Gene Siskel Film Center brings films of the Europen Union to Chicago

By Brianna Wellen

Chicago boasts a diverse cultural landscape, with certain neighborhoods representing slices of life from foreign countries, giving locals a taste of the world beyond the U.S. In addition, a gathering of foreign consulates ensures their cultures are represented in the city, expanding the scope of each country through the arts.

The European Union countries joined together to present the European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., which started on March 4 and runs through March 31. This year’s festival is the largest ever, responding to an increasing interest in foreign films in Chicago and strengthening the bonds among the countries involved.

The festival began on a trial basis 14 years ago, according to the film center’s director of programming, Barbara Scharres. It has continued to grow ever since. For the last few festivals, the final film count remained steadily in the 50s. This year, more than 60 films from different European nations were represented.

Past festivals established a following, something Scharres attributes to the rise in success. People have explored these foreign worlds and want to see more creative expression from other countries to feed their cultural curiosity, she said.

“It starts to be a self-perpetuating thing when people look forward to this as a special spring event in their cultural calendar,” Scharres said. “They are exposed to some very exciting films that would not have come to Chicago otherwise.”

Spain’s selection for this year’s festival is Álex de la Iglesia’s “The Last Circus (Balada Triste De Trompeta).” Iglesia made an appearance at the festival a few years ago, and through his visit, earned loyal American fans, according to Teresa Hernando, culture program coordinator for Instituto Cervantes, 31 W. Ohio St.

Hernando said because more people are familiar with Iglesia, she expects a larger turnout to the film. Though, according to Hernando, the festival isn’t solely about the movies.

“It’s really important for the European community to organize events together,” Hernando said. “We do the European jazz festival, we do the film festival and we’re planning to do other events in the near future.”

Silvio Marchetti, director of the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, agreed it’s important to represent Europe in the U.S. through cultural events such as the film festival. The collection of films represents the growing presence of Chicago’s European culture and similarities between countries.

“Presenting this European festival is just another reason to show Europe is also strengthening its bond within itself,” Marchetti said. “We have to build a European togetherness and an awareness of a cultural assimilation that, even though we all speak different languages, we all relate as a family when it comes to culture, values and sense of what is right and what is wrong.”

According to Marchetti, Italy has more films represented this year than it has in the past, with “Purple Sea (Viola Di Mare)” as one of his favorites.

The controversial Italian film is a lesbian love story focusing on the emancipation of Sicilian women. Because the oppression that characterized women’s lives historically was not confined to Italy alone, Marchetti said the film is a chance to connect all countries.

The festival explores what’s going on in the world and anyone who has an interest beyond the U.S. cultivates an interest in films from other nations, Scharres said. The Gene Siskel Film Center will continue supporting this event to expand Chicagoans’ view of the cinematic world, she added.

“In the United States, because our film industry is large, we don’t have as many opportunities to enjoy films from other countries,” Scharres said. “It’s really important that an organization like the film center be able to bring these films because they’re just as exciting, entertaining and thought-provoking as the best of

American cinema.”

The European Union Film Festival runs through March 31 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. For information on pricing and a complete schedule of films, visit