Let’s all go to the movies: A look at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival

The 51st annual Chicago International Film Festival, which presents more than 150 films from 50 countries, is running daily through Oct. 29 at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St. in the heart of the Loop.

When people think of the phrase “film festivals,” four events come to mind; Cannes, Sundance, Venice and the Toronto International, but the Chicago International Film Festival is different from the hundreds of other film festivals throughout the U.S.

When the festival premiered in 1964, American culture was changing as the country approached the mid 1960s.

Beatlemania was in full force, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and the Civil Rights movement had gained traction. Many Americans were tired of the clear-cut family moral messages Hollywood films were displaying.

While films like “Mary Poppins”and “My Fair Lady” performed well at the box office, movies like “Goldfinger,” which featured action, sex and violence, started gaining popularity, even though such subjects had long been seen as taboo.

Chicago filmmaker Michael Kutza wanted to highlight this change and came up with the idea of discovering films not normally seen at local theaters. The American independent film movement was non-existent, so filmmakers needed the backing of one of six major studios to get a film seen on a large scale.

Kutza checked the worldwide market and found a slate of international films often never seen in Chicago. The next year, the first Chicago International Film Festival opened.

The festival built a reputation as a must-attend event for those in the film industry, as half of the screenings included post-screening discussions with the directors, producers, writers and actors, which was uncommon at the time.

One filmmaker who enjoyed this interaction was Michael Caplan, whose film “Algren” premiered at last year’s festival.

“We had three screenings,” Caplan said. “Our two-night screenings were both sold out. It is great to be able to interact with your audience and to see it in a movie house was really cool. Afterwards, the way you talk to your audience is why I think we all make films.”

The Chicago International Film Festival stands out from others because the way the festival incorporates unusual events correspond with the films, said Brie Dorsey, a public relations representative for the festival.

“They are doing Taste of Cinema this year, [which] pairs some films with a food experience. For example, there is a film called‘Birth of Sake,’ so there is a saké tasting to go with that. There are a few other films we are doing this with, and I think it is going to be really fun,” Dorsey said. “It is also the Chicago Architecture Biennial, so we have done a section on architectural films which is cool. We actually have a bunch of architectural experts attending the screenings.”

All the opportunities the Chicago International Film Festival offers make it one of the go-to film festivals in the world.

For more information about the 51st Annual Chicago International Film Festival, visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com.