A Quick History Of The Chicago International Film Festival

Saturday, September 17 by Elizabeth Ahn

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For those who have a penchant for excellent cinema with a touch of indie, the Chicago International Film Festival provides the perfect blend for movie connoisseurs who just aren't jazzed by Hollywood's predictable movie culture. History buffs, you're in luck too: this one of the longest-running film festivals in the United States. Both celebrity and consumer alike visit this historic festival each year to get their fill on good, heart-wrenching cinema, and it's not slowing down anytime soon. Here's what you need to know about this historic annual festival:

Sizzling, Dazzling History. Surprisingly, the Chicago International Film Festival wasn't created by a Hollywood veteran or a group of seasoned filmmakers. Movie goers can thank Michael Kutza, the then 22-year-old who organized the event in 1964, depending on his skills as a graphic designer to promote it.  His intention: to raise awareness of movies not being produced in Hollywood. Filmmakers around the world saluted him for his effort, relieved that their films would no longer have to go through Hollywood's cheese grater in order to become marketable. Kutza personally selected the films to be played at the festival. Its early years brought modest success. In 1967, Kutza selected the film "I Call First" to be played at the festival, a first for new director Martin Scorsese. This film helped launch his now historical film career, and was given a positive review by Roger Ebert, who viewed the film at the festival. As the 1970s came into fruition, more directions, often from different countries, came to Chicago in hopes of having their movies selected. Today, this festival is like a mecca for international filmmakers who want to avoid this dreaded Hollywood process at all costs. No disrespect to Hollywood, of course–it just seems that it would rather make remakes of foreign films than to play the actual film.

Its Historic Guests. The Chicago International Film Festival is a celebrity smorgasbord, acting as a magnet for gathering Hollywood's elite outside of Los Angeles. During the start of the festival, Bette Davis and Stanley Kramer helped make this event bombtastic. Today, you won't have any trouble gathering America's best filmmakers and actors–it's practically expected. In 2010, Guillermo del Toro, Forest Whitaker and Edward Norton were some of the celebrity guests welcomed to the event. Foreign directors, such as Victor Erice, Jan Troell and Maria Louisa Bemberg have also attended and premiered their movies during the event's tenure.

The Festival Today, Stripped Down. Currently, the Chicago International Film Festival occurs annually in the fall, welcoming people of all ages. Don't let this restriction fool you, however–many of these films are not intended for children (it's a good thing "The Human Centipede" never premiered here). For those who have trouble deciding what to watch, the movies are organized by interest (thankfully), including sections for new directors, international directors, and even a female-oriented section. Although its intent was to expose people to new films in the 1960s, its purpose today is to spread awareness about the international film culture richly present in Chicago. If you love movies, this is practically a mandatory event you have to attend.

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