Festival History

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About The Festival banner

The Chicago International Film Festival is North America’s oldest competitive film festival, presented by its parent organization, Cinema/Chicago. Filmmaker and graphic artist Michael Kutza founded Cinema/Chicago in 1964 to provide an alternative to the commercial Hollywood movies that dominated the city’s theaters.

The Festival opened in 1965 at the Carnegie Theater, where King Vidor, Bette Davis, and Stanley Kramer were honored for their contributions to American cinema. Since then, the Festival has grown to become a world-renowned annual event. The Festival’s in-person tributes have honored such international luminaries as François Truffaut, Orson Welles, Sophia Loren, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Satyajit Ray, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Spike Lee, Lucino Visconti, Faye Dunaway, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Sidney Poitier, Patrice Chéreau, Ron Howard, J.A. Bayona, Viola Davis, Bruce Dern, and Kevin Kline.

Seeking out the best in international cinema, the Festival has discovered new talents and opened windows to a world of film previously or otherwise unavailable in Chicago. Over the years, the Festival has introduced creative new directors like Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Bertrand Tavernier, Margarethe von Trotta, and Krzysztof Kieslowski, among many others, to Chicago. The Festival is also dedicated to showcasing films made by filmmakers from across the state of Illinois.

Proceeds from the Festival benefit Cinema/Chicago’s programs throughout the year, including the International Screenings Program (June through September), the Chicago International Television Festival (April), CineYouth Festival (May), and year-round Education Program and Members Film Screening Series.

Our Logo

cinema_eyes Some have thought they were Charlie Chaplin’s eyes (including Mr. Chaplin), others thought they were Liza Minnelli’s (including Ms. Minnelli). However, those eyes on the Chicago International Film Festival logo belong to a combination of silent screen sirens: Theda Bara, Pola Negri and Mae Murray. These actresses starred in countless films at the dawn of cinema and the logo is a rendering of all three. Created by Festival Founder and Artistic Director Michael Kutza, our logo has become internationally recognized as an image that represents both the allure of the silver screen and the cinematic celebration that takes place every year in Chicago. The silent star Celluloid hero, with her heavily mascared eyes, continues to be the Festival’s guiding vision since 1964.

  • Michael Kutza and Sophia Loren