film festival tourism


Why go: A festival with a lot to offer held in a beautiful city at a great time of year.

Festival Website:

Timing: Twelve Days in Mid-October

Dates for 2012: October 11-25

Festival Description: Started by graphic designer and aspiring filmmaker Michael Kutza in 1964, the event purports to be the longest-running competitive festival in North America.  In 2006 Mimi Plauche came on board to share programming duties. The focus is on new international cinema, and the publicity promotes the films as windows to cultural understanding. It’s big; in 2011 198 features were screened. The festival’s run of risque posters by famed photographer Victor Skrebneski, while controversial, drew much attention.

Michael Kutza and Mimi Plauche

1998 Festival Poster

In the past this aspect of the festival has been a mixed bag with a bewildering array of unknown films of varying quality from which to choose.  In recent years, however, the l programming has become more disciplined and now includes top picks from the international fest circuit along with some prestigious premieres and a few revivals.

Special Guests
The festival has a high glitz factor with Hollywood stars past and present lavishly feted. A number of international filmmakers show up as well.

Large, mostly locals. The festival is well-supported among Chicagoans.

Screening Venues:
Perhaps with an eye to appealing to out-of-towners, the festival opted to centralize its offerings in 2009 at the River East 21 Multiplex, a comfortable, up-to-date facility in the center of town, with a multitude of hotels and restaurants nearby.

Screening Schedule
Screenings begin mid-afternoon on weekdays and continue into the late evening. There are at least seven choices at all times.The festival continues to suffer from less-than-perfect organization, sometimes resulting in late screenings, inadequate crowd control, and unanticipated film substitutions.

These are moderately expensive and a bit of a hassle to acquire. There are a variety of passes available as well.

Program Notes
The festival puts out a lavish program book for which they were charging $20 in 2011.

Chicago has changed mightily in the last few decades and now proudly claims a place as a world-class tourist destination.

The Chicago River

The Chicago River

The city has an abundance of hotels, many of them in the North Loop, River East area in which the main festival venues are located.

Getting There

There are subway connections to the center of town from both O’Hare and Midway airports.

Getting Around
If you stay in a hotel in the River East or North Loop area, you’ll have no problem walking between the two main venues.

Chicago is a great restaurant town. A few options near the theaters…

  • Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge. A fine choice right next to the River East 21 Theaters. 332 E. Illinois St. (bet. Columbus Dr. & McClurg Ct.) Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 527-2888

Niu Restaurant

  • Markethouse. A quiet haven in the nearby Doubletree Hotel, the Markethouse features imaginative preparations of  locally sourced ingredients.  611 North Fairbanks Ct. Chicago, IL 60611 Ph.  312.224.2200 .

Markethouse Restaurant


Millennium Park. The jewel of the city, and near the festival theaters.

The Chicago skyline from Millennium Park

The Chicago skyline from Millennium Park

The Art Institute of Chicago. A bit farther away, but you can still walk it.

The Art Institute at Christmastime

The Art Institute at Christmastime

The Gene Siskel Film Center. If you run out of movies to see at the festival–or just for a change–check out this gem of a facility across from the Chicago Theater which runs an ambitious program of revival and international offerings throughout the year.

Mood Movies: Films set in Chicago you might want to watch before you go.

The Dark Knight. I am not one of the big fans of this film, but it features gorgeous views of the downtown Chicago area.

The Blues Brothers. THE Chicago movie. Catches the mood and surroundings of this working-class city and features a virtuoso comic turn by hometown favorite John Belushi. Originally released in 1980.

Death of a President. This 2006 documentary-style political thriller about the assassination of George W. Bush was filmed in and around Chicago’s downtown and River East neighborhoods.

High Fidelity. Chicago native John Cusak both co-produced and starred in this 2000 romantic comedy, which takes place in various neighborhood locations around town. Stephen Frears directed.

The Fugitive. This 1993 thriller features postcard views of the Chicago Loop.

The Untouchables. The Chicago Cultural Center stands in for Al Capone’s hotel-home and Union Train Station serves as the backdrop for a clever riff on the famed Odessa Steps sequence from Potemkin in this gory 1987 thriller from Brian De Palma. Robert De Niro makes a suitably scary Capone.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This is my favorite Chicago movie for its many incisive views of the underside of the city. Written and directed by Chicagoan John McNaughton in 1986



2008 Program Book

2008 Program Book

Best Films I Saw

  • Hunger. Stark, daring and uncompromising. This first feature from British video installation artist Steve McQueen marks the introduction of a major talent.’


  • Gomorrah. A painful look at life in the slums outside of Naples made up of three interwoven plot strands, each of which chronicles the effect of organized crime on the struggling poor.


  • Happy-Go-Lucky. Cheerful, but not mindless, carried by a winning performance by Sally Hawkings. Director Mike Leigh appeared at the screening to receive a career achievement award.



2009 Program Book

2009 Program Book

Best Films I Saw

  • Police, Adjective. One of the best of what is sometimes called “The New Romanian Cinema, this anti-detective story from Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Budapest) takes its time to get going, but the payoff is stellar.

Link to my essay on Police, Adjective:

Police, Adjective

Police, Adjective

  • Vincere. Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio’s study of a woman seduced and abandoned by  Benito Mussolini is as much about the power of cinema as it is about the power of fascism. Ravishing, complex and provocative.



2010 Program Book

Best Film I Saw: A Screaming Man. Mahamet-Saleh Haraoun’s understated portrait of one of the beleaguered citizens of the war-torn country of Chad tells a tragic tale of betrayal and loss.

A Screaming Man

Link to my essay on A Screaming Man:


2011 Program Book

Best Films I Saw

  • Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da). Police, Adjective meets Through the Olive Trees in this absorbing chronicle of a police investigation into a murder from Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylon. Wryly contemplative rather than frenetically action-oriented, the film  uses its subject as a pretext to  probe the psychological and ontological depths of  its characters and their world.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin. Lynn Ramsay’s  bravura portrait of one mother’s anguish as she tries in vain to socialize her psychopathic child. Ramsay’s bold visuals are set off by a standout performance from Tilda Swinton, who is present in virtually every frame.

We Need to Talk about Kevin

Unexpected Pleasures

  • Kenneth Branaugh channeling Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn.

Kenneth Branaugh in My Week with Marilyn

  • A slightly flustered David Robinson doing a pitch for the Pordenone Silent Film Festival and introducing a delightful potpourri of early films.

David Robinson

Shock and Awe: Late screenings. Half the screenings I went to didn’t begin on time.


Best Films I Saw

  • Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri). Romanian autuer Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) delivers another gripping tale of women in trouble, this time set in a modern-day convent where woefully anachronistic practices have tragic consequences.

Beyond the Hills

  • Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire). The Taviani Brothers watch closely as inmates of a high security prison in Rome prepare for a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar . In the process, questions of identity, freedom, and culture bubble to the surface.

Caesar Must Die

No comments

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply