The French give Cinema Chicago’s Kutza its highest honor

SHARE The French give Cinema Chicago’s Kutza its highest honor

Surrounded by longtime friends and supporters of the Chicago International Film Festival he founded 50 years ago, Michael Kutza received the Legion of Honor from the French government Tuesday evening.

Representing French President Francois Hollande, French Consul General Vincent Floreani eloquently spoke of Kutza’s long commitment to the best of French filmmaking and then pinned the elaborate, ribboned medal on the Chicago native’s lapel. Joking that “my mother spoke Italian, my father spoke Polish and I barely speak English,” Kutza quipped, “but I promise to finally learn to speak French by the next time I see you.”

Clearly moved by the honor — the highest order presented by the French government — Kutza joins an elite group of Americans who have been honored for their artistic achievements in the area of filmmaking. That group includes Steven Spielberg, Angelina Jolie and Clint Eastwood, among others. As explained by Floreani, the Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon in 1802 to “reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France. It is France´s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world.”

Along with listing Kutza’s various accomplishments over the years, Floreani also read a number of moving tribute messages to the festival founder from such noted French filmmakers as Claude Lelouch and Bertrand Tavernier, who fondly recalled Kutza being “the first in America to believe in my movie, ‘The Watchmaker of St. Paul.'”

Among those on hand for the ceremony at the Public Chicago, were Jackie Bucksbaum, Jeanne Malkin, Byron Pollock, Mary Ann Childers and Jay Levine, Leslie Hindman, Abra and Jim Wilkin, Victor Skrebneski, Dori Wilson, John Lanzendorf, Candace and Chuck Jordan, Phil Azar, Richard Doermer, Michelle Boone, Tarrah Cooper and Chaz Ebert.

Receiving the Legion of Honor at the Public Chicago hotel seemed totally appropriate to Kutza, who explained, “this was the festival’s very first official hotel, where we housed our first guests back in 1965 — when the hotel was known as the Ambassador East.”

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