Gene Siskel film center is taking the show on the road

By Taylor Hartz

For the first time in 17-years, the screens will go dark at The Gene Siskel Film Center at the School of the Art Institute.

The non-profit theater, which opened at its current 164 N. State St. location in 2001, announced that it will close for renovations from Dec. 1 through Jan. 4., after feedback from patrons stressed that updates were necessary.

The film center has beens screening “cutting edge” films in Chicago since 1972, and has an annual audience of 85,000 film-lover who view 1,500 screenings a year. With 200 filmmaker appearances every year, the center has a calendar full of film festivals, restorations and revivals of classic films, and debuts of independent filmmakers.

But film aficionados need not worry. While the center’s theaters are being updated, off-site screenings are taking place across the city. Movies and Film Center staff will travel to other theaters and cultural centers around Chicago, presenting four films as part of a “Gene Siskel Film Center On Location” from Dec. 3 through 10.

“The Gene Siskel Film Center is known and celebrated for serving various communities in Chicago through film so it’s only fitting that we give back by bringing highlights from the past year to select venues around the city,” said executive director Jean de St. Aubin.

“While our theaters will be closed during our December programming cycle, continuing to present movies elsewhere is essential to maintaining our presence and brand while on hiatus, and to remind film lovers that we aren’t going away.”

The off-site program debuted on Dec. 3 with a showing of “I Know a Man….Ashley Bryan” at the Logan Center for the Arts. The film profiles a beloved children’s author and illustrator, known for books like “Beautiful Blackbird” and “Dancing Granny.” This film made its Chicago debut in Aug. 2017  at the film center, during the 23rd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival.

Photo from “I Know a Man…Ashley Brown” provided by Gene Siskel Film Center.

The off-site series concludes Dec. 10 with a showing of “Kedi”, which had its Chicago premiere in January 2017 as part of the series “Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Premieres.” This film showcases street cats in Istanbul, and the screening is followed by an event where guests will get to interact with cats, and maybe even take home a new pet. The event, with the Tree House Humane Society and Hyde Park Cats, will give film patrons the opportunity to adopt felines following the screening, or donate cat and dog food for furry friends in need this holiday season. 

Photo from “Kedi” provided by Gene Siskel Film Center.

The film center will reopen to the public in the new year on Jan. 5. Movie-goers can expect new seats and carpeting in the theaters, which will also be rewired to include enhanced assisted listening technology. Renovations will be completed by the architecture firm Gensler, which handled the building’s design in 2001. 

The newly renovated theaters will first screen “Keep Talking”, a documentary about four Alaska Native women fighting to save Kodiak Alutiiq, an endangered language in Alaska that is currently spoken by less than 40 fluent native elders. The second debut film will be “Tom of Finland,” a story of Finnish homoerotic fetish artist Toku Valio Laakson and his impact on LGBTQ culture in the late 20th century.

Tickets to each screening are $11 for general admission, or $5 for students. Advance tickets are available online and at the Film Center box office. Film-lovers can also purchase an annual membership, that drops the price per screening to $6.



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