Celebrate 50 Years of the Siskel Film Center with 50/50, a Chronological Film Series

The Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022, and the downtown cinema is celebrating with a year-long film series they’re (fittingly) calling 50/50. Every Monday of the year, head down to State Street to see one film from every year of the theater’s existence, starting with 1972’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Kant, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The series will continue all year (except for holidays that land on/near a Monday, including July 4 and December 26), concluding with a film from 2021 on Monday, December 19 (to date, the Siskel has announced films through March 21—or 1983). The series presents the longest-running themed programming for the venue’s year, a calendar that recently featured a Fellini retrospective and currently includes a run of the best of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s films throughout January.

Bitter Tears Petra Kant
The Bitter Tears of Petra Kant, courtesy of the film.

The inventive new series is one of many updates to the Siskel’s approach to film exhibition since Rebecca Fons took over the reins as director of programming in 2021, after longtime predecessor Barbara Scharres retired. Formerly of the Chicago International Film Festival (disclosure: Fons and I were briefly coworkers at that organization), Fons went on to oversee the refurbishing and re-opening of a classic single-screen cinema in Winterset, Iowa; she also held a programming role at Film Scene in Iowa City. Her return to Chicago marks a new era for the Siskel, and the 50th anniversary series invites Chicago film fans to dive deep into the Siskel’s (and film’s) storied history while celebrating what’s ahead for the venue, too.

“To properly celebrate our five decades of film exhibition, we knew we couldn’t choose a single film, a single decade, or a single filmmaker. This series allows us to take a journey through our history, as well as film history,” Fons said in a statement. “50/50 is a nostalgia trip, a cinema education, and an excuse for us to show some of our favorite films on the big screen again.”

According to the same statement, most films will also be presented in 35mm. Notable features in the first quarter of the year include John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence (1974) on January 17; David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg’s The Boy Who Fell to Earth (1976) on January 31; 1977’s Saturday Night Fever on February 7; and the Chicago favorite The Blues Brothers (1980) on February 28. All films screen at 6pm, and the Siskel plans to announce future 50/50 selections in the coming weeks. Based on what’s already been made public, it’s a weekly series worth keeping on the radar, a chance to see cinema classics on the big screen in a time when that’s less and less possible.

Tickets to individual screenings are available online or in person; or purchase a series pass and get to see all 50 films over the course of the year. If you do that, you should get some sort of acknowledgement for the effort, maybe your name on a wall in the lobby for the cinema’s next 50 years.

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Lisa Trifone

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