There are a few events in Chicago that are both simultaneously intimate and grand. One fund raising event that I recently attended and have been most certainly fond of is the Gene Siskel’s Summer Soiree with Gwyneth Paltrow in efforts to raise funds for the Film Center’s programing. The event started with cocktails and a red carpet at the fine Ritz Carlton Chicago on June 15th, 2013. Amanda De Cadenet and Gwyneth Paltrow walked the red carpet regaling the media with their fondness for Chicago, the importance of film and education as well as the privilege and honor of being celebrated by the Gene Siskel Film Center. Less than an hour into the cocktail reception, the Academy Award-winning actress was celebrated for her breadth of work as a versatile actress and treated more than 445 guests to an intimate discussion led by host of Lifetime TV’s “The Conversation” and Paltrow’s dear friend Amanda De Cadenet. The event also honored chair of the GSFC Advisory Board Ellen Sandor for her 10 extraordinary years of leadership and dedication to the Film Center. Co-chaired by GSFC Advisory Board members Eda Davidman and Melissa Sage Fadim, the event raised an unprecedented $410,000 to benefit the Film Centers eclectic programming.
Led by Davidman and Sage Fadim the Benefit Host Committee included Marlene Iglitzen, Anita Liskey, Margaret MacLean, David E. Martin, Susanna Negovan, Ellen Sandor and Roopa P. Weber. Gala sponsors included The Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Foundation, MacLean-Fogg Company, Sage Foundation, Allstate, SPLASH – A Wrapports Publication, Sun-Times Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, BMO Harris Bank, Marlene Iglitzen/Gene Siskel Charitable Fund, Averill and Bernard Leviton, Redbox and The Ritz-Carlton Chicago.
The ballroom was beautifully and intimately decorated, very fit for a summer evening soiree. Guests were greeted by Executive Director of GSFC Jean De St. Aubin who then introduced SAIC President Dr. Walter E. Massey followed by SAIC Chancellor Emeritus Tony Jones. Jones paid special tribute to one of the main driving forces behind the Film Center, Chair of the GSFC Advisory Board Ellen Sandor, who was honored for her legacy and achievements in a touching video narrated by actor and Chicago native Bob Balaban. Praised for her unwavering, fearless leadership, Sandor was presented with the Outstanding Leadership Award for her incredible passion and dedication to both the Film Center and the arts. GSFC Director of Programming Barbara Scharres also took the stage to celebrate and honor the legacy of Roger Ebert. Scharres and all 445 guests raised a glass to the film critic whose contributions will leave a lasting mark on film and film criticism.
Following Scharres toast guests were treated to a surprise personal video from Paltrow’s friend and current co-star, past Renaissance Award recipient, Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan Downey, offering their heartfelt congratulations on Paltrow’s exciting honor.
Guests enjoyed an elegant four-course dinner inspired by Paltrow’s own cookbooks and themed after some of her most notable films beginning with a “View From the Top” of the dinner, offering a chilled avocado and cucumber soup. Guests received their first course salad or “The ‘Proof’ that Kale is Good!” followed by the main course or “The Talented Mr. Ripley and Marge Sherwood Duo,” consisting of seared beef tenderloin and slow cooked halibut. A trio of desserts paid homage to her Oscar-winning role in “Shakespeare in Love” and included a new take on Paltrow’s own recipe, a peach and strawberry pavlova, a bittersweet chocolate tart and pistachio mascarpone cake.
Immediately following dinner Amanda De Cadenet took the stage and called upon her longtime friend Gwyneth Paltrow to join her for a lively conversation about Paltrow’s career, influences, motherhood and more. Clips of Paltrow’s films were interspersed throughout the conversation and after seeing the incredible versatility and large scope of work that she has done, Paltrow modestly quipped “are you sure you are not all bored yet.” Far from bored, the audience listened to Paltrow explain how she chooses the roles she plays, ranging from empowering women to super-hero sidekick. She spoke of her close relationship with both of her parents and their strong influence on her career and her everyday life as well as the effect motherhood has had on her work both on-and-off-screen. Paltrow also spoke of her infamous guest role on the musical phenomenon “Glee” which she admitted to not being aware of until receiving a phone call from creator and dear friend Ryan Murphy urging her to participate.
Dr. Massey and Sandor concluded the evening by presenting Paltrow with the Renaissance Award. Paltrow thanked the Gene Siskel Film Center for the incredible honor and commented on how important institutions such as the Film Center were for their contribution and continued support for true filmmaking.