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Silent Film Festival of Chicago Moves ... Out of Chicago

By Heather Cherone | June 22, 2013 9:36am | Updated on June 24, 2013 12:37pm
  The Des Plaines Theater will host the film fest for six consecutive Fridays starting July 19.
Silent Film Festival Finds New Home After Closure of the Portage Theater
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CHICAGO — Locked out of the shuttered Portage Theater, the Silent Film Festival of Chicago has found a new home.

Just not in Chicago.

Beginning next month, the fest will run for six consecutive Fridays at the recently reopened Des Plaines Theater in the suburbs northwest of the city.

"It is a good spot," said Dennis Wolkowicz, the head of the Silent Film Society of Chicago. "It is a classic, old-school theater."

The festival will feature "The Sheik" with Rudolph Valentino and "Kid Boots" with Clara Bow, accompained by the society's digital organ, which the group took with them when the Portage was closed.

The Silent Film Festival was just one of nearly 70 groups that had booked events at the Portage Theater before a dispute over the former movie palace's liquor license between owner Eddie Carranza and Ald. John Arena (45th) prompted Carranza to abruptly shut down the theater May 25.

"We had a contract," Wolkowicz said. "We were certainly disappointed."

Wolkowicz, who breathed new life into the 1920s movie palace when he and a partner took it over eight years ago, had planned to run the Six Corners theater with Carranza. He declined to discuss in detail about the series of events that led to the theater's closure.

"I was as surprised as anyone else," Wolkowicz said. "Eddie's [Carranza] not a bad guy."

The Daily Herald reported Friday that the Des Plaines Theater plans to reopen Saturday after being closed for five months because the ceiling of the former vaudeville theater, which is not air conditioned, collapsed near the stage.

The Northwest Chicago Film Society, which was also displaced by the closure of the Portage Theater, has held most of its recent screenings at the Patio Theater, which is set to close for the summer because of a broken air conditioning system.

The group will show the Library of Congress's 35mm restoration of "Heat Lightning" at 8 p.m. June 26 at the Patio, 6008 W. Irving Park Road. New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot will introduce the film, which stars her father, Lyle Talbot.

Owen Brugh, an aide to Arena, said his office has been working with the groups that had planned to use the Portage to find new venues and get refunds.

"It has been a mess," Brugh said. "It has been hard to mitigate the harm [Carranza} has caused," Brugh said, adding that many Chicago Park District day camps had been scheduled to visit the theater during the summer.

In addition, several dance troupes that had been scheduled to perform at the theater, including Rico Music and Dance, performed at Schurz High School in Old Irving Park while other groups performed at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park.

Several eighth grade graduations were also forced to find new venues. William P. Gray Elementary School held its graduation in its auditorium, but is considering holding it at Schurz next year, Brugh said.

"These are perfectly logical relationships that have turned out to be perfectly wonderful," said Cyd Smillie, the 45th Ward arts liasion. "We'll all be fine, and better for it."