Last Days of the Film Festival

“We were filling the gap in the 60s. We started changing people’s tastes in filmgoing to make them want to see more of this kind of product. And now the theaters that used to show it all have stopped showing it because the distributors do not buy foreign product anymore and foreign product is not being shown in the local theaters anymore. So, ironically, we’ve become the only source now, the festival, for this new kind of film.”

“I have always found that in Chicago, depending on the year, I find the critics to be a rather provincial lot, and they do tend to destroy their own [film festival] but they like seeing the very same film when they can get out of Chicago on a comp or a VIP tour to another festival. They seem to like it more when they can be extracted from their own city and relax and see films.”

“Kieslowski is a director we discovered, and the Decalogue would not exist without us, interestingly enough.”

These modest remarks by Michael J. Kutza, director of the Chicago International Film Festival, are quoted verbatim from John Callaway’s show Chicago Tonight on October 17. (In the interest of brevity, I’ve omitted Kutza’s groundless attacks on the aesthetic tastes of the programmers of the Toronto film festival and on the historical acumen of Dave Kehr.) Taken separately or together, I think these comments provide a helpful clue about what makes the Chicago festival, in spite of its undeniable virtues, something of an embarrassment.

In the course of these three statements, Kutza (1) blithely ignored the work of the Film Center and Facets Multimedia Center, both of which show foreign films year-round, and usually of a much higher overall quality than those that he shows; (2) discounted the considerable efforts of local critics to draw attention to the festival and particularly to the few essential works it does show; and (3) dismissed the international climate of opinion that has made Krzysztof Kieslowski’s name important quite independently of Kutza’s. (As Kieslowski himself tactfully pointed out shortly after the broadcast, while introducing his first feature, Camera Buff, at the Village, this film was shown at the Chicago festival 13 years ago only after it won first prize at the festival in Moscow.)

Solipsism of this kind is one of the things that prevent the Chicago festival from being the equal of those in Berlin, Denver, New York, Rotterdam, San Francisco, San Sebastian, Toronto, and Venice. The qualities that can be found at all the best festivals, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are predicated on a precise sense of what is happening in film and film history both locally and in the world at large, and a need and capacity to share some of that sense as it relates to the films selected. There’s no messianic zeal evident in the Chicago festival, and no flow of information that would help viewers to see the selected films in any context broader than that of the festival itself. It’s these absences that are largely behind the vaguer dissatisfactions that local critics have expressed over the years. Listing the main selections in the program guide according to nationality is certainly a step in the right direction, but as Barbara Scharres of the Film Center pointed out on the Callaway show, it is only a first step.

Having gotten this grumble off my chest, let me make some recommendations for this final week of the festival, based on what I’ve seen: Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, and A King in New York; Michael Moore’s Roger and Me; Christian Blackwood’s Motel; and Jacques Demy’s Three Seats for the 26th.

Screenings are at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; the Village, 1548 N. Clark; Ida Noyes Hall on the University of Chicago campus, 1212 E. 59th St.; and the Three Penny, 2424 N. Lincoln. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office the day of the screening starting one hour prior to the first screening or at the film festival store at 1538 N. Clark. They are also available by phone at 644-3456 or at Ticketmaster: 559-1212 or 902-1500 (credit cards only). General admission to each program, with some exceptions, is $6, $5 for Cinema/Chicago members. Major exceptions are the Chaplin programs, which are $5 general admission, $4 for Cinema/Chicago members, not including the two special presentations of City Lights at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, on Monday, October 30, where the ticket prices range from $6 to $25.

For further information, call 644-3456 or listen to radio stations WNUA (95.5 FM) or WBEZ (91.5 FM) for updates and coverage.

In the reviews that follow, films that are recommended by our critics are preceded by an asterisk (*).

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