Chicago activities for film buffs

A crowd gathers for the start of one of the free weekly films screened during the summer in...

A crowd gathers for the start of one of the free weekly films screened during the summer in Chicago's Millennium Park. DIANE SLAWYCH PHOTO

Diane Slawych, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:10 PM ET

The red carpets will soon be rolling out for stars arriving for the 38th-annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens Sept. 5.

Joining the slew of Hollywood celebrities will be the film fans, some of whom travel from other cities and countries to attend.

While Toronto is a great city for film lovers, it’s not the only one. A recent visit to Chicago revealed a long list of equally enjoyable film offerings — including film festivals, and many free films. These include:

Chicago film-fest

It may not have the cachet of TIFF, but the Chicago International Film Festival, now in its 49th year, has a lot to offer films fans, including cheaper ticket prices. This year’s program, which runs from Oct. 10-24, will screen more than 100 feature films from about 50 countries, including films by first-time filmmakers and films with a comedy focus. Tickets start at $5 for matinee screenings.

Film 101

The late film critic for the Chicago Tribune, and cohost of TV’s Siskel and Ebert, Gene Siskel reportedly once said that one of his favourite things about Chicago was the Film Center. For almost 40 years, the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) — later renamed the Gene Siskel Film Center — has presented world-class independent, international and classic cinema. An average year includes about 1,500 screenings and 100 guest artist appearances at its modern facilities at 164 N. State St.

Free foreign films

The International Screenings Program is similar to Toronto’s European Union Film Festival (aka the Eh! U Film Festival), except instead of running for 14 days, it’s spread out over five months. The 10th-annual International Screenings Program (May 1 to Sept. 25) offers 21 free films from 21 countries, over 21 weeks, with twice weekly screenings. The event is organized by Cinema/Chicago, the parent organization of the Chicago International Film Festival together with the Chicago cultural affairs and special events department, and consular and cultural partners. Still to come: Swirl (Brazil, Sept. 7); The Student (Mexico, Sept. 12 and 14); and The Last Elvis (Argentina, Sept. 18 and 21).

Park yourself

Where can you see 195 current and classic films for free in Chicago? Try a local park. The 13th-annual Movies in the Parks, which kicked off in mid June continues through Sept. 14 in 150 city parks. Eleven movies remain in the season. Films begin at dusk. Check chicagoparkdistrict.com/movies or call the hotline for weather updates, 312-742-1134. (The series is part of Chicago Park Districts “Night out in the Parks” which features more than 750 citywide cultural and art activities.)

Hotel films

During the summer and fall, the Conrad Chicago hotel hosts Sunday Night Movies at its fifth floor Terrace restaurant. It typically screens blockbusters that appeal to the hotel’s clientele but it’s also open to the public. Attendees can order drinks, appetizers or dinner while watching films under the stars, surrounded by the city’s famed skyscrapers. The next film is OZ: The Great & Powerful on Sept. 8. The season ends Oct. 20 with The Goonies. Starts at dusk. The Conrad is centrally located at 521 North Rush St.

Cinema in style

The VIP premium reserved seating at the ShowPlace Icon cinema may be the most luxurious film experience in the Windy City. Guests are seated in large leather, reclining chairs with tables (and an area for ladies to put their bags or purses). And tasty meals from the lobby lounge can be brought into the theatres, which are equipped with cutting-edge digital cinema projectors and sound. Even the smallest auditoriums have wall-to-wall, giant screens.

Movie tours

Chicago has been featured in more than 80 movies over the years from Hollywood blockbusters like The Dark Knight, to Chicago favourites — The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and classics — North by Northwest and The Sting. You can see where some of the films were made and learn about Chicago filmmaking history, behind the scenes trivia, and current film activity on the Chicago Film Tour. The two-hour tour aboard a luxury motor coach covers 48 km and hits more than 30 sites where over 80 movies were shot. At each location, multiple video screens show movie scenes that connect you to some of the most memorable locations. Tours run Thursdays to Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. See chicagofilmtour.com.

Pass the popcorn

What’s a movie without popcorn? But not just any popcorn. Garrett’s Chicago Mix is a local favourite — a blend of sweet and salty CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn. It’s handcrafted in old-fashioned copper kettles and available at 10 Garrett Popcorn Shops in Chicago, including Navy Pier and O’Hare International Airport. (If you’ve become hooked, Garrett aso ships to Canada.)

Need to know

For general tourism information, visit the Choose Chicago tourism website at choosechicago.com.


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