Spicing Up The Suburban Movie Scene

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 11, 2014 8:40PM

The Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove. Image via the Classic Cinemas site

Between the Music Box, the Gene Siskel Film Center, Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, Facets Cinematheque and the occasional screen devoted to more adventurous movies at neighborhood theaters like the Logan and Davis, city dwellers get a healthy sampling of independent, classic and foreign films (though less of the latter than we used to). Add vital outlets for micro-cinema and experimental fare (Chicago Filmmakers, The Nightingale), some bold repertory programmers (Northwest Chicago Film Society, Chicago Cinema Society, Terror in the Aisles), several great film series at area universities and cultural centers, plus a crowded calendar of film festivals, and it’s clear Chicagoans have it pretty good.

Suburbanites? Not so much.

While Cinemark’s Evanston theaters, Landmark’s Renaissance Place in Highland Park, and the Wilmette Theatre showcase specialty fare on the North Shore, the further you are from the city limits, the harder it is to see limited releases on the big screen. Maybe it’s fair to say suburbanites get the kind of movies they have chosen to support over the years, and hey, a trip to the city is not like a trip to Mars, right?

Sure, but work schedules, transportation factors and other issues can make it difficult for folks in the ‘burbs to get to the city’s more cultured neighborhoods. So here are a few places making welcome efforts to bring more diversity to the big screens in their communities.

Elk Grove Theatre image via their Facebook page
Elk Grove Theatre, Elk Grove
Like the Lake and Tivoli, this is part of the Classic Cinemas chain and has its own specialty series. The Critics’ Classics series is presented by the Chicago Film Critics Association and one of its members introduces a revival showing on the second Tuesday of each month. Upcoming highlights include Stand by Me (Aug. 12), A Touch of Evil (Sept. 9) and The Spy Who Loved Me (Oct. 14).

Lake Theatre, Oak Park
The Lake often devotes one of their screens to a prominent indie, but even more praiseworthy is its First Tuesday Film Club. The first Tuesday of each month brings an afternoon and evening showing of a recent acclaimed film that didn’t get a wide release, along with the occasional classic revival. Upcoming First Tuesday films include Finding Vivian Maier (Sept. 2) and A Five Star Life (Oct. 7).

Tivoli Theatre, Downers Grove
Dating back to 1928, the Tivoli is one of the few classic single-screen theaters still intact—never split and mutilated to add more screens. Since 1989, The After Hours Film Society has brought films to the theater that otherwise might never have played in town. With film scholars and critics leading discussions, this is a popular twice-a-month series on Monday nights. Upcoming films include the 1949 neo-realist classic, The Bicycle Thief (Aug. 11), and the Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself (Aug. 25).

Glen Art Theatre, Glen Ellyn
Enough big, mainstream films play here to make the name of the theater slightly dubious, but you can usually count on at least one limited release showing. It’s one of those vintage theaters awkwardly split into a multiplex, but it’s well maintained and pleasant.

Pickwick Theater, Park Ridge
Frankly, Park Ridge is close enough that only the seriously immobilized shouldn’t get into the city now and again. Still, the Pickwick deserves a mention for hosting some strong revival programming, including Matthew Hoffman’s Park Ridge Classic Film series and, more recently, the Silent Film Society of Chicago’s beloved Silent Summer Film Festival. The Art Deco design of the main theater (additional screens are in a separate building close by) also makes this an architectural highlight of the area.

Northbrook Public Library Auditorium, Northbrook
Though on hold until March of next year as renovations are made throughout the library, this is worth marking down on your calendar. Northbrook has long been prized for showing excellent 35mm prints of classic and current films. The renovations include a larger screen and 4K digital projection system to allow them to keep up with new releases, but it’s the classic film series that earned this venue its devoted following. Often introduced by scholars and film buffs, this weekly series rivals the best revival programming in the city.

Catlow Theatre, image via their website

Catlow Theater, Barrington
Another historic single-screen theater, the Catlow’s value to the community was proven when a Kickstarter campaign to upgrade to digital projection was funded in less than a week. While not really an art house theater, the Catlow does book limited releases with some regularity. They also have a nice democratic feature on their website: potential bookings are posted and customers are allowed to vote online to help decide what will play in future weeks.

Beverly Arts Center, Chicago
OK, yes, this is in Chicago, but it’s closer to many of the south suburbs than the heart of the city. BAC helps the South Side’s movie offerings considerably with its weekly BACinema series on Wednesday nights. Upcoming films include The Last Sentence (Aug. 13), Life Itself (Aug. 20), and Belle (Aug. 27).

MovieMax Cinemas, Niles
India makes some of the brightest, most colorful and, frankly, sickly-sweet and garish movies out there. But some of the better stuff is undeniably energetic and entertaining. If you want a taste of the biggest film industry in the world (by number of films produced and admissions sold), this multiplex features both the immensely popular “Bollywood” Hindi films, as well as movies in Tamil, Telegu and other Indian languages. Be warned though - not all films have English subtitles, so call ahead if you don’t speak the language.

It also pays to check the listings at the larger multiplexes, especially during the off-season for blockbusters (late winter, early spring and early fall), as they sometimes book limited releases simply to fill their massive space. AMC’s South Barrington 30 is often a good spot to catch an indifferently scheduled and promoted treasure hiding among dozens of films you can see anywhere (they also book a lot of Bollywood movies). The same chain’s Niles location often shows commercial films from South Korea. But any theater with more than a few screens might surprise you with something special now and again.

By: Joel Wicklund