Forum throws cinematic rarities to the lines

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

"The phrases "standing room only -- second show added" and "Roberto Rossellini's rarely screened 1958 film 'India Matri Bhumi'" do not sound like bedfellows and in fact may never before have been used in the same sentence -- not even at the 1959 Cannes film festival, where Rossellini's poetic, form-busting evocation of India blew the mind of, among others, Jean-Luc Godard.

But there I was last Saturday night, in the bustling lobby of the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park -- a community asset of the first order -- trying to weasel my way into a sold-out Rossellini screening presented by a rogue agent of the Chicago exhibition scene, the Chicago Cinema Forum. No go. Couldn't get in. But the Forum folks and the Chopin folks hastily arranged a 9:30 p.m. showing to deal with the overflow, and about 100 people stuck around for it.

It was a fine time. The multi-ethnic crowd ranging from late teens to octogenarians clearly enjoyed the convivial vibe, and not just because there was wine and beer to be had. A loose but serious communal film-going experience was the idea behind the Cinema Forum, says co-founder Gabe Klinger, who teaches film at Columbia College Chicago and who writes about international film for a variety of publications, including a Slovenian arts magazine.

"We called an emergency meeting," Klinger, 25, recalls of the Forum's origins. "The emergency was that my friends and I felt [exhibitors] were losing an audience to the people who watch movies at home on DVD." In May they presented Maurice Pialat's "Naked Childhood" in the Wicker Park loft residence of local projectionist James Bond.

The recent deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, Klinger says, occasioned a lot of informal mini-retrospectives in various living rooms and lofts around the city. All well and good. But Klinger and his like-minded cinephiles crave a more democratic and festive approach to film appreciation and feel there's a place for them among established presenters such as Facets Cinematheque and the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The Chicago Cinema Forum has presented work all over the place, from the La Salle Bank Cinema to Bond's loft. Klinger, who runs the operation with Christy LeMaster and Darnell Witt, says they plan to return to the Chopin before the new year with a local premiere of the Spanish film "Honor of the Knights," a success on the international festival circuit.

Also this fall, a reportedly first-rate print of Orson Welles' marvelous Shakespearean amalgam "Chimes at Midnight" is being slated for a Chopin screening.

More: At the Sonotheque nightclub, with live musical accompaniment, the Forum plans to screen the Brazilian silent "Limite" and both halves of the Stan Brakhage duo "23rd Psalm Branch." And "we want to start a film festival," Klinger says, somewhere in Wicker Park, sometime late in '08. He's fully aware of how many film festivals the Chicago calendar presently accommodates. He's also had it with the word "festival," a "worn-out descriptor if ever there was one. We want to create a true festival air, no red carpets or any of that [bushwa]. We're hoping, wherever we are, to emphasize the communal act of moviegoing".