“Film is the most important art and it has the power to change the universe.”—Milos Stehlik
The Chicago film scene, and really that of the world, would not be the same without Milos Stehlik, who passed away at the age of 70 in his Lincoln Park home on Saturday, July 6th, 2019, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 1975, Stehlik co-founded Facets Multimedia in a Lutheran Church in Lakeview. From those humble beginnings, Facets would become a company that would go on to transform the independent film scene in the city that he loved. As anyone with knowledge about the arthouse movie business can understand, it’s remarkably difficult to create a brand that means as much as Facets does to Chicagoans, but Stehlik always persevered even as the theatrical scene shifted and funding became more difficult. He was an intense, devoted, brilliant man whose passion for film came through in everything he did. Chicago won’t be the same without him.
Under Stehlik’s forward-thinking leadership, Facets was a pioneering force in terms of independent and foreign film. Seemingly not content to just open a new movie theater, Stehlik’s business became known as one of the most diverse companies from which to rent movies, first on VHS and later on DVD and Blu-ray. I remember when I first moved to Chicago in 1997, marveling at the selection and reach of Facets. This was what it was like to live in the big city! Well, not every big city. Facets was special. And as the rental business changed, so did Facets, adding an online streaming library to its repertoire. Beyond just exhibition of film, Facets became a hub for film education and appreciation, also featuring classes for children and a children’s film festival. There was always something so magical about the way it felt like Facets wasn’t content to merely solve an immediate problem but existed to encourage a life-long love of film. Stehlik’s reach exceeded Fullerton Avenue too, finding loyal fans through his appearances on WBEZ’s “Worldview”.
Stehlik was also an ardent defender of criticism, joining the Chicago Film Critics Association in 2015, and a close ally of Roger and Chaz Ebert. He spoke at events honoring Roger several times, including Roger Ebert’s memorial service and an event in 2014 at which Ebert was given the Illinois Prize. The wonderful story he told about Roger’s defense of when Jean-Luc Godard’s “Hail Mary” played Facets is embedded below along with one of his final appearances at University of Chicago, giving a speech about “Globalizing Your Classroom Through Film.” And you can read his Illinois Prize speech here. This section has always stuck with me:
Through Roger’s writing, we could feel the urgency of what the filmmaker was trying to say. The great lesson which Roger Ebert taught: film was not about drama or character, it was about us, the audience. It is about helping us be, and be better.
Milos Stehlik helped us be better. Our deepest condolences to his friends and family.
The official Chicago Film Critics Association statement on Milos Stehlik, written by BOD member and RogerEbert.com contributor Peter Sobczynski:
It is impossible to understate the importance of Milos Stehlik on Chicago’s film community and its influence throughout the world. The Czechoslovakian-born Stehlik passed away on July 6 at his home in Lincoln Park. Having lived in the city since the early 1960s, along with stage director Nicole Dreiska (whom he later married for a time), established Facets Multimedia in 1975, first in a church with projectors placed where the choir once stood, and eventually in a permanent home on Fullerton Avenue, where it continues to thrive today. From there, he brought in films from all over the world to screen for audiences who yearned for something different and is even credited as the man who first exposed Roger Ebert to one of his favorite movies, Errol Morris’s groundbreaking “Gates of Heaven.” In addition to the theater, Facets would also establish a home video business that would evolve from videocassettes to DVDs to streaming and embraced everything from established classics to bizarre obscurities that would stump even the hardiest cineastes. Facets would also cultivate new generations of film fans through an annual summer film camp for children as well as an annual children’s film festival. He could also be heard discussing film as a contributor to the “Worldview” show on WBEZ-FM. Even when suffering from the effects of the Stage 4 lung cancer that had been diagnosed last January, he did not let that pain affect his love of film. His last public appearance was in May at a master class fundraiser headed by Werner Herzog, one of the many great filmmakers whom he helped expose to a wider audience. At a time when film culture at a whole seems as if it is on the ropes, a trip to Facets can feel like a cinema buff’s dream come true. Stehlik may be gone but his dream will continue to grow and thrive for years to come.
The Chicago Film Critics Association joins cineastes worldwide in expressing our sorrow and in expressing our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.
Photos credited to Classic Chicago Magazine