborhood to neighborhood and using interviews with locals to hear their thoughts on the politics and the current state of Chicago. Contrasting citizens of the South and West side with people from the more affluent North neighborhoods, the series makes it clear locals are living in two very different Chicagos. 

Most striking is that distinction. Beginning during the aftermath of the police shooting of Laquan Mcdonald, the city is more divided than ever. Interviews reveal who is closely following the trial and what white citizens don’t seem as concerned with the matter. This is depicted when subjects are asked about which mayoral candidates they will be supporting and why, showing the wide range from progressive elects to more conservative choices.

Chicago is a complicated city with a diverse population. City So Real does an ample job of revealing those differences in everyday citizens, as well as investigating the corrupt and complex political climate. Admittedly, the series may be hard to follow if one is unfamiliar with the history of Chicago politics, but it still cohesively highlights the issues plaguing the city.

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