Michael Kutza, Chicago Intl Film Festival Founder, receives French Legion of Honor
Remarks by Consul General of France Vincent Floreani on the occasion of the presentation ceremony of the insigna of Knight of the Legion of Honor to Michael Kutza, filmmaker and the Founder of the Chicago International Film Festival,"
(June 16, 2015)
Dear Michael Kutza,
It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be here today to celebrate the many achievements of our host, Michael Kutza. He is one of the most famous Chicagoans. He has done so much to promote culture, especially cinema, in this beautiful city. He is also a great friend of France and an exceptional individual.
Before proceeding with the ceremony, I would like to say a few words about the award I will have the privilege of bestowing upon Michael Kutza.
The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France. It is France´s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world. Let´s name some of the famous American artists who have received this prestigious award before you: Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie, and Steven Spielberg.
You are modest. You prefer to shine a light on others, especially artists, while remaining behind the scenes. But today is special. Now "YOU" are in the spotlight! This is a day when, on behalf of the Republic of France and - if I may, on behalf of your friends, I would like to express our profound gratitude for all your achievements. Your career in the movie industry is exceptional.
You have worked hard to achieve your dream. Since you were a child, you wanted to make and share movies. However, your parents had other expectations for you.
You were born in Chicago into a family of doctors and even received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and psychology from Roosevelt University. But here is the irony- your mother is the one who taught you how to make movies, and turned you into a filmmaker. As you said yourself, "My mother traveled the world, and she always had a 16mm camera with her. She´d bring these films back and say to me, `Make it into something,´ and I said okay. I think I was eight years old."
You have therefore all the qualities of a humanist, being both a man of sciences and a man of arts. As you came of age, you dedicated your life to your passion, movies.
In the Sixties, you worked as an assistant film editor at Fred Niles Studio and an assistant documentary cameraman at WGN-TV, both in Chicago. From 1970 to 1980 you were the American film critic for the Italian newspaper Il Tempo in Rome. You also served as a creative consultant on the 1996 feature film "White Lies" (USA) from Arthur Cohn productions.
But your main achievement is the founding of the Chicago International Film Festival in 1965. Thanks to your efforts and determination, this event with humble beginnings has become one of the top international film festivals. It is the first festival of that kind created in America. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of this festival. It draws an increasingly larger audience each year with more than 150 movies from all over the world.
From making movies for your mother to sharing movies from all over the whole world, you have spent more than 50 years following your passion for cinema.
Through the festival, you have contributed greatly to the promotion of French cinema in Chicago and in the United States. Your work brings the world to Chicago and opens Chicago to the world.
You started this international exchange with French artists. For the second year of the festival you went to Cannes in order to recruit better films.
You said, "Cannes also treats film as an ART, every performance is presented as an Opening Night. You must even dress for the occasion - black tie for men and gowns for women. It is cinema and it is France! It has all the glitz, glam and champagne that you would expect, plus more stars and better films than usual."
You made French movies one of the main pillars of the Chicago International Film Festival.
Since then, you have strengthened your friendship with France and, from there, developed friendships with the rest of the world. Later, you started the film festivals in Spoleto, Italy and Manila in the Philippines. You even serve on many feature film competition juries around the world.
Over the years, you have paid tribute to the great French filmmakers and actors who have attended the festival. This includes the so-called "monstres sacrés": Jeanne Moreau and François Truffaut, as well as a new generation of stars like: Isabelle Huppert, François Ozon, Leos Carax, and Catherine Breillat.
Most of these actors and filmmakers have become your friends, because you love great cinema and because they appreciate your generosity, your passion, and your devotion to cinema.
I would like to quote two great filmmakers that sent their congratulations.
Claude Lelouch who wrote "Thanks to you Michael, America has come to know French cinema a little better. You deserve the Legion of Honor". And Bertrand Tavernier, "Michael, What a well-deserved reward! Thank you for everything you did for the French cinema. Thank you for your passion, your love, your curiosity. I know what you did; you were the first in America to believe in my movie, The Watchmaker of St Paul. Thank you. »
Apart from the Festival, you are always eager to help the Consulate in our different cultural projects. For instance, we are currently working with you to bring Chicago´s cinema to Paris through "Focus Chicago", a series of events organized this October by Théâtre de la Ville, in the center of Paris.
You have already received an incredible number of awards for your passion for cinema: Allow me to start with a French one, at random of course: In 1984, you were named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture Jack Lang at the Cannes Film Festival. You also received the Silver Lion Award from the 32nd Venice International Film Festival, for organizing a special section devoted to independent American filmmakers. and Chicago Magazine included you on their list of "Top 40 Chicago Visionaries," alongside Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Roger Ebert, and Gene Siskel.
On behalf of the President of France, it is a great privilege for me to bestow upon you the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d´Honneur for your many accomplishments in the field of cinema as well as for your personal commitment to French-American Friendship.
I will now proceed in French:
Michael Kutza, au nom du Président de la République, je vous fais Chevalier de la Légion d´Honneur.