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Film festival founder shares how he brought Hollywood – and the world – to Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) — The Chicago International Film Festival just opened, and it’s Michael Kutza who got it all started when he was just 22 years old.

His new book is “Starstruck: How I Magically Transformed Chicago Into Hollywood For More Than Fifty Years.”

Michael is from a family filled with doctors – his Polish and Italian parents, an uncle, cousins – but he was having none of that. Double features on Saturdays sealed his fate, bringing Hollywood to Chicago!

“I’m just a kid from the West Side who wanted to make Chicago a bigger more exciting kind of place,” Kutza said. “I thought I’d bring the world here.”

Kutza’s lifelong passion is cinema, and he’s ever compelled to share it in his hometown.

“Remember when I did Chicago, there was no Sundance or Toronto or Telluride or Tribeca or any of that,” Kutza said. “This is the only game around and people wanted to be part of it, I was very lucky that way. I could get the best films, get great reviews. Roger Ebert was brand new and he believed in the organization. He helped, we helped each other. He was a great friend. Now Gene Siskel I never got along with.”

SEE MORE | Chaz Ebert, wife of film critic Roger Ebert, talks about how late husband still inspires her

Roger Ebert once said of the Chicago International Film Festival: “This is my hometown festival and I’ve been going to it for 37 years, and I’ve got a lot of good memories.”

“1967, had a young man named Martin Scorsese, he introduced us to a new film, and Roger saw it and said, ‘Wow, that’s an important person,'” Kutza recalled. “Victor Skrebneski, the photographer, helped me put together the photographs that made us famous.”

He added, “From the first moment I knew that I could not get people to see my new Hungarian movie, or my new Italian or French movie, unless there was a hook. Open big and tempt your audience into seeing the more complicated, the more difficult films –

and then they get hooked.”

And while his new book is called “Starstruck,” Kutza said, “I’m not Starstruck. I respect these people and when they come to town, they’re just normal folks. Their agents are the difficult people that say ‘no.’ Tom Cruise is a perfect example. He’s great to work with, he’ll always say ‘yes.’ Sophia Loren, yes, being Italian and all, Sophia, we became good friends and still are. She was a very special person in my life.”

There’s already interest in turning the book into a film.

“Who’s gonna play me? Brad Pitt’s busy,” Kutza laughed. “He and Leonardo, they’re all busy!”

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