Richard J. Leskosky: It's great to live in a film-friendly community
Inspired by Thanksgiving, I thought I'd list some film-related resources, mostly local, for which I'm especially thankful.
First, there's the continued existence of the Art Theater as a co-op, thereby preserving a local commercial venue for foreign and independent American cinema.
True, you might be able to see most of these films eventually in your home in some video format or other (or maybe even on your smartphone), but seeing a film in a theater with an audience provides a completely different dynamic.
You're not likely to see most of these films in the local multiplexes. And also unlike the multiplexes, the Art serves wine, beer and liquor in addition to popcorn and other traditional offerings at its concession stand.
At the Art, you're also likely to see more unusual offerings such as this year's two-evening screening of films directed by actor Crispin Glover preceded by his slideshow and recitation from his unique books. I'm thankful to have seen them, though the films were frankly disturbing, and I much preferred Glover's live performance.
And of course there's Roger Ebert's Film Festival. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I usually participate on one of the panels and sometimes even show up on stage to help with commentaries.)
What a great opportunity to see great films, whether older classics or contemporary films Ebert has handpicked from festivals around the world, and to hear filmmakers, film scholars and reviewers discuss them afterward.
And students in the Media and Cinema Studies program at the University of Illinois get to work as interns with the festival and interact with the filmmakers and other guests.
Though the films definitely aren't as good, the annual Insect Fear Film Festival is nonetheless a fun and informative event. Sponsored by the Entomology Graduate Students Association and founded by Professor May Berenbaum, head of the UI Entomology Department (and — more disclosure — my wife), the festival is heading into its 30th appearance in February.
Then there's That's Rentertainment, the local source for everything interesting on DVD (and Blu-ray). I've used it this year, for example, to watch the whole run of "The Wire," Japanese anime, Hollywood classics, strange contemporary Bulgarian and Danish crime dramas and one of Werner Herzog's idiosyncratic documentaries.
If you have to miss a screening at Ebertfest, you can usually find the title available not too long afterward at That's Rentertainment. And you can get deep rental discounts and keep the DVDs longer if you get one of their rental blocks.
For contemporary foreign films that aren't likely to show up at the Art or even That's Rentertainment (or at the very least not for a while), the best (only) local source these days is the Global Lens series at Latzer Hall in the University YMCA on Wright Street and at Parkland College.
This annual series distributed by The Global Film Initiative consists of 10 award-winning films from a wide array of countries from which most local viewers have likely never seen a film. This year's series (now over except for one screening in December at Parkland) included films from Albania, Turkey, Rwanda and Morocco, among others.
Titles from this series have wound up on my best films of the year lists. Virtually every film in each year's series offers compelling stories, different filmmaking practices, unfamiliar perspectives and aesthetic approaches, and striking visuals. Keep an eye out for announcements of next year's series.
Turning to the print medium, I was thankful to see that after 40 years, Leonard Maltin not only continues to publish his annual "Movie Guide" (with more than 16,000 entries) but now also does a "Classic Movie Guide" specifically for films made before 1965 (more than 10,000 entries).
There is some duplication of titles between the two volumes, but together, they're a valuable resource, scrupulously researched and carefully revised as new information about running times, sound systems, aspect ratios and the like becomes available and as former bit actors and talents behind the camera rise to prominence in the Hollywood system.
Websites such as the Internet Movie Database might have more entries and more information on individual films (I use IMDb as my Web browser's home page and am very thankful for it, too), but Maltin is concise, accurate and very accessible.
It's easy and quick to thumb to a particular title and find all the important information literally at a glance (and I don't have to leave my couch to check my computer or sit there and fumble with my smartphone for the info).
On the local print front, if you want to find out anything about filmmaking (and film exhibition) in East Central Illinois (and there's much more of it going on than you might think), you should check out "C-U Confidential," an annual published and edited by Jason Pankoke, usually in time to coincide with Ebertfest. (Continuing the disclosures, I'll note that I contributed a short piece to the 2012 issue.)
Pankoke also maintains a related blog at http://www.micro-film-magazine.com/cublog/. It covers breaking C-U film news.
Combined, they're a valuable resource for those simply curious about the local film scene and for anyone hoping to make a picture locally and needing to know how such things get done here.
The final film resource I'm thankful for this year takes some traveling to reach. It's the Landmark Century Center Cinema in Chicago (2828 North Clark at Diversey, to be precise).
It devotes its seven screens to American independent and foreign films, only some of which reach the Art. Chicago has several great film venues but none with the concentration and quantity of quality films that the Century Centre can boast; it's like going to a film festival any day of the week.
You could (well, I have) spend a whole day there taking in great cinema. If only it were closer, it would be perfect.
So that's my list of film stuff for which I'm grateful. I guess you can also be thankful that I opted for this rather than my original plan to write about why we're seeing so many films these days about the end of the world — yes, that could have been just a bit of a downer for the holidays.
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.