The New 441
By Raymond Ward, Chicago Crusader
Michael Kutza, Founder and CEO of Cinema/Chicago, the presenting organization of the Chicago International Film Festival, recently announced that he will be retiring from his role at the end of 2018.
The Governing Board of Directors will pay tribute to Kutza’s remarkable career at a special gala, “Celebrating Michael,” Saturday, July 14 at Loews Hotel Chicago. The event will be chaired by Chaz Ebert, Candace Jordan and Maria Pappas, and will include an array of appearances from film industry luminaries to honor Kutza’s passion for film and his dedication to fostering the appreciation of film in Chicago, as well as the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Information can be found on the Festival’s website: chicagofilmfestival.com.
Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival at age 22 in 1964 with silent screen star Colleen Moore; the Festival made its debut at the Carnegie Theatre at Rush and Oak Streets on November 9, 1965. Kutza served as Artistic Director through 2017, holding that title longer than any other Festival artistic director, at which time he passed the baton to Mimi Plauché and Kutza was promoted to CEO.
Over the course of his 55-year career, Kutza was responsible for supporting the early careers of directors who have gone on to be regarded as some of the film industry’s most acclaimed figures, including Martin Scorsese, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Krzysztof Zanussi, Claude Lelouch, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, Tsai Ming-liang, Mike Leigh, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter, Joe Swanberg and Taylor Hackford, among many others. He also continuously programmed cutting-edge films from across the globe to draw attention to previously untold stories and undiscovered new talent. Under his leadership, a Who’s Who of the film industry’s elite has attended the Festival and its special events, including Harold Lloyd, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon, Vincente Minnelli, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson, Shirley MacLaine, François Truffaut, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Liv Ullmann, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Sidney Poitier, Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda, Chadwick Boseman, Vanessa Redgrave, and many more.
“The Governing Board of Directors will be forever grateful to Michael Kutza for his tireless passion, vision, optimism, and service for more than 50 years,” said Executive Board Member Byron Pollock. “Michael has had a tremendous impact on the film industry world-wide as well as on the cultural vibrancy of Chicago. His love for film has touched countless individuals who acquired an appreciation for the cinematic art form and a broader worldview thanks to their attendance at the Chicago International Film Festival. We look forward to saluting him at the Gala on July 14 and for helping to make this year’s Festival a crowning achievement.”
“Having spent most of my life dedicated to celebrating film and running a non-profit organization, I am excited to help curate the programming for the 2018 Festival before taking some time to recharge my batteries and complete my book on a 50+ year look at the behind the scenes of the Festival,” said Kutza. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve in this role for more than five decades. I have made many lifelong friends here in Chicago and around the globe, and I am grateful to the Chicago audiences and sponsors for their ongoing support of our mission to foster a better understanding between diverse cultures through the moving image.”
Kutza has been awarded countless honors over the course of his storied career, including named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, awarded by French Minister of Culture Jacques Lang, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984. He also received the Silver Lion Award from the 32nd Venice International Film Festival, awarded for organizing a special section devoted to U.S. independent filmmakers. He received the Chicago Sun-Times award for “Exceptional Contribution to Chicago.” In 2010, Chicago magazine included Kutza on their list of “Top 40 Chicago Visionaries.” In 2012, he received the Sydney Pollack Award from the American Cinematheque, honoring a person “who has been of critical importance and continuing influence in non-profit film exhibition, film preservation and/or independent film distribution.” In June 2015, Kutza was named a Knight of the Legion of Honour by the President of the French Republic for his achievements as “an internationally recognized graphic designer, filmmaker and the Founder of the Chicago International Film Festival.” And, in 2017, Kutza received the “Onorificenza di Cavalierato,” the highest honor awarded to a person in the arts, from the President of the Italian Republic.
Following Kutza’s retirement, he will become Emeritus CEO. Cinema/Chicago will continue to operate with Vivian Teng as Managing Director and Mimi Plauché as Artistic Director. No replacement has been named to succeed Kutza. The 54th Chicago International Film Festival will be presented October 10-21, 2018.