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


Oscars are back with star support


Oscars(R) night March 27. (Photo courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
Oscars(R) night March 27. (Photo courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

It’s Oscar® time.

Sunday March 27, 2022, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be handing out their awards for everything related to movies from acting and costuming to productions and special effects. But did you get out to a movie or did you stream a few? Do you know who and what films have been nominated?

No question that COVID worries changed our theater-going habits. Adding to pandemic concerns are questions about the Academy’s award process over the years, particularly regarding diversity and gender bias.

And what the Academy wonders is will you be watching the ceremony. The 94th Oscars will air live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET.

To up the audience rating and get some excitement going for the Academy Awards 2022, show producers Will Packer and Shayla Cowan have been announcing in the weeks leading up to the event who will host, who will present, and lastly and maybe most importantly, who has now confirmed they will perform.

Performers of nominated songs

“Be Alive” from “King Richard” – Performed by Beyoncé, music and lyric by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.

“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto” – Performed by Sebastián Yatra, music and lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“No Time To Die” from “No Time to Die” – Performed by Billie Eilish and FINNEAS, music and lyric by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.

“Somehow You Do” from “Four Good Days” – Performed by Reba McEntire, music and lyric by Diane Warren.

“Down To Joy” from “Belfast,” music and lyric by Van Morrison. (Van Morrison was invited to perform his nominated song but will not attend the Oscars due to his tour schedule. Therefore “Down To Joy” from “Belfast” will not be performed on the broadcast.

Who will present

The star-studded list of presenters who have confirmed cover range from past to present and from Ruth E. Carter and Lady Gaga to Anthony Hopkins and Bill Murray.

The list, so far, includes Halle Bailey, Stephanie Beatriz, Ruth E. Carter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kevin Costner, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Garner, H.E.R., Tiffany Haddish, Woody Harrelson, Tony Hawk, Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson,  Lily James, Daniel Kaluuya, Zoë Kravitz, DJ Khaled, Mila Kunis, John Leguizamo, Simu Liu, Rami Malek, Shawn Mendes, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o, Elliot Page, Rosie Perez, Tyler Perry, Chris Rock, Tracee Ellis Ross, Naomi Scott, Kelly Slater, Wesley Snipes, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Shaun White, and Yuh-Jung Youn. * (Last minute presenters added)

Who will host

After not having any host last year, the producers have called on three first timers:  Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes.

“This year’s show is all about uniting movie lovers.  It’s apropos that we’ve lined up three of the most dynamic, hilarious women with very different comedic styles,” said Packer.  “I know the fun Regina, Amy and Wanda will be having will translate to our audience as well.  Many surprises in store!  Expect the unexpected!”

Special musical performers

An All-Star Band featuring the show’s music director, Adam Blackstone, blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, percussionist and singer Sheila E. and genre-spanning pianist Robert Glasper, as well as DJ D-Nice who held virtual Club Quarantine parties and The Samples, a vocal group led by Jason White.

Crib Sheet: To know who and what check the 94th Oscars® Fact Sheet.

For more interesting facts and background visit  Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

*More presenters added March 23: Josh Brolin, Jacob Elordi, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Momoa, Jill Scott, J.K. Simmons, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Rachel Zegler.

Jodie Jacobs



Academy Award nominations announced



 Oscars will be handed out at the 94th Academy Awards , March 27, 2022, at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood. (Photo taken by J Jacobs)
Oscars will be handed out at the 94th Academy Awards , (Photo taken by J Jacobs)

Movie goers had second, third and fourth thoughts about sitting in theaters for even such highly hyped and highly rated films as the remake of “West Side Story.” But even with a poor box-office showing, the newly done tragic musical and other well-done films, plus their directors, actors and the behind-the scenes components will be recognized at the 94th Academy Awards March 27 at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

Nominations in 23 categories for films released between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2021 , were announced at 5:18 PST Feb 8, 2022 by actor/comedian Leslie Jordan and actor, CEO and producer Tracee Ellis Ross plus special guests from California to New York City via a global live stream on the Academy’s digital platforms. Nominations are made by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members in their own categories – actors choosing actors. For the full list see the nominations at and

Best Picture nominations:  Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog and West Side Story.

Best Actor: Javier Bardem in “Being the Riccardos,”  Benedict Cumberbatch  in “The Power of the Dog,” Andrew Garfield in “Tic, Tick…Boom,” Will Smith in “King Richard” and Denzel Washington  in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, ” The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter,” Penélope Cruz in “Parallel Mothers, Nicole Kidman in “Being the Ricardos” and Kristen Stewart in “Spencer.”

