While Doc Films’s rich offerings can fit the bill on most nights, don’t be afraid to take a dip into Chicago’s vast film scene. The city that Gene Siskel—once half of the Siskel & Ebert team—called home is large enough to host its fair share of openings and festivals. There are also plenty of 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 in theaters for at least two weeks at The Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA). AMC also hosts the Chicago International Film Festival, running October 11-25. 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. The festival has also brought attention to such luminaries as Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders early in their careers. Tickets run around $20, so stick to the Cannes winners and Oscar bait, like the newest Abbas Kiarostami film, Like Someone In Love.
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, offers film classes, and offers an awesome membership package. Tickets are $9.
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 offers programming of older films, like Silent Saturdays, Woody Allen retrospectives, and other special events. The Music Box hosts midnight movies every weekend, with special events like a full-blown Halloween screening of The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with a costume contest and fans screaming incoherently at the screen. Tickets run around $12; plastic spoons and feather boas not included.
Chicago is also home to its own documentary film production company (founded by U of C alumni), Kartemquin Films, which focuses a keen eye on Chicago politics and social issues. The company received a MacArthur Award in 2007 and has released such gems as The Interrupters and Hoop Dreams, the latter of which Roger Ebert deemed the best documentary he’s ever seen.
With so many theaters and film events happening in Chicago, it’s impossible not to take advantage of the city’s size and prevalence in the country’s cinema scene, even if it takes a bit of traveling to get there.