It’s been 54 years since Michael Kutza co-founded the Chicago International Film Festival along with silent screen star Colleen Moore (whose massive dollhouse is on view at the Museum of Science and Industry). Now, after spending countless hours in the dark screening movies around the world, Kutza will be stepping down at the end of this year as CEO of Cinema/Chicago, which hosts the annual festival.
He will be leaving behind a vigorous event that has, through the decades, brought more than 11,000 movies to millions of viewers in Chicago. But Kutza’s partnership with Moore (who died in 1988) wasn’t his only important festival collaboration. He also partnered with Chicago-based fashion and advertising photographer Victor Skrebneski to create vivid, memorable movie posters and photographs. Together, they created a distinctive festival style—almost exclusively black-and-white images, with homages to old-school Hollywood portraits and current high fashion—that caused a sensation year after year. Many of the photographs featured nude models (male and female) and often risqué poses, plus a penchant for ripped and wet Festival T-shirts. Others focused on star iconography.
“The first photograph Victor did that we used showed a nude, soaking wet model in the shower with a statue held at a certain angle,” says Kutza. “Some people got a little up in arms about it. But we got tons of publicity. After that, we tried to capture that kind of excitement in the posters.”
To commemorate Kutza’s career, we asked the filmmaker to reflect on six of his favorites.
Second Festival Poster (1965)
“It’s our most colorful poster, with a design by Italian artist Giullio Cittato with a photograph of Karen Harris, a model for Estee Lauder. The logo in her glasses is our old one, with a globe in one lens and a film reel in the other. The swinging hair and the colors are so ’60s.”
Tribute to François Truffaut (1981)
“I love all his movies. And here I think you can see his depth. He’s mysterious, and yet, you can almost see his mind working. I love the smoke and his smoldering stare, his eyes partly hidden, but still watching. Always watching. It’s a great mix of the gritty and the sophisticated.”
Cindy Crawford Poster (1985)
“Skrebneski discovered her, and she’s so young here. The guy is Jack Petras. There are two versions: black-and-white and color. We had started using the festival T-shirts in various photos and then they kept getting ripped down to less and less. There’s not much left of them here, but in later photos, there are just shreds.”
Tribute to Sharon Stone (1994)
“This is like a George Hurrell photo of the stars of the 1930s. A very glamorous Old Hollywood look. In person, she was a trip—a trip and a half, really. She had demands about how her hair and makeup would be. But, in the end, Victor styled her and this became her look for the next decade.”
“The Kiss” (2000)
“I wanted someone who really looked like Marilyn Monroe, and Victor used Heather Kozar, who had been a Playboy Playmate of the Year. She didn’t look like Monroe in real life, but here, with David Sojka, she really captures that breathless effervescence. The blue duotone was a printing error, a kind of brilliant mistake. There’s a cinematic quality to it with that color.”
Tribute to Sigourney Weaver (2001)
“I’m in love with her and this photo. The high contrast with only the eyes and the lips really showing—it’s perfect. What else do you need? You can recognize her. But she’s also bigger than herself and the moment. It’s a portrait of the omnipotent star.”