While most cities never get a whiff of the limited-release films and indie gems, Chicagoans are luckier than most when it comes to catching award-winning films (and really, cinema in general) beyond the standard Hollywood fare.
Thanks to a host of options for screening alternative movies, Chicago has a venue, a festival or event for whatever the foreign language masterpiece, important documentary or art-house specialty may be. Bonus: many of the non-mainstream picks are bargains compared to the ticket and concession prices at some of the city's major cineplexes.
Sure it's not Sundance, but in addition to all the places to catch a film, Chicago is home to several outstanding festivals including the Chicago International Film Festival, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the Chicago Latino Film Festival and the Englewood Film Festival, among many others.
Perhaps best of all, Chicago's alt-film scene doesn't strictly cater to film snobs; the diverse community of move lovers in Chicago is a wide and welcoming one for ages, languages and genre buffs of all sorts. HuffPost gathered some of the top picks for alternative cinema screenings around town.
Facets Cinémathèque (part of Facets Multi-Media) makes film a comprehensive experience offering part entertainment—and for those who want it—part education. One of the few cinemas to heavily emphasize children's films (among its other very un-suitable for children offerings), Facets hosts<a href="https://www.facebook.com/facetsmovies/info"> "the oldest and largest festival of films for children in the U.S.</a>, and one of the only Academy Award-qualifying children's film festivals in the world." The education center also features a video store with a stunningly deep archive of every kind of experimental, avant-garde, foreign and children's film you could hope to find. <em>1517 W Fullerton Ave.</em>
Gene Siskel Film Center
Named after beloved Chicago film critic Roger Ebert's sparring partner, <a href="http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/">The Gene Siskel Film Center </a> does it all: foreign films, documentaries, animated specials and hosting duty for the city's only official Academy-sanctioned Oscar party. Part of the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Siskel is a lone wolf among the downtown area's megaplex cinemas—and has one of the more fun (and swanky) concession stands in all of Chicago. <em>164 N State St.</em>
The Music Box Theatre
The Music Box Theatre is known for many things: its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/r-kelly-trapped-in-the-closet_n_2059445.html">sing-a-long shows,</a> the annual Halloween movie massacre screenings and midnight screenings. The Music Box is also one of the best places to catch a hit from the big-name festivals like Sundance and Cannes--the small films that tend to bypass smaller cities altogether. In addition to the gorgeous setting and organ-assisted experience (for certain screenings) the Music Box is one of the last film houses in the area to have 70mm projection capabilities (it's the format that makes films like "Cleopatra" and "The Sound of Music" dazzle with color on screen). <em>3733 N Southport Ave.</em>
The Portage Park gem is home to the<a href="http://www.northwestchicagofilmsociety.org/"> Northwest Chicago Film Society </a> which, for $5 a show, brings films of the past to life in their original format. Feature films of Hollywood's Golden era share equal time with little-seen noirs, vintage superhero hits and others. Though not part of the NWFS, a particular HuffPost Chicago favorite at the Portage is its <a href="http://www.portagetheater.org/Home/">screenings of contemporary classic trilogies</a> like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones." <em>4050 N Milwaukee Ave.</em>
Doc Films (University of Chicago)
The Museum of Modern Art calls <a href="http://docfilms.uchicago.edu/">the University of Chicago's Doc Films </a>"the longest continuously running student film society in the nation." Pushing 75 years old, the film society has hosted several of Chicago's premiers for top independent films like "Brokeback Mountain" and screens films virtually every night of the year while U of C is in session. Admission for most films is just $5, which member packages available for frequent filmgoers. The state-of-the-art screening center has embraced digital but hasn't left celluloid in the past: it has 35mm and 16mm screening capabilities. <em>Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall at The University of Chicago 1212 E 59th St.</em>
<a href="http://www.transistorchicago.com/">Transistor</a>, the one-time Andersonville-located shop has moved to North Center but kept its film screenings up at the new locale. The shop--which also sells a variety of art, media-related wares and more--hosts weekly screenings of films that are both free (woo hoo!) and BYOB (yeah!). Movie picks cover a wide range from classic ("The Godfather," "North By Northwest") to modern ("Up") to foreign. <em>3819 N Lincoln Ave.</em>
The Noble Square-based space describes itself as "a rough and ready microcinema" which specializes in screening avant-garde and experimental films. In the rapidly-digitalized sphere of cinema, <a href="http://nightingaletheatre.org/">Nightingale</a> has projection capabilities for 16mm film (and yes, digita, too) meaning it can screen certain flicks the big theaters could never touch. <em>1084 N Milwaukee Ave.</em>
Black Cinema House
The relatively new <a href="http://www.blackcinemahouse.org/film-series/">Black Cinema House</a> in Grand Crossing hosts discussions and screenings of "underseen works by film and video makers of the African and other diasporas." The group also has plans for monthly film series screenings. <em>6901 S Dorchester Ave.</em>