For film buffs and newbies alike, there are few cities that can best Chicago. (After all, Chicago was home to the world’s first movie screening, Eadweard Muybridge’s moving photographs at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.) When it’s not your night at Doc, the city hosts its fair share of openings and festivals, and its smaller, more independent venues offer cult classics and midnight screenings. So please, skip Netflix and catch a flick on a screen wider than 15 inches.
Showplace ICON and AMC River East, conveniently located just south and north of the Loop, respectively, deliver all the usual blockbuster fare, and usually get the limited release films that didn’t make it to your hometown. But for the latter, don’t pay the steep $12 ticket price—you can buy $6.50 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 10–24. 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 $11, or $16 for special presentations.
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 School 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 its programming. Student tickets are $7. Facets Multi-Media: Cinémathèque, a smaller venue in Lincoln Park, screens Sundance winners and other independent films. Facets Cinémathèque also houses its own DVD library of 65,000 films, and offers film classes and an awesome membership package. Tickets are $9.
To get the full-blown Chicago film experience, the Music Box Theatre is easily the most exciting and beloved theater in town. While the Theatre gets the usual independent fare, it also offers other eclectic programming, like Silent Second Saturdays, an upcoming Herzog series, a found footage festival, and more. The Music Box hosts midnight movies every weekend, with special events like a Halloween screening of 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 UChicago 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 the late Roger Ebert (X ’70) deemed “one of the great movie-going experiences of my lifetime.”
With so many theaters and film events happening in Chicago, it’d be foolish 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.