Chicago is a Film Town

Chicago is a film town. I don't really know how it started. Maybe it has something to do with Selig Polyscope (Click that link! Let's just say his life included Edison patent dodging, the production of the first Wizard of Oz film ever made and a nice bullet wound from the time someone tried to murder him!). Or maybe the film connection has something to do with the early establishment of film studios, encouraging a film culture even when people were slightly afraid of the new medium. Or maybe it is the ongoing film production/state incentives that sets them apart. Either way, Chicago is a film hub and my most recent visit there has just reinforced my love for this city and this city's love for film!

Part of the reason Brent & I were visiting was to be part of Conversations At The Edge (CATE) a program sponsored by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Film Department, in conjunction with the Video Data Bank and the SAIC's state of the art venue The Gene Siskel Center. CATE is a great program that features lectures, performances and screenings that are off the beaten path including things like an upcoming screening of Yvonne Rainer's first film along with a discussion with the filmmaker/writer/dancer/choreographer and a past screening of the program Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area a series I have heard only raves about in the film community. The CATE series just won an award too, the American Art Critics' Association gave them a prize for "Best Show Involving Digital Media, Video, Film or Performance" for their CATE event on the work of Yael Bartana. It was amazing to have a sold out screening of Gravity and another well attended, early morning, weekend screening with this program- so much love in the Gene Siskel Film Center!

O, yeah, the Gene Siskel Film Center! Yes, that Gene Siskel! Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! I have a secret love for Gene Siskel. Watching him argue about movies as a kid, hearing that he often dressed up like Batman and jumped out of trees during his time at Yale, even his intense love of basketball..there was something about him, and, in fact, Ebert too (whose blog I read now and then and whose truth about the state of culture and film is one of the few unafraid voices out there, even more amazing given his public position). The SAIC Film Center was one championed by Siskel for it's progressive programing, his public support of the place allowed for it to continually thrive and now bear his name.

In a weird coincidence....the mad-sweet genius behind the inner workings of the Siskel Center projector booths, the amazing projection wizard who brings films to the obscenely large outdoor film series in Chicago, and also the lovely man who runs a secret micro-cinema within the city limits is a friend of ours! James Bond! (His real name! I swear!) Not only has this man brought superior film projection to the City of Chicago, he runs projections all over the continent too with his business Full Aperture Systems. James has even set up the projections for such close-to-my-heart wonders as True/False Film Fest, the Bethlehem Steelstacks arts complex (nearby our PA home) and even the Indiana University Cinema in Bloomington which we performed in last year to a loving crowd! James is the nicest cinephile I know and if anyone knows where to get Hitchcock's Marnie, a personal favorite of mine, on actual film please let me know so I can share my love of this film with this devout film-only watcher!

Adding to the film vibe of this town are a ton of film fests. From CIMM Fest (a music & movies event which we played a little while back) to the Chicago International Film Festival (one of the longest running of it's kind) to the Chicago Underground Film Festival, to the EU Film Festival each one services a different community of interests while consistently servicing the film set at the same time. There are also other film notables too like Jonathan Rosenbaum (whom I met in an elevator in Poland and whose love [love/hate?] of The Turin Horse is probably unrivaled) and places like Earwax with a hidden video rental store under the dining hub bub (Earwax may or may not be still renting videos after it's reopening- either way at some point a clandestine videostore existed under the film hungry streets of Chicago!).

And lastly on my film tour of Chicago is the charming Mrs Holli McGinley, the wife of Gravity star Mike and also a brief but important camera operator on Gravity as well! Holli works mostly as an Assistant Director thanks to the constant stream of film projects brought to Chicago each year by the state's film production tax break program, a creative way to stimulate the local economy! Holli has done everything from escorting Batman (the actual Batman!) to the top of the Sears Tower  to making sure that the reality tv stars are dropped at the proper location to instigate a fight! I never get sick of hearing her stories of the raging director or the fragile actor, and I would like to publicly thank her for gifting us 15lbs of cheese from a cheese commercial shoot! I hope she keeps moving onwards & upwards, and gets the respect she most assuredly deserves in her film work pursuits! Is Chicago the secret L.A. of the Lake Michigan Coastline? YES!



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.