Updated Monday at 3:40 p.m.
A great booster of independent and foreign films in Chicago has died. Facets Multimedia founder Milos Stehlik’s death was confirmed Sunday by a board member at the organization. In addition to screening a wide-range of films, Facets in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood also includes a large library of films and hosts the annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. According to its website, the nonprofit “connect[s] 30,000 people annually to independent ideas through film.”
Stehlik, 70, was born in Slany, Czechoslovakia in 1949 and came to Chicago in the 1960s, according to Facets spokesperson Paul Gonter. Stehlik and Nicole Dreiske founded Facets in 1975.
Stehlik was a presence at WBEZ since the 1980s, doing film reviews, according to Worldview host Jerome McDonnell.
“Milos wanted artistic excellence for everybody to have,” McDonnell said. He added that Stehlik wanted a “grassroots artistic excellence world.”
McDonnell added that Stehlik “was trying to make the best of the human experience accessible through film.”
Stehlik had a stellar reputation in the film world, serving on the board of the Telluride Film Festival, and was a known figure at the Cannes Film Festival.
McDonnell said Stehlik wanted great films that explore other cultures to be accessible to all filmgoers, to “live empathetically through these films, learn, love.”
Former WBEZ host and current Facets board member Gretchen Helfrich met Stehlik in the 1990s when she was producing his reviews. “The access that Facets provides to people in Chicago … [is] to a range of films that would otherwise be more difficult to come by,” Helfrich said of the film center’s influence.
“Facets literally broadens people’s horizons,” she said.
Stehlik made his last public appearance at Facets on May 11 for a master class with Werner Herzog. There is also a page dedicated to The Milos Stehlik Legacy Fund. Helfrich said the board of directors and staff are committed to continuing the work Stehlik started and “making that mission outlast Milos is the best thing we can do to honor him.”
The Facets board of directors is planning a celebration of Stehlik’s life and achievements to be held at The Arts Club of Chicago, but don’t have the details at this time.
Below are excerpted memories from some of the WBEZ and film community:
Steve Bynum, senior producer of WBEZ’s Worldview:
“Milos Stehlik is one of my greatest teachers, for he taught me that beauty, rather than something we create, is always existent, waiting to be discovered. He inspires me still to venture out and travail, with no regard to fear, in empathy and passion. Self-discovery and community-building through film was Milos’ prescription to heal our human brokenness.”
Alexandra Salomon, former producer of Worldview, current editor of Curious City:
“Milos brought the world to Chicago through his love of film. It was an amazing way to connect people from every corner of the globe through art. His passion and appreciation for film didn’t mean he’d give a lousy one a pass. His critique not just of movies but of the system was unlike any other. It made us all pay a little more attention, think a little deeper, question a little more. The world won’t look the same without him.”
Michael Phillips, film critic, Chicago Tribune:
“Milos’ death over the weekend is a terrible loss, but also a strangely wonderful occasion to reflect on the impact he had on Chicago film and Chicago culture, but also national and international film culture.
I was in college at the time when I first became aware of the Facets video catalogue, and when that hit the offices of the Minnesota Daily in the ‘80s, it was like a sonic boom, the size of that thing and the thousands of titles. We would pour over it, and that was before I got to know him at the Tribune.
The best thing he ever said to me at a film festival was: ‘A big festival like Cannes is a great place to see a movie, but a tough place to trust your judgement.’ And when someone who was so savvy and schooled and a veteran of the scene could own up to that kind of fatigue in the festival environment, it makes you feel better.
I miss him already, and I hope Facets has a long and prosperous second act without him.”
Jean de St. Aubin, executive director, Gene Siskel Film Center:
“What a loss to the film community and the arts in Chicago. Milos Stehlik was a tireless champion of cinema who will be greatly missed. As the founder and director of Facets Multimedia, he introduced international and experimental cinema to Chicago — it was almost a calling for him. As friendly competitors, we at the Gene Siskel Film Center greatly respected and admired Milos. His reviews on WBEZ made film exciting and accessible which benefited both the public and all film presenters in the city. As a colleague and friend, he will be greatly missed.”
Monica Eng, reporter, WBEZ:
“I first spoke to Milos as a teenage copy clerk at the Chicago Sun-Times back in the mid-80s, because it was part of my job to take messages for the film writers like Roger Ebert and Lloyd Sachs on paper. I found his accent incredibly sophisticated and the films he brought to town beyond my mental grasp — things grown-ups like Roger, Lloyd and Milos would talk about.
The next time we’d be in touch was when I started reviewing Facets films — first for college outlets, then the Daily Southtown and Chicago Tribune. Milos would sometimes be at the screenings. He was still brilliant, but always gracious and thoughtful whether I loved the film at Facets that week or didn’t quite get it.”
Finally at WBEZ, over the last five years, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Milos as a friend and colleague. Each Friday, he always had something new to tell me, and he always had a smile. And I always left our conversations wishing I didn’t have a deadline to meet and that we could chat for a few minutes longer.
Chaz Ebert, CEO, Ebert Enterprises:
“Milos, through his Facets Multimedia company, became one of the biggest advocates of international film and amassed a catalogue of the largest foreign film collection in the United States. And because of his own challenging childhood in Czechoslovakia, he became an advocate for good children’s cinema through his Children’s International Film Festival and his app that allowed children all over the country to access these films. He often spoke about the civilizing effects of mature cinema that showed the human condition in the full range of its messy but ultimately redemptive state. He was passionate about this and made it his life’s work.”
Carrie Shepherd is a news reporter for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @cshepherd.