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The Viewing Community 

Gabe Klinger and his friends want you to do more than just watch.

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Chicago's filmgoing scene isn't exactly a hotbed of activity, says cinephile and programming prodigy Gabe Klinger. Things are pretty chilly and distant. We slink silently into one of our handful of art houses, spend an hour or two in front of a flickering screen, and slink anonymously back out. No matter how mystifying or inspiring the film, in most cases there's nothing said, nothing shared, no sense of an event. We might just as well watch alone in our bedrooms--which, increasingly, we do. Klinger and a couple of like-minded friends, Christy LeMaster and Darnell Witt, are attempting to do something about that by launching Chicago Cinema Forum, a cinesalon hosting laid-back but serious screenings and discussions of seldom seen work, cheap or free, often in someone's living room.

Klinger, who was 19 when he programmed the Block Museum's film series and now, at 24, teaches film at Columbia College, says Chicago's existing film venues are part of the problem. His students don't regularly patronize the Film Center, he says, in part because it's too expensive, but also because of the space: "They don't feel invited in. Some of that's attitude, but part of it is the building--the Lenin-like portrait of Gene Siskel looking at you as you're entering. The place can be intimidating." Facets, he says, has its own problem: "People hang out around the box office, but the space doesn't lend itself to communal discussion" because there's no place to sit in the lobby. At the Music Box, "people just come in and out." Klinger says he's "been a regular at these spaces for years, got my chops there," and isn't looking to compete with them but wants to create a "different type of experience" that he thinks will galvanize a latent community of film fans.

Chicago Cinema Forum's first offering, in late May, was Maurice Pialat's Naked Childhood at projectionist James Bond's Wicker Park loft/screening room. Barely distinguishable from a party, it was a free event publicized by e-mail to the founders' friends and prompted by Klinger's luck in finding an old print of the film for $150 on eBay. "We announced it four days in advance," he says, "totally word of mouth." But the results were gratifying: according to Klinger, about 50 people showed up at Bond's loft--and when the same film had been shown at Facets in 2005, there were maybe a dozen.

The forum's second program, a two-part event at LaSalle Bank Cinema cosponsored by Chicago Filmmakers and presented as a sidebar to the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival, offered three flicks from France's 1960s "Zanzibar" group of countercultural filmmakers. Tickets were $8 and Klinger says nearly 100 people showed up for the first film, Philippe Garrel's The Virgin's Bed. But only about 40 turned out on a hot Saturday afternoon for Daniel Pommereulle's Vite and Jackie Raynal's Deux Fois, an event that included the Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum interviewing Raynal onstage. Her hour-long black-and-white study of herself looking solemnly into the lens as she eats, skips, flashes a reflected light, bares her chest, and announces "the end of meaning" elicited an extra soundtrack of gentle snoring. When it was over, Rosenbaum described it as a film "about being watched, constantly making us aware of being spectators," but Raynal crossed a curvaceous leg and pronounced it a "love letter" to her boyfriend in Paris about going to Barcelona to have an affair with another man. Beyond that, she said, "I tell you frankly, I didn't know what I was doing."

Klinger and company want to do film in the neighborhoods, they say: Pilsen galleries, Humboldt Park lofts. But they also have grander ambitions. Klinger doesn't much like the Chicago International Film Festival and wants to do his own showcase, one that would include revivals and draw "the entire spectrum" of the film world. LeMaster wants to open a theater in Wicker Park with Klinger as programmer. She's working a day job to save toward this goal and figures it'll take four years. Her inspiration is Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri, where she once worked. Ragtag recently went nonprofit, but LeMaster thinks her theater could be a profit-making enterprise, supported in part by media classes for kids. Klinger says the hope is that Chicago Cinema Forum, which doesn't yet have nonprofit status, will build an audience for the proposed Wicker Park facility.

Chicago Cinema Forum's most recent event was held last Sunday at NWesternAve (NWA), aka Witt's loft. Artists Greta Snider and Johunna Grayson presented their Viewmaster Documentaries (3-D slides with a soundtrack). Coming up on a TBA date in August is a showing of Roberto Rossellini's 1958 India, Terre Mere ("Motherland"). The group's Web site, chicagocinemaforum.org, is still under construction, but Klinger says event notices will be posted there.

HotHouse: Homeless

This week HotHouse announced the news that was already on the street: it's cut a deal with its landlord that will release it from financial obligations to him but will force it to vacate its longtime home on Balbo at the end of July with no new location in sight. In a written statement that noted programming would be reduced "short term," outgoing president Martin J. Bishop said the deal was an opportunity the organization "simply could not refuse." In the same statement, business director Marc Harris said that HotHouse has been "freed from the day-to-day demands of full-time operations" and that the board will focus on a capital campaign. "The future looks bright," said Harris, "and now is an exciting time to be a part of the organization." No one at HotHouse returned calls, but founder Marguerite Horberg, ousted a year ago by the board Bishop headed, says she and others are still waiting for property and money they say they're owed--and for "a reasonable explanation" for what's happened.

NPR's Next Big Star?

PerformInk publisher Carrie Kaufman is one of ten semifinalists chosen for their "hostiness" from 1,452 entrants in a national search for new public-radio talent. Three of those contestants will be eliminated when entries for the second of five rounds are posted this week. The public can listen and vote at publicradioquest.com, but six of the seven winners in this round will be chosen by a panel of judges. Kaufman declined to speculate about what might happen to PerformInk should she end up on the air.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo Carlos J. Ortiz.

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