‘So you don’t know how the film stuff started with me, do you?” asks Michael Kutza, founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival (opening Thursday at AMC River East 21). “It all started when I was probably 6 or 7 years old.”
CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL When: Thursday through Oct. 23 Where: AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois Tickets: Screenings $5 and up, non-member passes $130 (10 films) and $240 (20 films) Info: (312) 322-FILM; chicagofilmfestival.com [/one_third] Snacking on popcorn in his Loop office, the 72-year-old Chicago native traces the origins of his offspring. His physician parents played distinct roles in the backstory of the festival, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. His mother initiated Mickey into celluloid. His father would later write checks to launch his son’s showcase of world cinema. Kutza’s mother, Dr. Theresa Felicetti, was an obstetrician-gynecologist at Mother Cabrini Hospital. She always had a 16mm camera with her as she traveled with her lady doctors to conventions around the world, Kutza recalls. I went to Cuba once with those ladies and I was very young. Upon her return, she handed over all her film. She’d say, ‘Make this into something.’ Ladies are coming over Sunday, so I started making home movies for them, adding music. I’d make them into big productions. I had an audience, a built-in audience. After graduating from Weber High School, Kutza attended Loyola, University of Chicago and Northwestern University before getting his degree from Roosevelt University in 1962. That was the year his surgeon father, Michael Kutza Sr., was elected president of St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital. Instead of medical school, Kutza Jr. studied for a year at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology. RELATED: Five films to see as Chicago International Film Festival opens Kutza designed magazine covers, theater posters, stained glass windows and even a musical variety show. He shot for WGN-Channel 9 and made films sponsored by De La Salle Institute, Loyola University and Dixon State Hospital, among others. In 1963 Kutza started making 16mm films that screened at the Hyde Park Art Center, the Midwest Film Festival run by Doc Films at the University of Chicago, and then at Hull House, which took over that festival in 1965. Besides entering out-of-town festivals in Ann Arbor and San Francisco, he sent his short works abroad to Brussels, Cork and Krakow. He won an award in the student/amateur competition at the Cannes Film Festival. And that is when he decided to start his own festival in Chicago. Although foreign features did screen at local art cinemas and campus film societies, Kutza thought Chicago ought to host a festival on par with Europe’s. I’m not a fan of experimental film, Kutza admits, although he created a category for them in his first festival in 1965 and used the au courant experimental tag in his poster for second year. He screened works by two other local creators of unconventional films: photographer Victor Skrebneski and audio artiste Ken Nordine. Both continue to contribute to the festival’s image. We’ll have some far-out, experimental stuff, but we won’t make a whole festival of it, Kutza told the Chicago American in 1966. Of the experimental filmmakers, an arts columnist there complained, It is shocking how poorly these avant-garde boys handle the medium. Drawing audiences for foreign fare was less a challenge than finding local backers of the festival. My dad helped keep it going for 10 years, until he died, admits Kutza. But it killed him. Still hoping I’d become a doctor. One day I had to go to my dad’s office. I was sick or something. And I knew he hated what I was doing, the festivals and so on. I almost wanted to cry. The wall was covered with all these clippings of me. It just killed me. I was so happy and sad because he’d never admit it. We never discussed this. He was very proud of me. We had a happy ending.