History

When the Chicago International Film Festival was founded in 1964 by Artistic Director Michael Kutza, advertising agency heads Leo Burnett, Fairfax Cone, and Dick Needham suggested that, with budgets and craftsmanship equal to the feature films being screened, the Festival should showcase the art of the television commercial.

Throughout the years, some of the most innovative commercial creators have been honored at the Television Awards. The festival held a special presentation of Alan Parker’s phenomenal commercial work, before he went on to his illustrious career in feature filmmaking. Legendary commercial director Joe Sedelmaier was also honored in a special program, including the iconic “Where’s the Beef” spot for Wendy’s. Many of the greatest film directors got their start or worked in television advertising, and spots directed by Ridley Scott and Federico Fellini won awards in the television competition. And the tie between the Television Awards and the Film Festival goes beyond just directors. The Heinz “The Big Production” commercial featuring Ann Miller (directed by Stan Freberg) won an award in the competition, and was later presented in the Film Festival’s tribute to Ms. Miller in 1977. Another constant has been the Television Awards’ history of recognizing great commercials has been the WTTW11 Audience Choice Award. For 50 years, WTTW11 has presented a half-hour program of commercials from around the world for Chicago viewers to vote for their favorite. In the beginning audiences had to call a special number dedicated to the competition to voice their favorite, though the voting now takes place on WTTW11’s website.

Five decades on, the simple idea of honoring the art of the television commercial has evolved into an international celebration of the best in television, and encompasses television commercials, productions, series, and the innovative realm of online television programming. Originally a special event during the annual Chicago International Film Festival, since 2003, the top winners of each year’s competition have been feted at an Awards Ceremony in the spring, along with the presentation of Commitment to Excellence Awards to leaders and visionaries in the television medium.

Honorees

2014
Carol Mendelsohn
STORY
Jesse Spencer

2013
ESPN Films
Leo Burnett
Walter Jacobson (Chicago Legend)

2012
Kelsey Grammer
OPTIMUS

2011
Sean Ryan
@radical.media

2010
FRONTLINE
Hungry Man
Ruth L Ratny (Chicago Legend)

2009
Kartemquin Films
Backyard

2008
Illinois Film Office
Smuggler

2007
Towers Productions
MJZ

2006
James Gartner

2005
WTTW – 50th Anniversary
Tony Kaye

2004
Carol Marin
Joe Pytka

2003
Bill Kurtis

CIFF logo