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Gene Siskel Film Center reopens after more than year long hibernation

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3 MIN READ -- After closing its doors on March 14, 2020, due to COVID-19, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) Gene Siskel Film Center will reopen for in-person screenings for the first time in 17 months on Friday, August 6, 2021.


With safety protocols and vaccine incentives in place, the Film Center will welcome guests back with an eclectic selection of international, independent, and classic cinema, including a premiere run of Leos Carax’s ANNETTE, a Fellini anniversary retrospective, and a Chicago Favorites series, which will feature films curated by notable community members. The Film Center will offer a mix of members-only preview screenings and screenings for the general public.

Gene Siskel Film Center

“We’re thrilled to welcome back our loyal audience members and all Chicagoland movie fans after this extended intermission. We’re grateful for the support of our patrons during our pandemic pivot to virtual events and gratified to hear how eager our community of film lovers is to return to the Film Center to gather for movies on our big screens,” said the Film Center’s Executive Director Jean de St. Aubin. “Just as we’ve always been committed to pristine film projection, we’re committed to showing movies in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of both our audiences and staff.”

In an audience survey conducted by the Film Center, over 65 percent of patrons responded that they would be ready to return to the theater “today,” with 85 percent ready to return by August. 

The Film Center’s in-person reopening lineup features classics, favorites from notable Chicagoans, and some anticipated new releases, including:

  • French filmmaker Leos Carax’s (HOLY MOTORS; BOY MEETS GIRL) highly anticipated English-language debut, ANNETTE, a film musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a talented and glamorous couple whose lives are turned upside down by the birth of their first child, a mysterious and exceptional girl named Annette. The film debuts at Cannes on July 6.

  • Federico Fellini 100. In commemoration of master Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s 100th birthday (postponed from 2020), the series will feature both digitally restored and 35mm screenings of nine Fellini favorites including LA DOLCE VITA, 8 ½, and ROMA. Federico Fellini 100 is part of the Federico Fellini 100 Tour, a series of centennial tributes to Federico Fellini (1920–1993), which will travel to major museums and film institutions worldwide, coordinated by Paola Ruggiero and Camilla Cormanni Luce Cinecittà. All films (unless noted) have been digitally restored by Luce Cinecittà, Cineteca di Bologna, and Cineteca Nazionale. 

  • The exclusive Chicago premiere of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee, WHIRLYBIRD. The documentary is a dynamic portrait of Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur (known then as Bob), a then-married couple and pair of news helicopter journalists who captured breaking news stories—from the O. J. Simpson pursuit, to the 1992 L.A. riots—from their eye in the sky above Los Angeles. With stunning archival footage and home videos, WHIRLYBIRD documents their impact on news media, and how the toll of the job changed their lives in remarkable ways.

  • The exclusive Chicago premiere of the 2021 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Directing Award winner SABAYA, directed by Hogir Hiror - a gripping and breathtaking view at the brave individuals risking their lives to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS in the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria.

  • Chicago Favorites, a series where  notable members of the Chicago community will hand pick film favorites and personally introduce them to Film Center audiences throughout August and September. Confirmed community members include Steve James (HOOP DREAMS, CITY SO REAL) and LaSaia Wade, Director of Brave Space Alliance. Updates to come.

  • Later in the fall, the Film Center will also be presenting the 27th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival—the Film Center’s annual celebration of Black cinema. Traditionally presented in August, the festival will be screened this year both in person and virtually from November 5–December 2, 2021, after a successful virtual festival in November 2020. Entries are due August 20.

As a thank you to loyal Film Center members, the Film Center will offer select members-only screenings, allowing members to enjoy films before the general public. Film Center members will also have the opportunity to purchase tickets to all screenings before the general public.

“We’re incredibly proud to be reopening with an eclectic lineup of films that offers something for everyone,” said the Film Center’s Director of Programming Rebecca Fons. “From the long-awaited Fellini retrospective to the excitement of new stories, these are films that are meant to be seen on the big screen. Our Chicago Favorites program is particularly special, as it reminds us how connected we are through film, and gives the Film Center the opportunity to recognize notable Chicagoans—and thank them for their contribution to our communities—through the lens of cinema.” 

The Film Center’s reopening plans include a range of health and safety measures based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health. Measures include: 

  • Masks required by all staff and patrons unless seated and actively eating or drinking

  • Staggered showtimes and ample time between shows to mitigate crowds

  • Ticket pre-orders for films encouraged to reduce lines 

  • Hand sanitizer and disposable face masks available for patrons

  • Regular cleaning and sanitization of the facility, including theater seats, handrails, doors, surfaces, and restrooms

In addition, to encourage vaccination, the Film Center will offer a free small popcorn between Friday, August 6, and Friday, August 20 to audience members who present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. An announcement regarding theater capacities and seating based on current health guidelines will be made prior to online ticket availability. All guidelines are subject to change based on evolving city and state recommendations; updated guidelines will be available on the Film Center’s website. 

The Film Center will participate in several community events leading up to the August 6 reopening:

  • Sundays on State: A free, interactive block party on State Street from Lake to Madison on select Sundays this summer beginning July 11. Film Center staff will greet visitors and sell popcorn in front of its theater at 164 N. State Street.

  • Water Flicks on Navy Pier: A free, eight-week outdoor movies series. In conjunction with Navy Pier, and on behalf of the Black Harvest Film Festival, the Film Center will present screenings of CREED on Monday, August 2, and LOVE AND BASKETBALL on Thursday, August 5.

The Film Center will continue to offer its virtual cinema series, Film Center from your Sofa, its filmmaker discussion series, Screen to Screen, and its Talking Pictures Lecture series, featuring World Cinema of the 1950s with Jonathan Rosenbaum on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:00 p.m. CT through July 1. In July, the Film Center will offer members tickets to its virtual cinema at the $6 member price.

The Film Center also recently announced that it’s offering private screenings in both theaters with limited-time pricing and special pricing perks for Film Center members.