BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Forty-six years of film buffs have filled the seats at FACETS on Fullerton, finding themselves lost in the magic of movies. Transformative, inspiring, often rare, and frequently challenging, the little theater’s offerings have shown that the language of film is is both universal and highly personal. There are many who say their best movie memories were made at FACETS.
As Chicago starts the celebration of FACETS’ return September 17th after the long pandemic shutdown, a newly upgraded and dynamic space where communities can gather, partnerships with the film community can be forged, a new café to relax and reflect, and an exciting film roster will mean much more magic for filmgoers.
Anne at 13,000 Ft. by Canadian director Kazik Radwanski and starring Deragh Campbell will have its Chicago premiere there September 17-19, playing again the following weekend. A hit at the Toronto Film Festival, it will be presented exclusively in-person at FACETS, with reduced seating capacity and heightened health and safety protocols.
Board President Randy Adamsick provides a FACETS history lesson: “For decades, FACETS was the place to go to see challenging foreign films and documentaries when they were unavailable in commercial theaters. Exciting New-Wave movements from France, Germany, Africa, Latin America, and especially Eastern Europe were brought to Chicago audiences for the first time, often featuring discussions with visiting directors from around the world. Then in the ’80s, Facets became famous by bringing international fare to audiences across America, often in communities that did not have art house cinemas, through its revolutionary video service.”
He adds, “Today, FACETS will be as vital as ever presenting both in-person and streaming media to audiences young and old while providing a valuable gathering place for the Chicago filmmaking community.”
FACETS Executive Director Karen Cardarelli who has deftly led the organization through significant planning stages, explains, “We’re reopening after having time to contemplate the loss of our founder, Milos Stehlik, and reimagine how to fulfill his vision. Thanks to the brilliant creativity of the FACETS staff, the earnest commitment of our Board of Directors, and the generosity of numerous donors, this fall and winter, FACETS will delicately balance the way it serves our community with both in-person and virtual film offerings.”
As FACETS makes enhancements and modifications as to how Chicagoans can experience a wide array of visual media, the venue has announced many partnership initiatives in the filmmaking community: “In response to a great need in Chicago for filmmakers to legitimately and affordably premiere their films in a professionally operated cinema, we will pilot a unique opportunity that covers operational, staff, and marketing support costs to host premiere, feedback, or fundraising screenings. Full Spectrum Features will serve as a lead partner, by selecting the recipient filmmakers,” Cardarelli says.
She adds that the organization’s leadership will meet with local film organizations to hear further industry needs and identify additional methods for supporting this burgeoning community.
Chaz Ebert, FACETS Advisory Board member, is one of many movie fans anticipating the opening. Ebert shares, “I am both honored and grateful to be part of FACETS’ future and its significance as a presenter of films that educate, entertain, and inspire. And, I am incredibly excited about all the behind-the-scenes transformations that have occurred at FACETS since Karen Cardarelli was appointed Executive Director in February 2020. I know that founder Milos Stehlik would be truly proud to see what Karen and her incredible team have accomplished to remain true to the organization’s dedication to its indie cinema roots while modernizing its facilities and strengthening its presence as a hub for Chicago’s thriving filmmaking community.”
The lobby area has been renovated to give members and patrons a more comfortable environment to spend time and talk about film, and to view more installation-based visual media on its new projection system. The old Vidéothèque has been converted into a café where members and patrons can connect while enjoying free screenings of rare films from the FACETS Catalog. Members will still be able to rent from the organization’s vast holdings of video rental libraries containing rare and classic films. Both the café and the concessions counter will offer new and healthy food and beverage options. Members and patrons who are 21-plus can bring their own beer and wine to be consumed responsibly in the café and throughout the first floor during screenings and events.
Cinema 2, formerly a 50-seat theater, has been converted into the Studio, a black box flex-space for workshops, non-traditional screenings, and receptions. Enhancements have been made to ensure there is increased air circulation throughout the facility.
What remains the same is the high quality of captivating films being shared on Fullerton Avenue. Anne at 13,000 Ft. represents the next generation of Canadian filmmakers whose work embodies essential themes about identity and alienation. Charles Coleman, Cinema Program Director of FACETS, explains why he chose this film for opening night: “During difficult times, we often find ourselves trying to cope with anxiety, when the more appropriate emotional reaction might be anger, sadness, or frustration. Anne at 13,000 Ft. offers up something uniquely humane and identifiable, as during this pandemic all of us have felt like Anne—isolated and insulated from others.”
“This remarkable film is a breathtaking character study in a mesmerizing performance by Campbell,” he continues. “Her struggles as an awkward, young woman managing her relationship with the demands of society, parallels with our experience as we navigate returning to normal during a tumultuous time while striving to connect with a world we no longer recognize.”
When asked what FACETS patrons might anticipate onscreen in the coming months, Coleman says that his position has film curator has not changed and continues to be one he takes very seriously: “As always, I find delight in unexpected places by making decisive choices about finding unusual and unexpected themes in film and related sources. In addition, the film curator spends most their time researching socially, culturally, and artistically worthwhile films and it is so important to provide our audience with the opportunity to be aware of the diversity within the culture of cinema as well as explore the ways in which film has responded to and shaped our world.”
He hopes to enhance the exhibition experience for the viewer, transforming his or her perspective by presenting ideas that challenge, incite discussion, and encourage further exploration of cinema as an accessible art form. Simultaneously, his goal is to keep the varied and complex past of cinema alive through screenings aimed to showcase the full scope of film’s heritage.
“We are keenly aware of our role as a pioneer for independent and international cinema since we began in 1975—why would people expect anything different since we have always had a deep commitment to maintaining our relationship to our cultural pledge? The films that we exhibit seek to inspire, entertain, and educate all of our patrons and visitors about the rich history of the motion picture and their essential role in culture. It is by this principle that informs everyone that movies often enable us to cross ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic lines to see the world from different perspectives. These are the kinds of films that we have always shown and this expectation has not changed,” he says.
FACETS is not just a theater but a meaningful gathering place for its community: “An audience is a sine qua non for the role that cinema has in daily life. FACETS has always been a reliable artistic source for communities in Chicago, and we have collaborations with consulates, local groups, workshops, and various organizations,” Coleman shares. “Our history clearly demonstrates our awareness and understanding of the importance that one must accord to our audience and also encourage dialogue and discourse. FACETS has now made a paradigm shift to having a dedicated space and refreshing our audience with our response to the issues that shape communities and we are determined to promote comfort and familiarity while elevating our expertise and creativity.”
Coleman believes that a great deal of progress can me made if one can establish a relationship to a representative range of communities who are made to feel like welcome participants for their mission: “The creation of strong public spaces means welcoming diverse communities to determine what happens in that space. Film is a public program and serves as a bridge to connect diverse communities with the goal of together building a more equitable and inclusive cultural future. We strive to be welcoming to everyone who passes through our doors, with programs, exhibitions, and a staff that reflect the diversity of our community, which builds a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another.”
Watch for news of FACETS 38th Annual Chicago International Film Festival taking place November 5-14, which will be available streaming to viewers across the globe presented streaming and with limited in-person screenings at the ChiTown Drive-In and at FACETS (1517 W. Fullerton Avenue), sponsored by Sterling Bay.
For more information, visit facets.org.