Chicago International Film Festival's Spring Gala was a lovefest for Dame Helen Mirren and Taylor Hackford

Hollywood and, in this case, royalty, came to Chicago for the annual Chicago International Film Festival‘s Spring Gala presented by Cinema/Chicago on May 24. Academy Award-winning actress (Dame) Helen Mirren and Academy Award-winning director Taylor Hackford (her husband) celebrated their film careers with Festival founder Michael Kutza and nearly 400 adoring fans at the Loews Chicago Hotel.

The evening kicked off with a cocktail reception, musical entertainment by rock violinists, the SIRENS (a part of the Ken Arlen Orchestra), and a silent auction featuring an array of upscale gift packages including movie memorabilia.  On offer, a film poster signed by all of the actors who have portrayed James Bond; a Star Wars poster signed by director George Lucas and original cast members and a “Born in the USA” album cover signed by Bruce Springsteen and members of the E Street Band. Also included were iconic posters signed by legendary photographer Victor Skrebneski.  


As the honorees arrived, they met Kutza to walk the red carpet and meet event co-chairs Gigi Pritzker, Helen Melchior and me as well as members of Cinema/Chicago’s Governing Board of Directors. Following the press line, guests proceeded into the Grand Ballroom where the black, white and grey decor was enhanced by florals created by A Perfect Event’s Debi Lilly. Guests were awed at the colorful arrangements that included yellow tulips, Mirren’s favorite, as well as film slate boards with the names of movies significant to each honoree.


“This was an evening that will long be remembered by everyone in attendance,” said Cinema/Chicago President and CEO Kutza.  “I have been hoping to bring these two screen legends together in this type of environment for many years, and finally, my dream was realized. We are so grateful to Cinema/Chicago’s many generous donors who attended. Their support enables us to provide access to cutting-edge, international cinema for free to more than 7,000 Chicago Public School students, as well as offer programs such as our free international film screenings at the Cultural Center, the Television Festival, CineYouth and much more.”


The highlight of the evening was an intimate conversation led by Bill Kurtis, who first welcomed Hackford to the stage to reminisce about his career as a director and producer, and his ability to spot talent in career-transforming roles, including his casting of Jamie Foxx (then only known for comedy) in “Ray.” Next, Mirren took the stage, and discussed some of her favorite roles and her creative process. Asked if her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth had seen her performance in “The Queen,” she said that she did not know, and will never know, but that she got the sense from those who know the Queen that her performance “is appreciated.”


Many of the couple’s friends in the film industry took the time to record video tributes to Mirren and Hackford, including Robert De Niro (“The Comedian”), Debra Winger (“An Officer and a Gentleman”), Richard Gere (“An Officer and a Gentleman”), Peter Gallagher (“The Idolmaker”), Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Ryan Reynolds (“Woman in Gold”), Al Pacino (“The Devil’s Advocate”) and director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”).


At the conclusion of the evening, Mirren and Hackford each were awarded the Gold Hugo for Career Achievement. Visibly moved, they both spoke about the importance of the Chicago International Film Festival, with Hackford noting that it was the screening of his film “The Idolmaker” as an opening night presentation at the Chicago Theatre that launched his career. Mirren added that she relishes the opportunity to perform in low-budget, independent films, and that without film festivals, many of those films would never find an audience or receive widespread distribution.


Proceeds from the event benefited Cinema/Chicago’s year-round education and outreach programs. (Fab photos by Mila Samokhina)

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