Doc Fest April 1-10 pays tribute to Albert Maysles, Michael Rabiger for lifetime career achievements

In just three years, the Chicago International Documentary Festival has grown into one of the nation’s premiere showcases for nonfiction film, boasting 110 films selected from a pool of 1,738 submissions, at eight locations across the city April 1-10.

“Chicago is so spread out, we’re trying to diversify our audience and reach the ethnic communities and academic communities and interest groups that are such an important part of the documentary audience,” said Christopher Kamyszew.

Kamyszew is the festival founder and executive director of the nonprofit Society for the Arts, which administers the fest. Kamyszew is also the founder and director of the 17-year-old Polish Film Festival in America, the largest of its kind in the world.

Doc Fest attendance climbed from 6,000 in year one to 15,000 last year. Kamyszew aims for 25,000 attendees this year.

100 filmmakers are attending with their films, including heavyweights like Joe Berlinger (“Gray Matter”), Jay Rosenblatt (“Phantom Limb”), Kirby Dick (“Twist of Faith”), and Edward Lachman (“Cell Stories”). 15 films each are competing in the Doc Fest’s Grand Prix and new Short Film Grand Prix competitions. The fest will hand out a total of $50,000 in prizes.

Chicago is well-represented in the fest, with world premieres of Tod Lending’s “Omar and Pete” and Lauri Feldman’s “The Innocent,” and two films from Kartemquin principals: Steve James’ View Askew/Miramax production “Reel Paradise” and Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn’s “Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes,” about Chicago painter and activist Leon Golub, who died last year.

“It wasn’t a deliberate decision to include so many Chicago films,” Kamyszew said. “They were simply very good submissions, showing how strong a documentary center Chicago is.”

The Doc Fest will award Albert Maysles its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, and screen a retrospective of his form-defining films “Salesman,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens,” “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.,” “Meet Marlon Brando,” “Muhammad and Larry,” “Christo in Paris,” and trailers from works-in-progress “The Gates” and “Hand-Held and From the Heart.”

Official sidebars on Czech and Mexican documentary, as well as particularly strong selections of films about Africa and North Korea, are among more than 50 international selections. “Festival programmers are coming from out-of-state to look for international films here,” Kamyszew said.

Taggart Siegel’s “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” opens the Doc Fest.

The fest will also present winners of Columbia College’s International Student Documentary Completion.

CNN is the fest’s major media sponsor, but the Society for the Arts is still footing most of the $700,000 bill, along with a few sponsors including Kodak and Western Union.

“It’s hard to get corporate sponsorship for documentary,” Kamyszew said. “It will change as we show how opinion-molding, how important a voice the documentary film is. Next year we expect to get some major grants from foundations once we’ve proved how it can grow.”

As soon as the fest finishes April 10, the Society for the Arts will launch a year-round program of documentaries, “Doc Fest at Doc Space,” at the Gallery Theatre, 1112 N. Milwaukee, and Tuesday night screenings at the Portage Theatre, 4050 N. Milwaukee.

The Chicago International Documentary Film Festival opens with a reception and live entertainment at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 1 at the University of Chicago’s DOC Films Max Palevsky Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St.

At 8 p.m., Albert Maysles and former Columbia College film chair Michael Rabiger will receive career achievement awards. Then Columbia alum Taggart Siegel will present his doc, “The Real Dirt on Farmer John,” about maverick Illinois organic farmer John Peterson. $50 for screening and reception, $20 for screening alone.

See for a complete schedule.