Chicago restaurants lay an important foundation for a new film centered around love, romantic tribulations, and that pivotal social experience that unites us all: dining. "Open Tables" makes its premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival this season, shining the spotlight on a cast of Chicago actors and a smorgasbord of local restaurants and bars.
Directed by Chicago's own Jack C. Newell, "Open Tables" weaves a complicated story of love, divvied into two main acts and interspersed with food-filled flashbacks. The film starts with a group of friends at a dinner party designed to spark a flame between two attendees. During this first act, the audience gets an intimate glimpse into the lives of the dinner guests in attendance, as characters interact, try to impress one another and reminisce. During the second act, which takes place six months after the dinner party, things really get dramatic; relationships unravel, truths come to light, and of course, Chicago restaurants take the stage.
"The person you eat with is the most important thing; it's as important as the food," Newell said, summarizing the central thesis of "Open Tables" and the origin of his idea, which occurred to him while visiting Paris for New Year's Eve. He refers to restaurants as potential place-making experiences, spaces filled with emotional value not just because of the food or the environment, but more so because of the company you keep while dining. Newell added, "A restaurant is just a space, but with people in it, that's what makes it worthwhile."
To bring that sentiment home, Newell tells a story filled with emotional value and connection in "Open Tables." Back when Bonsoiree (now Table, Donkey & Stick) was open, he and his girlfriend (now wife) dined there one Sunday for their menu-less tasting menu. Calling it one of the best dinners they've had, Newell recalled an "amazing clam dish" and a mustard soup. "Cool, inventive, creative, fresh; we had this really amazing time." And then two weeks later, the restaurant abruptly shuttered. "I remember being so wistful that we would never have that experience again," he said. "These restaurants that we go to, we take for granted sometimes."
In order to more properly honor memorable and amazing dining experiences like these, Newell sought to dig deeper with his film. "The film is less focused on actual food and eating, and more on the idea that comes up around the fellowship of food." Because without the emotional connection and the memorable company, that clam dish and that mustard soup probably wouldn't render Newell as wistful.
And that's precisely the fervor captured in "Open Tables." Filmed 70 percent in Chicago and 30 percent in Paris, the latter of which featured Parisian actors and was filmed in a matter of two days, "Open Tables" was filmed in the likes of Trenchermen, Longman & Eagle's Off Site Bar, Sixteen, Urban Belly's original Avondale location, and by the 5411 Empanadas food truck, among others. The conviviality inherent in dining out brings about these shared emotional experiences between characters, allowing the audience to learn more about them and their relationships via interactions over the dinner table and through recollections.
Filled with Chicago talent and filmed in some of Chicago's best restaurants, "Open Tables" is a unique and appetizing story of love and the sentimental vitality of dining amongst friends. The movie makes its premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival in October and tickets are now on sale. Learn more and view the trailer here.
Photos: Open Tables stills from Urban Belly, Trenchermen and Longman & Eagle