An intimate look at the life of a film festival and its director



Michael Kutza (Photo courtesy of Michael Kuzo and Lyna O'Oconnor)
Michael Kutza (Photo courtesy of Michael Kutza and Lyna O’Oconnor)

Read Starstruck, a tell-all memoir by Michael Kutza, a Chicagoan whom international movie stars and directors know personally and whose face and name would be known to theater critics but he would not be recognized by even regular movie goers.

You will pick up info and gossip they can drop during the next Academy Awards party or when out to dinner with friends who appreciate “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Jack Nicholson.

For instance, if you have gone to the Museum of Science and Industry and on purpose or accidently wandered into a room with a doll-house-sized castle you have seen the results of Coleen Moore’s dream

But do you know who Colleen Moore was? The recent widow of Merrill Lynch founding partner Homer Hargrave, she was instrumental in helping Kutza realize his dream.

Already an award-winning film maker and a graphic artist, Kutza wanted to form and maintain an international film festival in Chicago before any film festival existed in the U.S. such as Sundance and before most film festivals such as Toronto popped up all over the world.

Irv Kupcinet who introduced the two of them and is mentioned several times in the book, is simply described as saying Colleen Moore as a “silent movie star.” Kutza describes her as a “real-life Auntie Mame.”

Mostly called Colleen in the book, she was that and much more. You learn that she knew the right people.

And because she loved film and its stars plus knew the movers and shakers – the men and women, who helped get things done in the arts, she adopted Kutza’s idea of having an international film festival in Chicago.

Starstruck by Michael Kutza ( Photo of cover by Jodie Jacobs)
Starstruck by Michael Kutza ( Photo of cover by Jodie Jacobs)

Now you get it. At the young age of 22, Kutza, a West Side (as he says) son of two doctors who expected him to go to medical school, had fallen in love with film and wanted to make more available to the public than standard Hollywood fare. He also wanted film directors, producers and actors to know Chicago.

You learn that Colleen’s friend, Joan Crawford gave Kutza a pair of glasses to make him look older than 22 so people would listen to him.

That was back in 1964, the birth year of the Chicago International Film Festival when things started to come together. The next year, 1965, was the Chicago International Film Festival’s first year of operation with screenings and awards.

Ten years later in 1975, the Chicago Festival held the world premier of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” attended by Jack Nicholson and cast. The film later won an Oscar as Best Picture.

Reading Starstruck, you understand that Kutza realized his dream. The list of premiers and directors who first showed their films in Chicago is long and ranges from Oliver Stone in the United States to Liv Ullman in Norway with dozens more from other countries in between.  

Kutza retired as director of the Chicago Festival in 2018 when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Cinema/Chicago, now the presenter of the Chicago International Film Festival with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Starstruck takes you on Kutza’s fascinating journey from the Chicago Festival’s inception to its many awards and film screenings without covering up mistakes, bumps, triumphs and bare bodies.

Reading it reminded me of interviews I’ve done with hotel concierges who spoke of celebrity requests from alcohol and drugs to sex partners.

Yes, star peccadillos are in there. But you also feel closer to the celebrities and film makers Kutza has worked with during his tenure including silent screen star Colleen Moore Hargrave.

You learn that the original “Star is Born” story was that of Colleen’s success and the downhill trajectory of her husband at the time, John McCormick, including his attempted suicide walking into the ocean.

Starstruck by Michael Kutza is published by BearManor Media, 2022.

(The Chicago International Film Festival this year is Oct. 12-23, 2022). 


Jodie Jacobs


A trip into the past

Heartland by Cynthia clampitt
Heartland by Cynthia clampitt


I picked up Destination Heartland: A guide to Discovering the Midwest’s Remarkable Past by author Cynthia Clampitt, thinking it was a travel book. It’s not. Beautifully written, Destination Heartland is a well-documented probe into historically significant places in what may loosely be defined as the middle western region of the United States of America. It a fascinating read.

