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The Return of Chicago’s Art House Theatres

Forget the multimillion-dollar megaplexes. With film festivals and intimate screenings, the city’s independent theatres are where to watch a movie this fall.

Music Box Theatre

Photo: Anna Knott

Amid the torrent of Hollywood blockbusters coming this fall, there is some refreshing counterprogramming: the dozens of alternative film series popping up everywhere from art galleries to hotel lobbies. Ground zero for the trend is the Music Box, the 84-year-old theatre at 3733 North Southport Avenue, which is undergoing a $300,000 face-lift. “The digital revolution has been hard on smaller film houses,” says David Jennings, its general manager. “We have to make going to the movies a special event.”

The Music Box hosts a spate of popular innovative programs, including the recent 70mm Festival. Acolytes of alternative movies can catch one of its signature events, the Music Box of Horrors, a 24-hour fright film festival, on October 19 and 20. For four other independent series worth checking out, see below.

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Four great entry points to arthouse films, from mainstream to eclectic

Elaine Stritch

Photo: Courtesy of Chicago International Film Festival

Elaine Stritch in Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me

This two-week event celebrates a city famous for its diversity. Featuring a mixed bag of work by Hollywood hotshots and emerging filmmakers alike, the elder statesman of film fests is a good place for burgeoning cinephiles to start. Oct. 10 through 24. chicagofilmfestival.com

After the Portage Theater closed its doors last May, this classic-film group moved its Wednesday night screenings to the old-glamor Patio Theater. This month kicks off with Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage. Oct. 2. northwestchicagofilmsociety.org

Based on the Blacklight Film Festival that ran from 1982 to 1993, this series, held in the artist Theaster Gates’s Black Cinema House, features black independent filmmakers. Top of the Heap, a 1970s blaxploitation film, screens. RSVP at blackcinemahousersvp@rebuild-foundation.org. Oct. 20.

This microcinema is more “fractured weird narratives” than feature films, says director Christy LeMaster of the weekly screenings in Logan Square. Genres range from animation to documentaries to video art. nightingalecinema.org


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