Film Fest’s Evans Bows Out

After four years as programming director of the Chicago International Film Festival, Marc Evans has quit. Credited by many with substantially improving the festival’s fortunes in recent years, the 28-year-old Evans says it’s time for him to move on. One reason he’s leaving may be to avoid an unpleasant situation that could have set him against festival founder and artistic director Michael Kutza.

Late last spring, according to a source familiar with the festival, a member of the board quietly approached Evans to discuss his interest in taking over the festival’s artistic reins. “Michael [Kutza] was not consulted,” says the source. That seems to be borne out by Kutza’s response earlier this week to news of the overture. “If what you’re telling me is true, I’m stunned,” says Kutza.

Evans confirms that the discussion took place. He says he listened to the board member (whom he declined to identify), but after some consideration decided not to pursue the matter. Subsequently he resigned. Though he’s leaving Cinema/Chicago, the fest’s not-for-profit parent organization, at the end of this month, Evans, who’s interested in pursuing a job in film production, says he will probably continue to work as a consultant on the upcoming 31st annual film festival, which runs October 12 through 29.

Evans was reluctant to discuss the specifics of his conversation with the board member or his decision to resign. He did concede, however, that over the years his taste in films conflicted with Kutza’s. “We were disagreeing more on what films belonged where.”

Cinema/Chicago board president Ellis Goodman denied any knowledge that a board member talked with Evans about taking over as the festival’s artistic director. “Marc is leaving for his own personal reasons, and we will miss him and his input,” says Goodman, who repeatedly sidestepped the issue of whether the festival might be interested in replacing Kutza. “Our focus right now is in getting through this festival,” he says, adding, “The board is not discussing this issue.”

For the past four years Evans has been Kutza’s chief lieutenant in helping program the annual Chicago International Film Festival. Observers agree that over the years the festival has lost much of its clout as a place to premiere important new movies, while film fests in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and of course New York have grown more prominent and often get chosen to debut major films. During much of the 80s, the Chicago festival was hurt by charges of disorganization and mismanagement, and Kutza was often at the center of the criticism. But over the past couple of years, with Kutza and Evans choosing the films and Goodman at the board’s helm, the festival’s situation appears to have improved. Attendance is up substantially, and last year’s event wound up solidly in the black. Audiences seem to prefer tighter rosters of about 100 films, down from a high of 160 four years ago. The fest has also benefitted from glitzy fund-raising galas honoring film stars such as Sophia Loren, Tom Cruise, and Jack Lemmon.

Whether the film festival’s rejuvenation can be attributed to Evans is impossible to determine. “I think my biggest contribution was making sure films that belonged in the festival didn’t fall through the cracks,” says Evans. Kutza indicated that Goodman, since becoming board president 18 months ago, has aggressively sought to upgrade the festival. “He sees the big picture and has new ideas about how to raise money and find sponsors,” notes Kutza, who adds that he “didn’t always agree with some of his methods.” Among other things, Goodman, who is also CEO of Barton Brands, has been trying to find Cinema/Chicago a permanent home where it could hold public screenings and other events year-round.

Cirque du Soleil Seeks New Ground

Before it rolls into town again in two years’ time, Cirque du Soleil will have to find a new location to set up its blue-and-yellow tent. The Chicago Dock and Canal Trust, which owns the patch of land adjacent to North Pier where Cirque has raised its tent during each of its past visits, plans to develop the site as housing. “We always were on a year-to-year basis with Cirque,” says company president Charles Gardner. Cirque officials have yet to begin the difficult task of finding another location as accessible and popular as the current site, but one possible option is the Soldier Field parking lot, where the Big Apple Circus pitched its tent on its most recent visit to Chicago. The Chicago Park District also might make space available.

A good location would help the Montreal-based troupe hold on to its large and enthusiastic following in Chicago. Prior to opening night on July 27, the company had already sold 88 percent of tickets for the four-and-a-half-week run of its current production, Alegria, and crowds have been averaging 98 percent of capacity. A spokeswoman says the circus is likely to stay longer when it returns in 1997.