Starting Friday, the Gene Siskel Film Center will close its doors for a month to renovate its two theaters. This effort marks the organization’s first extensive renovation since it started operating at its State Street location in 2001. All the seats in the two theaters will be replaced, as will the wiring; the latter renovation is to improve hearing for patrons with cochlear implants. The carpeting between the two theaters will also be replaced. Per executive director Jean de St. Aubin, these changes won’t impact the Film Center’s ticket prices, which will remain $11 for general admission, $7 for students and children, $6 for Film Center members, and $5 Art Institute of Chicago staff and SAIC faculty, staff and students when the theaters reopen on January 5.
The Film Center is still showing movies in December. During the next two weeks, they’ll present repeat screenings of films shown earlier in the year at four partnering locations. The tonal, stylistic, and geographic range of the selections speak to the diversity of the Film Center’s programming, which showcases a broad range of perspectives all year. Between such annual events as the Black Harvest Film Festival, a showcase of movies from Iran, and the Palestinian film series (not to mention the ongoing Panorama Latinx series, devoted to movies from all over the Spanish-speaking world), the Film Center is also a center of multicultural interaction. I believe my understanding of the world has been enriched by attending the works they present.
The first “on location” screening takes place this Sunday at 2 PM at the Logan Center for the Arts. The film is I Know a Man . . . Ashley Bryan, a documentary about the children’s book author that premiered this August at Black Harvest. Director Richard Kane looks at Bryan’s literary carer and his experiences in World War II, offering a multifaceted look at the subject.
On Monday at 6 PM there will be a repeat screening of Time to Die, a 1965 Mexican western that played in September as part of the Film Center’s “Recently Restored” series. That screening takes place at Latinx cultural center Instituto Cervantes, which is a perfect site to pay tribute to major figures involved with the film: director Arturo Ripstein and novelists Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes, who worked on the script. Writing about the movie a few months ago, I noted that “a morbid air infuses Time to Die (the title almost promises as much), as the threat of a fatal gunfight simmers beneath much of the plot. Interlaced with the suspense are scenes that consider the passage of time and the death that inevitably awaits everyone.” It’s a compelling inversion of the western, in which a penitent ex-convict tries to restart his life while avoiding the vengeful sons of the man he killed. I consider it to be one of the major rediscoveries of 2017—an artful and romantic feature that encourages sober reflection on violence and vigilantism.
On Thursday, December 7, at 7 PM, the Film Center will partner with the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest to screen Swim Team. The feature is a documentary about a New Jersey competitive swim team consisting of young men with autism spectrum disorders; it had its Chicago premiere at the Film Center in July. Director Lara Stolman delivers a profile of autism as well as competitive swimming, displaying sympathy on both fronts. “At its most effective,” Ben Kenigsberg wrote in the New York Times, “Swim Team treats its subjects as would any sports movie attuned to character and drama.” The film reflects the Film Center’s commitment to socially conscious works, a stance reflected by some of the movies playing at the State Street location this week, Bill Nye: Science Guy and The Divine Order.
The last site-specific screening is a revival of Kedi at the Chicago Athletic Association on Sunday, December 10, at 3 PM. Probably the most beloved documentary released this year, Kedi profiles some of the many street cats of Istanbul as well as the people who care for them. The film’s success has as much to do with its adorable felines as with its optimistic worldview; the human subjects are presented with such sensitivity that they inspire as much affection as the cats. If viewers are so moved, they will have the chance to adopt cats after the screening; representatives (both human and feline) from Tree House Humane Society and Hyde Park Cats will be on hand to introduce animals with prospective new owners. The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel will be accepting donations of cat and dog food as well.