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Portage Theater to Show Independent Films Under New Movie Plan

  The Portage Theater will no longer show just classic movies, but focus on independent films.
The Portage Theater will no longer show just classic movies, but focus on independent films.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

PORTAGE PARK — The Portage Theater will show newer, independent films in an effort to attract a younger, more diverse audience, theater officials said Wednesday.

The former movie palace, which reopened in the heart of the Six Corners Shopping District in June after being dark for nearly a year, will no longer just show classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Era, said Alex Milcarek, the theater's new movie programmer.

"We really want the Portage to have an indie spirit," said Milcarek, who was hired by theater owner Eddie Carranza a month ago to work with Charlie Burns, the theater's operator. "We're going to reinvent the wheel."

Heather Cherone says the theater has been a good neighbor to area residents and businesses:

The goal is to offer movies and concerts for all ages, genres and cultures at the Portage, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., Burns said.

The Portage is the "ideal" venue to show new, but not mainstream or Hollywood movies, said Milcarek, 36, who attended Marquette University and has a background in sales and marketing.

"We want to show films you can't find anywhere else," Milcarek said.

The theater will showcase a series of rockumentaries starting this weekend with the screening of "Take Me to the River," which stars Snoop Dogg and William Bell and pays tribute to soul music from Memphis. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show, and tickets are $6-$10.

Efforts are also underway to add a digital projector to the booth at the Portage Theater, which now features a 35-millimeter projector as well as a 16-millimeter projector, Milcarek said.

Plans for a film festival featuring the films of the Coen Brothers are underway, and Halloween films — for both adults and kids — will screen during October, Milcarek said.

When the theater reopened in June, Dennis Wolkowicz — who breathed new life into the 1920s movie palace before Carranza bought it in 2012 — returned to the Six Corners theater and helped get its movie operation back up and running.

But Wolkowicz said he was happy to see Milcarek take over the day-to-day movie operations at the theater. Wolkowicz will still screen Old Hollywood gems at the Portage Theater as part of his Silent Film Society of Chicago, which he runs under his nom de cinema Jay Warren.

"I want the Portage to succeed," Wolkowicz said. "I put 10 years of my life into that theater. The theater has to adapt to survive."

The theater's survival was very much in doubt after Carranza closed the Portage Theater in May 2013 as part of a dispute with Ald. John Arena (45th), who said he would not allow Carranza to take over the liquor and public place of amusement licenses at the Six Corners theater based on Carranza's pockmarked track record at the Congress Theater in Logan Square.

However, the 94-year-old theater has been operating smoothly since June, officials said.

Once the pending sale of the Congress is completed, Carranza "has promised to reinvest in the Portage Theater facilities and aesthetic upgrades" as part of Burns' lease of the theater, Burns said.

"That has slowed some progress down, but I am moving forward with my plans to bring a variety of programming" to the Portage, Burns said.

That includes a performance by British cult musical trio The Tiger Lillies on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, and plans for Eastern European cultural events and musical acts in 2015, Burns said.

"We are just warming up," Burns said.

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