Cinephiles screen the cream of the world’s crop at audience-friendly fest

Ryan Wenzel

"Is cinema more important than life?"

Legendary French filmmaker Francois Truffaut said this question plagued him for most of his adult life. Most of us — even if we claim to love movies — would dismiss this query as absurd, but the thousands of cinephiles planning, attending and contributing to the 40th Annual Chicago International Film Festival might answer differently.

The CIFF, presented by Cinema/Chicago and sponsored by BankOne, will celebrate its 40th anniversary in several theaters downtown from Oct. 7 to Oct. 21. The two-week festival will include a total of 109 feature films and 54 short films by filmmakers from around the world.

Brigid Reagan, a programming coordinator for the CIFF, describes the festival as "vital to Chicago."

"Before Michael (Kutza) started the festival, there was nothing like this, nothing to bring international film to Chicago," Reagan explained. "So many of the films we show do not get distribution in the United States, so this is the only opportunity for people to see these movies."

Reagan said Cinema/Chicago strives to separate the CIFF from other festivals. "It is really geared towards the audience, whereas some of the big festivals like Sundance and Toronto are more geared towards industry people," Reagan said. "We program films with our audience in mind, hoping that the films will please the audience. That’s really our main goal."

And they do just that, at least according to Anthony Kuhnz, a Communication senior majoring in film. Kuhnz first experienced the festival at a showing of "Mullholland Drive" during his freshman year. He has returned to the festival every year since.

"I have yet to see something there that I didn’t like," Kuhnz said. "Everything I’ve seen there has been of very high quality." Kuhnz said it’s rare for a Northwestern film student not to have attended the festival at least once. "Of the film students at NU, I’m sure a majority of them make it down to see a couple of films," he said.

Andy Garland, another senior studying film, also has attended the festival every year for the past three years. He described the festival as idiosyncratic, but said he enjoyed spending time with film fanatics.

"It’s a pretty nice community," Garland said. "You can go there and see the same people year after year, people from every facet of the film community."

The oldest competitive international film festival in North America, the CIFF was founded in 1964 by award-winning filmmaker and graphic designer Michael Kutza. The first festival, in 1965, was held at the Carnegie Theatre, 1026 N. Rush St., where directors King Vidor and Stanley Kramer and actress Bette Davis were honored for their contributions to American cinema. The festival’s primary goal: "to discover and present new filmmakers to Chicago and to acknowledge and award these filmmakers for their artistry."

The festival always has prided itself on the variety of its offerings, but this year festival-goers can look forward to a few brand new attractions. "Anniversaries are often a time to pause and look back," Kutza said. "This year we’re pulling out all the stops with an expanded program that celebrates our history and looks ahead."

One of the most exciting additions to this year’s festival schedule, according to program director Helen Gramates, is a retrospective series, appropriately titled "Flashback." The 12-film series, which runs through the two weeks, will showcase classic films from past festivals. Many of the directors — including Volker Schl