September 17, 2011

O-Issue 2011: Chicago cinema

While you can likely get your fill from Doc Films’ rich offerings, don’t be afraid to take a dip into Chicago’s film scene. The home of Gene Siskel, once half of the Siskel & Ebert team, the city is large enough to host its fair share of openings and festivals. It also plays host to smaller and more independent venues, including the Music Box Theatre, home to cult classics and midnight screenings. So please, skip the Netflix instant view and watch something on a screen wider than 15 inches.

AMC River East, conveniently located just north of the Loop, delivers all the usual blockbuster fare, and usually gets the limited release films that didn’t make it to your hometown. But don’t pay the steep $12 ticket price - you can buy $6 passes to any AMC film that’s been released for two weeks at The Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA). AMC also hosts the Chicago International Film Festival, running from October 6-20. The longest-running film festival in the country, the CIFF presents independent and foreign films long before they’re shown in regular theaters, with past entries including Black Swan, Slumdog Millionaire, and Synecdoche, New York, and the festival has helped discover such luminaries as Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders. Tickets run around $20, so stick to the Cannes winners and Oscar bait.

Independent and foreign films can also be found on a more regular basis at the Landmark Century Cinema in Lakeview and at the Gene Siskel Film Center in the Loop. As part of the Art Institute, the Siskel Film Center takes a more academic approach to film, with festivals on national theater and underground movements constituting most of their programming. U of C student tickets are $7. Facets Multimedia Cinematheque, a smaller venue in Lincoln Park, screens Sundance winners and other independent films. The Cinematheque also houses its own DVD library and offers film classes.

To experience true Chicago film, though, the Music Box Theatre is easily the most exciting and best loved theater in town. While the Theatre gets the usual independent fare, it also plays older films like this winter’s Woody Allen retrospective. The Music Box hosts midnight movies every weekend, with special screenings of The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a full-blown Halloween event complete with a costume contest and fans screaming incoherently at the screen. Tickets are $10; plastic spoons and feather boas not included.

Chicago is also home to its own documentary film production company, Kartemquin Films, founded by U of C alumni. Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, Kartemquin focuses a keen eye on Chicago politics and issues. The company received a MacArthur Award in 2007 and The Interrupters, the company’s most successful film yet, was released earlier this year.

With so many theaters and film events happening in Chicago, it’s difficult not to take advantage of the city’s size and prevalence in the country’s cinema scene.