Barbara Scharres retires from Gene Siskel Film Center

Barbara Scharres

After more than 45 years of service, Barbara Scharres (MFA 1972) will retire from her position as Director of Programming at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center.

For over four decades, Scharres has played a critical role in determining the conceptual vision of the organization, establishing numerous landmark programs and championing diverse filmmakers. She has been celebrated as a leading voice in cinema not just in Chicago, but around the world.       

“That Chicago has a thriving film culture and is increasingly a favorable climate for diverse independent filmmaking is a testament to the audiences and filmmakers who have responded to and supported the Film Center throughout almost five decades,” Scharres said. “Their curiosity, passion for film, and eagerness to venture into far-flung explorations of world cinema have always motivated our organization to grow and to keep the faith with everyone who cherishes the cultural heritage of cinema and its power to open minds and touch hearts.”

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Barbara Scharres served in several capacities at the Film Center, including overseeing its operations from 1988–2001. During this time, she oversaw a 100 percent expansion of programming and the opening of the Film Center’s two-screen facility. She spearheaded numerous annual events, including the Black Harvest Film Festival, European Union Film Festival, Asian American Showcase, and Festival of Films from Iran. Scharres’s devotion to international cinema is well known, and she is widely credited as being an essential champion of Hong Kong cinema, introducing US audiences to directors such as John Woo and actors Chow Yun Fat and Jackie Chan through their films and personal appearances.

A critical contributor to Chicago’s arts and culture, Scharres was named a “Chicagoan of the Year in Arts” three times by the Chicago Tribune. She received the Consulate General of India’s Outstanding and Inspiring Leadership Award in 2003, and she was made a Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2006. As a freelance journalist she has contributed to publications including American Cinematographer, the Chicago Reader, and, for which she has contributed annual coverage of the Cannes Film Festival for many years. Scharres has lectured at institutions including Yale University and the China Institute, New York.

“Barbara has been our guide on a cinematic journey for 45 years, and like any good tour guide she has equally challenged and delighted us with the very best films from every corner of the world, representing all eras,” shared Jean de St. Aubin, the Film Center’s executive director. “As a champion of filmmakers with a critical but supportive eye, I have seen firsthand how she has reached out to distributors and other cinemas to advocate for films that she feels need to be seen by a wider audience. The Gene Siskel Film Center’s esteemed reputation is largely due to Barbara’s dedication, diligence, and deep knowledge of the world of film programming. On behalf of myself and the entire Film Center community, we are eternally grateful to Barbara for her many years of artistic leadership.”

To honor her legacy, the Film Center is establishing the Barbara Scharres Programming Fund, which will be dedicated to bringing the best of international films to Film Center audiences. Click here to learn more and donate. Scharres will remain in the position until the end of the year, and the Film Center will announce an interim director of programming in the coming weeks. 

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