Newell’s improv comedy one of 15 local films at CIFF

Writer/producer/director Jack C. Newell’s romantic comedy, “Open Tables,” is one of 15 films showcasing in the 51st Chicago International Film Festival’s “City & State” section — the largest number of local participating filmmakers yet.

Newell is a CIFF returning director, along with Bradley Bischoff, Joel Benjamin, and Malik Bader, who also stars in Bishoff’s film, “Nomad.”


In “Open Tables,” described by CIFF as “a smorgasbord of fun,” six couples trade wild stories over dinner about relationships, including a woman who falls in love with an amnesiac, a couple who met through their former partners, and an unforgettably sexy trip to Paris.  


Working with a micro-budget, the 76-minute feature was shot in Chicago and Paris in 2013 over nine months of weekends and one day at a time.


Of the 40 locations, 22 took place in Chicago’s trendiest restaurants like Longman & Eagle, Publican, Perennial Virant, Trenchermen, Sixteen and others.

“Open Tables” reunites Newell with many collaborators from his first improvised feature comedy, “Close Quarters,” including David Pasquesi, Kate Duffy, T.J. Jagodowki and Susan Messing. 

Producers were Matt Hyland, also the production designer, Jill DiBiase who edited, actor Steve Tobiasz and Newell. Stephanie Dufford  was the cinematographer and Marina Bacci of Optimus handled sound. 

Newell, a 2004 Columbia College grad and a commercials director, is wrapping up a pair of documentaries. “How to Build a School in Haiti” began after the devastating 2010 earthquake and follows the building of a new school and its impact on the community. 

“Courses,” with director Newell also handling camera, follows chef Jack Bickelhupt and his wife, Alexa, as they close their underground restaurant to open 42 Grams in Uptown, which won two Michelin Awards during its first two years of business.

“Open Tables” will screen Oct. 20, 24 and 27, during the Oct. 15-29 festival. It’s eligible for The Chicago Award, presented to the best locally-created film.