Around the world in nineteen films

By Brianna Wellen

There are no red carpets, no celebrities and no paparazzi, but the International Summer Screenings program brings a movie premiere to Chicago each week. Exposing lesser known films gives viewers a different taste of international cultures, as well as a cinematic experience that was, until now, unavailable in Chicago.

The Chicago International Film Festival and the Chicago Cultural Center partnered with 19 international consulates to present this seventh year of International Summer Screenings. The program has evolved and is larger than ever this year, showing 19 free films throughout 19 weeks, with an extra matinee screening of each film every week.

The festival kicked off with “Bandidos,” a Mexican film, on May 5 and will continue every Wednesday and select Saturdays until Sept. 8 in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington St.

“We really wanted to do more public programming,” said Vivian Teng, managing director of the Chicago International Film Festival. “It was an initiative started by a few of our consulate partners and eventually, through the years, we’ve added more partners and it’s really taken off. “

According to Teng, the goal was to provide the public with inaccessible foreign cinema; movies that wouldn’t be available on Netflix. When picking the films, organizers met with a committee of representatives of foreign consulates to choose films that characterize their culture, language, country and issues in the way they wanted to be shown. The mission aligns with the Chicago Cultural Center’s goals, making it the

perfect collaboration.

“It bridges so many different cultures together and allows so many Chicagoans to be exposed to them free of charge,” said Carlos Tortolero, who curates the films for the Chicago Cultural Center and sits on the film committee that puts the International Summer Screenings together. “[The Cultural Center’s] an ideal setting for this kind of event.”

The Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater, which seats 250 people, has easily filled to capacity in the past. The Saturday matinee was added to accommodate an overflow and aim for the walk-in patrons of the Cultural Center—the crowds that promotional activity brings in and summer tourists who wander into the cultural center and stay to watch the film.

“Usually we’re turning people away,” Tortolero said. “People will be lining up around five o’clock [when the show starts at 6:30]; they come that early for it.”

Without the involvement of the foreign consulates, the International Summer Screenings would not exist. The growth of international partners and their interest in presenting their country through film has contributed to the ongoing and growing success of the program.

“We think programs like this, which are free movies, gives [Chicagoans] all such a great opportunity to see what movies are made in different countries,” said Carla Bourgonje, assistant to the Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a consulate that has been involved in the program since its conception.

Bourgonje sees the festival as a chance to show what countries can do in the world of film and to dispel stereotypes that may exist. “The Netherlands are not just tulips and wooden shoes and all that,” she said. “The Netherlands is an innovative country, a diverse country.”

Teng keeps the films at festival caliber to keep the program fitting with the mission of the Chicago International Film festival, and to keep up public interest. In order to expand the experience, film critics and academics are invited to select screenings to participate in audience discussions to not only entertain, but also educate on these cultures through film. By maintaining the high standards of film and reaching out to more international consulates, Teng hopes the festival will expand to show these films year round through public programming.

“Film is such a powerful tool,” Teng said. “It’s something everyone loves and something everyone understands to convey that cultural viewpoint through film.”

The International Summer Screenings program will show films every Wednesday at 6:30 p. m. and select Saturdays at 2 p. m. at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington St. A complete film schedule can be found at