The surprise was that Lady Gaga was not nominated as best actress for “House of Gucci.”

Nominations are made by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members in their own categories – actors choosing actors. For the full list see the nominations at and

Active members of the Academy are eligible to vote for the winners in all 23 categories beginning Thursday, March 17, through Tuesday, March 22.

Jodie Jacobs

Where to check for the Groundhog Day movie and predictions


Woodstock square and bandstand in the Groundhog Day movie. (J Jacobs photo)
Woodstock square and bandstand in the Groundhog Day movie. (J Jacobs photo)

Snow just blanketed the Northeast and a blizzard is predicted for midweek in the Midwest. But maybe, just maybe, spring is on the way.

Two famed groundhogs (furry woodchucks), Punxsutawney Phil in in Punxsutawney, PA and Woodstock Willie in Woodstock, IL, will be predicting six more weeks of winter if they see their shadow and go back to sleep on Feb. 2. Or, if it’s cloudy in their area their behavior may say spring is coming soon.

The date, Feb. 2, is known in the U.S. as Groundhog Day because, European agriculture folklore has it that the critters’ behavior can be a weather indicator for planting.

Viewed from the creative minds of writer/director Harold Ramis and writer Danny Rubin the idea that a rodent can predict the weather, is a concept fit for a romcom movie with a disagreeable, cynical weatherman as its protagonist.

But instead of filming only in Punxsutawney, PA, Ramis wanted an appropriate (cute and quaint) site near his North Shore home.

Thus Woodstock, with its scenic, old-fashioned square, is where most of the filming took place. Released in 1993, Woodstock, IL is now the town “Groundhog Day” movie fans visit for a few days of free tours of the film’s sites, free movie showings, and, if the weather cooperates, a visit on Feb. 2 when Woodstock Willie does his early morning prediction about spring.

Fans relive the movie by following in TV Weatherman Phil Conners’s (Bill Murray) footsteps including where Murray steps into a puddle and where he and TV producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), the love interest, have their snowball fight in the town square.

For Woodstock, IL Groundhog events visit Woodstock Groundhog. For the movie trailer see Groundhog Day Movie clips. For Punxsutawney Phil visit Groundhog Day Club.

Jodie Jacobs

Tribecca Festival goes hybrid


Tribeca Film Festival closing night is the world premiere of Dave Chappell's documentary.(P:hoto courtesy of Tribecca Festival)
Tribeca Film Festival closing night is the world premiere of Dave Chappell’s documentary.(Photo courtesy of Tribecca Festival)

Certainly, the Covid pandemic dramatically changed the arts and entertainment world including that of film festivals. But it also taught us we could work from home and enjoy plays and movies on line at home.

Some popular film festivals have been postponed yet another year to 2022. However, the New York’s Tribecca Festival is going ahead with its culturally and politically focused films in hybrid – at home and in-person – mode, June 9-20, 2021.

The festival includes Talks such as from storytellers John Legend and Mike Jackson, Games, Comedy and Films.

In person films range from “In the Heights” to “Johnny Mnemonic.” See In the Boroughs.

A highlight is the premiere showing of Dave Chappelle’s Untitled Documentary. To see it in person at Radio City Music Hall June 19, you must be fully vaccinated. And have proof.

Tickets are available for in-person showings  in NYC and the boroughs and for at home viewing. For ticket info visit


Oscar nominations announced


Oscar poster courtesy of Krislam Chin for The Academy
Oscar poster courtesy of Krislam Chin for The Academy

If you watched the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice award ceremonies you likely have an idea of who and what will be on the 93rd Oscars®  list of nominees.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ nominees were announced early this morning by actor/producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas and singer/songwriter/actor Nick who  streamed live from London. For a repeat go to shows/Oscars.

The list has 23 categories ranging from actors and actresses (yes, the Academy still calls female actors, actresses) in leading and supporting roles to the best feature and short documentaries.

Here are just a few of the nominees.

Performance by an actor in a leading role has Riz Ahmed in “Sound of Metal,” Chadwick Boseman in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Anthony Hopkins in “The Father,” Gary Oldman in “Mank” and Steven Yeun in “Minari”

Supporting role actors nominated are Sacha Baron Cohen in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Daniel Kaluuya in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Leslie Odom, Jr. in “One Night in Miami.,” Paul Raci in “Sound of Metal” and Lakeith Stanfield in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Leading ladies nominated are Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Andra Day for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” Vanessa Kirby for “Pieces of a Woman,” Frances McDormand for “Nomadland” and Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman.”