If planning a driving trip across the region you may want to know what to see and where to stop along your route or where to deviate from it to catch something special. Those destinations can easily be found in the pamphlets put out by each state and in the rest stops along your route.

Many of them are in Clampitt’s book but they are not grouped by state. For example: Fishtown in Michigan’s scenic Leelanau Peninsula, a rewarding stop when doing the Traverse City area, is across the page from the Amana Colonies, a Germanic, culturally rewarding stop but one that is off I 80 in Iowa.

Knowledgeable about food, Clampitt includes an Amana restaurant recommendation, stating the “menu will look familiar to those who love German food from J”jagershnitzel” to rouladaden.” She also includes a recipe.

Her descriptions are colorful and true. Having traveled to most of the destinations in the book, I love how her words paint the view such as in Fishtown, “”weathered wooden buildings hugging and even overhanging the water.”

Another example is Mineral Point, WI where she relates its Cornwall roots  saying the miners “built Mineral Point into a prosperous town of tidy Golden buildings,” (BTW Mineral Point and its golden buildings has become an artist colony and yes, it’s worth a visit).

Be prepared on the next page to cross state lines west to visit Minneapolis, a city known for its mills.

For a better idea of how her destinations are organized look at the Table of Contents.

First, she speaks of the interesting origin of the word “Midwest.” In Chapter 2, Clampitt invites readers to “Living History Venues.”

Chapter 3 mentions vintage sites, historic homes and museums while Chapter 4 talks about historic towns and enclaves and Chapter 5 talks about experiencing history with reenactment and other opportunities.

As to where to stay or eat, in Chapter 6 she recommends the DeSoto House Hotel in the historic (most of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places) Galena, IL. The hotel is a fun stop with a fine staircase and political history. Plus, it is the oldest, continuously operating hotel in IL.

The next page takes readers to The Village Tavern in Long Grove, IL that opened in 1847, followed by a visit to The Whitney (mansion and restaurant) in Detroit, MI.

Clampitt unapologetically takes readers on several history field trips. Along the way, readers are treated to fine prose and good historic information. They may also want a notebook at hand to jot down some places to consider as destinations on the next road trip.

Clampitt is the author of Midwest Maize: How corn shaped the US, Heartland and Waltzing Australia. Heartland is published by the University of Illinois Press, 2022.

Jodie Jacobs

Fascinating Shakespeare authorship becomes historical fiction


There have been numerous takes on who wrote the plays and other works attributed to William Shakespeare.

None that I’ve seen have attributed them to a woman until Deena Lindstedt recently published her book, Lady of the Play.

Although listed as a “Historical Fiction Novel,” and not annotated with scholarly references, Lindstedt makes an interesting case that a well-educated, well-born, highly imaginative woman wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The seed for this striking deviation from standard thinking came when Lindstedt who had retired from a long-time career in workers’ compensation claims administration to develop writing and research skills at Marylhurst University, wrote a senior paper titled “Shakespeare, Perhaps a Woman.”

Lindstedt delivered the paper at the Shakespeare Authorship Symposium at Concordia University in Portland, OR in 2011. Extensive research of the era eventually led to Lady of the Play, published by Wings ePress Books, October 2021.

In Lady of the Play, readers are introduced to Elizabeth Trentham who become a maid of honor in the court of Queen Elizabeth I and married Edward deVere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.

The book reveals how the couple may have merged two words to come up with the name Shakespeare as a pseudonym for the works they may have authored.

Interesting as the story of Elizabeth Trentham is, it is just half the tale developed by Lindstedt. She melds the Elizabethan time with the problems besetting current characters as they attempt to prove what may be an earthshattering discovery.

Together, the old and new tales are well-meshed into a fascinating, enjoyable read.

Note: Deena Lindstedt also wrote Deception Cove in 2010 and is working on Betrayal Bay as the second book in her Meredith Maxwell mystery series. For more information visit (Lady of the Play can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble).

Jodie Jacobs