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Celebrating Michael Kutza: Founder of Chicago International Film Festival to be Honored at July 14th Gala

Think of a 22-year-old you know. Now imagine that person starts an enterprise and runs it successfully for 55 years. Can't imagine that? I can. Michael Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival when he was 22 years old. It is the oldest competitive film festival in North America. He is stepping down after 55 years and we are inviting you to join us in celebrating him at a fun and elegant bash at the Loews Hotel Chicago, 455 N. Park Drive, this Saturday, July 14th. Tickets for the gala are now available for purchase online.

Kutza, the Founder and CEO of Cinema/Chicago, will be honored by the Governing Board of Directors at a special gala entitled, “Celebrating Michael.” The event will be chaired by me, Candace Jordan and Maria Pappas, and will include an array of appearances from film industry luminaries to honor Kutza’s passion for film and his dedication to fostering the appreciation of film in Chicago. Among those scheduled to attend are "The Fugitive" director Andrew Davis; "Body Heat" star Kathleen Turner; "Mission: Impossible" producer Paula Wagner; "Empire" star Terrence Howard; "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James; "Easy" creator Joe Swanberg; "Unexpected" director Kris Swanberg; "42 Grams" director Jack C. Newell and "Uptopians" director SCUD, amongst others. 

Davis and Turner will make onstage presentations, along with myself, Mary Ann Childers (narrating "We Are Cinema/Chicago") and Ken Nordine (narrating "The Power of the Moving Image"). Video tributes will be made by past festival honorees Jacqueline BissetGeraldine Chaplin and Pato Castilla, Arthur CohnTom CruiseMichael DouglasSophia LorenHelen Mirren and Taylor HackfordMartin ScorseseOliver StoneLiv Ullmann and Robert and Leslie Zemeckis. A Lifetime Achievement Award will also be presented to Kutza during the gala.

Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival in 1964 with silent screen star Colleen Moore; the Festival made its debut at the Carnegie Theatre at Rush and Oak Streets on November 9th, 1965. "I don't know for sure, but I think Michael Kutza lives in his Old Town apartment," wrote my husband, Roger, in 1969. "Just where is uncertain. Maybe a bed swings down out of the ceiling. But right now, there are all these films, thousands of them, hundreds of 60 second TV commercials alone [...]"

Apparently, Chicago's film festival had arrived. 

Kutza served as Artistic Director through 2017, holding that title longer than any other festival artistic director, at which time he passed the baton to Mimi Plauché and Kutza was promoted to CEO. He announced earlier this year that he will be stepping down at the end of 2018.

Over the course of his 55-year career, Kutza was responsible for supporting the early careers of directors who have gone on to be regarded as some of the film industry’s most acclaimed figures, including Scorsese, Stone, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Krzysztof Zanussi, Claude Lelouch, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, Tsai Ming-liang, Mike Leigh, Michael Moore, John Carpenter and Taylor Hackford, among many others. He also continuously programmed cutting-edge films from across the globe to draw attention to previously untold stories and undiscovered new talent. Under his leadership, a who’s who of the film industry’s elite has attended the festival and its special events, including Harold Lloyd, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon, Vincente Minnelli, Jack Nicholson, Shirley MacLaine, François Truffaut, Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Sidney Poitier, Jane Fonda, Chadwick Boseman, Vanessa Redgrave, and many more.

Following Kutza’s retirement, he will become Emeritus CEO. Cinema/Chicago will continue to operate with Vivian Teng as Managing Director and Mimi Plauché as Artistic Director. The 54th Chicago International Film Festival will be presented October 10th-21st, 2018.

But for now, come party with Michael on Saturday, July 14. 

To watch Janet Davies' recent interview with Kutza on ABC7 Eyewitness News, click here

Tickets for the July 14th gala are now available on the official Cinema/Chicago site. Doors open at 6pm for cocktails, red carpet arrivals and a silent auction, followed by dinner and a live auction at 7:30pm and the presentation at 8:30pm.

Click here to read Roger Ebert's article about the 1969 Chicago Film Festival and here for his interview with Kutza from 1976. Click here to read Lisa Bertagnoli's interview with Michael Kutza for Crain's. For more information, visit the official site of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Photo courtesy of Sun-Times Media Archive.

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 24th year.

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