“Actresses”  in a supporting role nominees are Maria Bakalova in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” Glenn Close in “Hillbilly Elegy,” Olivia Colman in “The Father,” Amanda Seyfried in “Mank” and Yuh-Jung Youn in “Minari.”

For a complete list of nominees, visit official Oscars website.

The 93rd Oscars will be Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood. It will be televised on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

Jodie Jacobs


Halloween doings

You never know where you may encounter a ghost. J Jacobs photo)
You never know where you may encounter a ghost. J Jacobs photo)

For the family

First off, if you didn’t make a reservation for the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Night of 1,000 Jack o Lanterns, try for next year. The 2020 event is sold out.

However, there are fun pumpkin patches where families can have fun, pick up the perfect pumpkin and some tools and ideas for carving their own Jack o’ Lantern. No tickets needed to pick a pumpkin or purchase store items. Rides and some events need tickets to observe social distancing.

Among those in the Chicago region are Didier Farm  at 16678 W. Aptakisic Rd., Lincolnshire, Goebbert’s GardenCenter at 40 W. Higgens Rd., South Barrington and Tom’s Market 10214 Algonquin Rd., Huntley.

Putting on the dog

Humans aren’t the only ones who can dress up for Halloween according to Pasquesi Home and Garden in Lake Bluff. The long-time family-owned business is doing a Howl-o-Ween so dogs get to participate. The event includes photos the shop will take and put online and a goodie bag for pooches. For information visit Pasquesi/howloween. Pasquesi is at 975 North Shore Dr., Lake Bluff, (847) 615-2700.

For teens and adults

See the movie “16 Candles” Oct. 9 at ChiTown Movies or go there later at night for one of Music Box’s horror films. The drive-in movie lot is at 2343 S Throop St, Chicago, IL 60608. If no car, check Row A during ticket purchase and bring chairs for your group. For the schedule, tickets and more information visit Musicboxtheatre/boxofhorrors.

Or get your thrills driving through the zombie and demon-filled alley at the arcade bar in Lincoln Park, 2833 N Sheffield Ave.  For tickets and more information visit alleyofdarkness.


Groundhog Day relived


Woodstock Square where Phil the weatherman and Rita the reporter had their snowball fight in the movie ‘groundhog Day’ (J Jacobs photo)

Maybe groundhogs Woodstock Willie in Illinois and Punxsutawne Phil in Pennsylvania will not see their shadows on Feb. 2, 2020, this year’s Groundhog Day. So maybe spring will come early.

However you feel about a creature’s ability to predict the end of winter, the place to be if you are an early riser and live in Illinois is the village of Woodstock where Harold Ramis had filmed “Groundhog Day,” the popular 1993 movie that he and Danny Rubin wrote.

The celebratory highlight is a very early morning wake-up call for Woodstock Willie. The prognostication takes place Sunday in the town’s historic Woodstock’Square at 7 a.m.

But even if not willing to witness the weather prediction first hand, the town’s Groundhog Day festival is worth the drive. Woodstock has been celebrating the movie and it’s filmed locations for more than 25 years with a free movie showing, marked locations and tours.

To learn more about the event visit Woodstockgroundhog.

To learn about Punxsutawne Phil and the location where Bill Murray was supposed to go as TV weatherman Phil Connors, and how repeating each day until he could get Rita, the accompanying reporter to like him (Andie MacDowell) visit Groundhog.

Jodie Jacobs

Enjoy A World of Cinema


'Motherless' a film to see at the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)
‘Motherless’ a film to see at the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)

4 stars

The 55th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is running through Oct. 27, 2019 at the AMC River East Theaters.

The world renowned festival includes films from more than 100 countries representing virtually every genre.

Some special categories offered are Women in Cinema, Cinemas of the Americas, and Immersive Cinema exploring virtual reality storytelling in all dimensions.

The week’s festivities kicked off with a red carpet featuring Chicago Producer Gigi Pritzker and Chicago Director Jennifer Reeder talking about the film festival overall as well as their respective films, “Motherless Brooklyn” and “Knives and Skin.”

“Motherless Brooklyn” features the film’s director Edward Norton as a lonely private detective working to solve the murder of his friend played by Bruce Willis.

“Knives and Skin.” is a horror movie that takes place somewhere in a small Illinois town and champions female empowerment.

My second day began with an early morning 10:00 AM special press viewing of “Hogar,” an Argentinian and Italian collaboration the tile of which means house or residence similar to the word “casa,” but the film has been translated with the English title “Maternal” which is appropriate as it deals with teen mothers struggling to bond with their children and overcome the special challenges related to teen pregnancy.

