Kartemquin 50th year fills with new activities

Last Saturday, Gordon Quinn, co-founder and artistic director of Kartemquin Films, received a standing ovation from his peers when he accepted the Career Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association at the Paramount Studios theatre in Los Angeles.

Quinn’s prestigious honor was presented jointly by Oscar winning cinematographer and Chicago native, Haskell Wexler, and Chaz Ebertpresident of The Ebert Company, who will serve as honorary chair of Kartemquin’s first gala fundraiser June 24 at the Harris Theatre.   

Quinn’s IDA Doc award caps a year of change and advancement for the company that  three U of C graduates founded in 1966 to produce “Cinematic Social Inquiry.  To date, the film collective has produced more than 55 documentaries, starting with 1966’s “Home for Life” to 2015’s “Almost There,” opening in Chicago at the Siskel Center Dec. 11.

IDA Doc award to Gordon Quinn (center) presented by Haskell Wexler and Chaz EbertKartemquin’s next half century starts in January with a burst of new activities, funding, television shows, public programs; a new board chairman, Jason Stephens, and new executive director, Betsy Steinberg.

“The anniversary event,” says Steinberg, former Illinois Film Office director, “will provide unprecedented opportunities to launch several new films and filmmakers and shine a spotlight on the rich and varied documentary work flourishing in the Midwest.”


All year online doc screenings and Ch. 11 broadcasts

The most prominent events will be weekly, online streamings of Kartemquin’s entire film catalog and monthly WTTW/11 airings of Kartemquin documentaries. 

The streamings start Jan. 1, with co-founder Gordon Quinn and Jerry Temaner’s first doc, “Home for Life,” and will continue chronologically through the decades until the Dec. 23 premier of one of four new docs.

Then, on Jan. 21, “The Homestretch” will launch Ch. 11’s monthly broadcasts of Kartemquin docs, covering all five decades of production.

The City of Chicago joins the 50th anniversary festivities by hosting a three-month retrospective, “50 years of Kartemquin Art & Filmmaking Ephemera” at Expo 72 gallery, May 28 through Aug. 21, 2016.


Other calendar highlights include several retrospectives and screenings in Chicago and nationwide; an art exhibit; an academic book; workshops, panels, and master classes.


Helping to fund the anniversary and other programs are grants of $500,000 each from The MacArthur Foundation and the Sage Foundation for 2016-2017.


Kartemquin currently has more than a dozen projects in production.


Its staff of 16 is located in a two story house the founders bought in 1971 at 1901 W. Wellington.  The company has been characterized as “having the unique mojo of a graduate school, where a bunch of passionate people work on their projects, where there’s teaching and sharing and collaboration,” says Tim Horsburgh, director of communication and distribution.

”We don’t just make films here, we make filmmakers.”