It's A Wrap For Chicago Film Festival's Founder

Lisa Fielding
October 09, 2018 - 6:00 am

Chicago International Film Festival

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Michael Kutza says it's no surprise he made a career and a life in the film industry.

"I was making movies when I was about 8 years old," he reflects. "My mother was a doctor and a midwife, which was a big deal back in the day. And she’d go to all these lady-doctor conventions around the world and she'd always carry around a movie camera, a big 16-millimeter, with her and she'd come home and ask me to make it into a movie for her lady friends.”

In 1964, at the age of 22, Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival.

"I started the film festival to discover new directors,” he said. "From the very beginning, Colleen Moore, who was a silent film star, helped me start the film fest. She had access to her old friends in the old days, so, as I'm just a kid, having lunch at her home, she told me Joan Crawford was coming over.”

"Even in the early years of the first Mayor Daley, I helped develop the city's Film Office and said we can bring films here. We started, in the earliest years, we said, ‘Come to the film festival, but think of making movies here.’”

Now, as he embarks on his 55th and final year as the Chicago Film Festival's president and CEO, he reflects on something he says he knew all along would be successful.

"Absolutely, from square one. People joke with me that I'm going to keep going until I get it right," he said, laughing.

Michael Kutza talks with WBBM Newsradio about the legacy of the Chicago International Film Festival. (WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding)

Some of his favorite celebrities are those who he sees as just regular people.

"All these years, when I'm with a Sophia Loren or a (Steven) Spielberg, there are just like nice people who aren't on. They are regular people with me, you may not see that but then they turn on for the public. Ann Margaret was here once and her husband said, ‘OK, it's time to be Ann Margaret’ like it was a different persona. I've watched people become other people, it's so peculiar.”

Kutza has also launched the careers of hundreds of up-and-coming directors.

"When we showed the first Martin Scorsese film, who knew? Even that first film had Harvey Keitel in the film. Even then, way back. Marty will tell you, he wasn't even there because he couldn't afford to fly to Chicago or even take the train to Chicago in those days."

Michael Zhang

This year's 54th annual Chicago International Film Festival will feature 150 films from more than 50 countries over 12 days. Kutza and his staff spend the entire year picking out which films will be shown during the event.

"You know when you see it when you're looking for something unique. Style, direction, cinematography, acting, you just know," he said.

The films are grouped into dozens of programs, including Shorts, New Directors, Black Perspectives, Virtual Reality, Spotlights on Comedy and Women in Cinema.

"Personally, I like musicals, science fiction, horror, everything. I guess I like everything,” Kutza said.

It's America's longest running, competitive film festival and this year, organizers are promising something for everyone. Opening night on Wednesday Oct. 10 will feature "Beautiful Boy" starring Steve Carrel and Timothée Chalamet. 

It is also an opportunity to see and discover films that may be Oscar contenders.

"In the past, we've shown many films that went on to win the Oscar – ‘The Artist,’ ‘The Shape of Water,’ to name a few. I have a knack for picking the Oscar winners," Kutza said.

The film industry has taken a hit with the evolution of Netflix, cable and streaming, but Kutza said the festival offers something the other options can't.

"This is always a unique opportunity for film lovers and the general public to see movies before everyone else. Some won't even be released locally," he said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

As he reflects on his accomplishments and 54 years in the film industry Kutza said he has plenty more to do and share with the public.

"I'm writing a book on the 55 years behind the scenes -- directors, personalities, scandals and fun stuff. I know a lot of things, so I'll be good for my next job.”

The film fest runs through Oct. 21 at AMC River East 21, which is located at 322 E. Illinois Street in Chicago.