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Classic film series moves to new theater

Staff reporter

Published: Monday, February 28, 2011

Updated: Monday, February 28, 2011 14:02


Photo by Natalie Hughes

Portage, the new theater, is located in the shopping district in Portage Park.

When the Bank of America Cinema closed its doors for good in December last year, its loyal patrons, some of whom had attended the Saturday night series for decades, worried their hunger for classic movies projected on film might no longer be met.

Luckily, they had the dynamic duo of Becca Hall and Juilan Antos on their side - two of the core staffers of the Bank's series, who set to work finding a new home for the series.

"The program at the Bank was really a community institution, and the main thing that made us do this was the audience. They cared about the movies that we care about, and now they had no place to see them anymore," Hall said.

They found a new home at the Portage Theater, a historic movie house just a few blocks from the old Bank location. Dennis Wolcowicz, the theater's event manager, welcomed the series with open arms.

"Dennis was really happy when we approached him about it. He thought what we were doing was really cool and worthwhile, and he did everything within his power to make this happen," Hall said.

The Portage, also home to Silent Film Society of Chicago, is an old-school movie palace built in 1920, which seats about 1300 - a far cry from the modest Bank cinema which topped out at a mere 300 seats.

The inaugural film, the 1956 Douglas Sirk melodrama "Written on the Wind," sold about 200 tickets, similar to a typical Saturday night crowd at the Bank.

"At the Bank, if we publicized it, we probably would have had to turn people away. Here there's lots of space," Hall said.

At the bank's cinema, the bank itself paid for the entire operating cost of the series as a community service.

The Northwest Chicago Film Society has non-profit status, but Hall and Antos said that the bulk of their work thus far has been invested in completing paperwork and managing the fiscal side of the endeavor.

"As were discovering, it takes a lot of time and energy to run something like this," Hall said. "Since we're actually worrying about money for the first time, I fee like I have to keep much closer tabs on everything.

Really most of the work has been wrestling with IRS forms and financial spreadsheets."

For the inaugural series, they tried to program films cheaply, without sacrificing quality. Many of the upcoming films are in the public domain, and are prints borrowed from private collectors, including Antos himself. This offsets the high costs of licensing, rental fees and shipping often associated with exhibiting film prints.

Hall and Antos are hoping to reach out and forge new contacts within the neighborhood.

The Northwest Chicago Historical Society has already approached them with the possibility of collaborating on a film series.

Hall and Antos are also utilizing their contacts with the Chicago Film Archives, the Chicago Public Library, which has a collection of 16mm prints, as well as the Library of Congress and the George Eastman

House in Rochester, N.Y.

Additionally, the Northwest Chicago Film Society may also lend its name and expertise to screening opportunities at other venues, showcasing classic films that might not fit into the scheme of the series at the Portage.

"As long as it's projected on film, as long as were contributing to the larger infrastructure of film in Chicago, and as long as it's a worthwhile piece of cinema, we'd be open to showing it," Antos said.

Hall and Antos are part of a growing cadre of young people who are interested in the exhibition of movies on film. It's costly and time consuming, and they're definitely not in it to get rich. In fact, they don't expect the series to earn much money at all.

"Maybe we'll be able to pay ourselves minimum wage at some point. But mostly it's because we love doing it, and if we want to see these movies, we're going to have to show them ourselves," Hall said.

"We take the films really seriously," Hall said. "I want film to be the new vinyl."

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