My second press screening that day was “Twentieth Century,” a very odd but thoroughly enjoyable film described as “an outrageously weird and funny faux-historical drama about the rise of Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in the 1920s, re-imagined as some kind of Dali-esque fever-dream by way of Monty Python.”

There are a number of films at the festival that either have Chicago themes or were produced in Chicago.

These include the world premier documentary “The First Rainbow Coalition” about Chicago’s mulit-ethnic street gangs in the 1960s primarily led by activist Fred Hampton and the “Black Panthers” who endeavored to affect social change by recognizing their shared struggle.

Having lived through this era in Chicago I found this film which is primarily old television news footage to have a kind of home-movie quality but full of insight that was not generally shared at the time.

Some other Chicago movies are “Girl on the Third Floor,” “Hala,” “The New Bauhaus” and another world premiere, The Torch,” directed by Jim Ferrell about Chicago Blues legend Buddy Guy.

Keep in mind that many of these films will be available in theaters soon, on Netflix, Roku and wherever you like to view films. So even if you missed them at the festival you can still find most of them someplace soon.

DETAILS:  The 55th Annual Chicago International Film Festival is running through October 27, 2019 at the AMC River East Theaters at 322 E. Illinois Street, Chicago. For tickets and information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.

Reno Lovison

Reno Lovison is a frequent theater reviewer here and Executive Producer at where you can find additional video and podcast coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.




Around Town – More April happenings

Spring is not getting off to as slow a start as we think. (See Related below for earlier listings including Earth Day events). There is enough to see and do in and around Chicago for several outings. So here are more activities to add to the April Calendar.

Award-winning Icelandic bartender Teitur Ridderman Schioth crafted cocktails at last year's Icelandic Festival in Chicago. )J Jacobs) photo
Award-winning Icelandic bartender Teitur Ridderman Schioth crafted cocktails at last year’s Icelandic Festival in Chicago. )J Jacobs) photo

In Chicago

An Iceland festival is coming to a few Chicago clubs, a restaurant, theater and collaborative space during Taste of Iceland April 11-14. Presented by Iceland Naturally, the festival is a check-it-out experience of spirits, food, film and music. The events are free except a dinner at Elske but may need reservations.

Elske, 1350 W. Randolph St. will do an Icelandic dinner each of the festival days. For reservations visit elskerestaurant . For more information go to Facebook/events.

Other Icelandic festival activities:

Spirits of Iceland: Cocktail Class, April 11, 6-8 p.m. at LH on 21,  (Rooftop) London House Chicago, 85 E. Upper Wacker Dr., Floor 21. For more information visit Facebook LH Events/.

 Iceland After Dark, April 12, 10-11:30 p.m. with craft cocktails, music by Solveig Matthildur and Kaelan Mikla  at The Underground Chicago, 56 W. Illinois St.  For reservations go to Evenbrite.

Reykjavik Calling, April 13, at Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave. beginning at 7 p.m. Concert at 8 p.m. Sets feature Hildur and Kaelan Mikla. Visit Facebook Event Page.

 Shortfish Film Screening  at the Logan Theatre 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave., followed by cocktails of Brennivín and Reyka Vodka and chat with Icelandic winning bartender Tóta. Doors open at 11 a.m., the screening begins at 11:30 a.m. For more information visit this Facebook event page.

The Icelandic Literature Scene, April 14, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at evolveHer, 358 W. Ontario,3W to visit with Ambassador Stella Soffía Jóhannesdóttir and Words Without Border Editorial Director Susan. For more information visit this Facebook event page.


Hungry Monkey will be at the Foodie Fair with chocolate chip and regular banana bread. (Photo courtesy of Hungry Monkey)
Hungry Monkey will be at the Foodie Fair with chocolate chip and regular banana bread. (Photo courtesy of Hungry Monkey)

In the burbs

Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Foodie Fair Pop-Up, April  14, 1-4 p.m. at the West Lake Forest Train Station, 911 Telegraph Rd. at Everett, Lake Forest. Some of the vendors are Bonique Corp, Cake My Day, Elawa Farm, Foodstuffs Lake Forest, Flowers by Katie Ford, Full Belly Foods and Hungry Monkey.

Villa Park Spring Arts & Crafts Festival, April 12-14 at The Odeum , 1033 North Villa Ave. Hours:  Fri. 11am-9pm; Sat. 9am-6pm; Sun. 10am-5pm. Tickets: Adults $10; Seniors $9; Children Under 10, free. For tickets and more information visit Spring Festival Tickets.


Around Town Pop-up Art Earth Day and Good Web Sites

Around Town in April: Kids and adult events


Jodie Jacobs