With a name like James Bond, a career in the movies was almost unavoidable for this Chicagoan, and through covert work behindthe scenes—maintaining film archives and exploring the fine art of projection—he too has become an international treasure.
Roger Ebert once called him “one of the best film projectionists in the world,” and his unparalleled expertise and eye for detail has made him a mainstay at film festivals from Milwaukee to Kazakhstan. But there’s also work closer to home that has Bond’s stamp all over it. In addition to knowing how to properly screen films, Bond also designs, builds, installs and maintains motion picture equipment for universities, archives, museums and architects of some of the best film houses around.
If you’ve ever seen a movie at the Music Box Theatre or Gene Siskel Film Center (even the Wilmette Theatre back in the day), you know the experience is second to none—and Bond is to thank for that. “Over the years, I’ve learned every aspect of what it takes to build a proper film facility from the electronics and acoustics, to sight lines and noise floor—all the things people don’t realize are important aspects, but they are,” he says, admitting, “There are only a few theaters in Chicago that can show correctly.”
The work is laborious, but worth it, he says. The Gene Siskel Film Center took two-and-a-half years to implement, which is not uncommon. It’s currently undergoing a major renovation expected to be complete in the spring of 2016. Bond’s latest project finds him collaborating with Lake Forest’s Gorton Community Center to transform the John & Nancy Hughes Theater into a state-of-the-art screening room with DCP film projection, digital lighting and enhanced sound. “We had 10 pages of highly-detailed schematics,” Bond says of the meticulous design. In 2016, the theater will celebrate the accomplishment with the John Hughes Film Series. Bond worked with Hughes nearly 25 years ago on one of Hughes’ classic films. “It was one of my first jobs,” he recalls of being hired as the projectionist for Hughes and working alongside the editors and cinematographers to lock in nearly 15 reels of 35mm footage every day for months. “They expected perfection and I provided it,” he says noting how passionate he is about details and technique. It’s something Bond first learned as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After falling in love
with motion picture films as a teenager, specifically the work of the great British actor Alec Guinness (“He was a huge influence in my life”), Bond decided to enroll in the film school. “I studied there for four years and then dropped out.
Two weeks later they asked me to come back and teach,” he says. He did so for five years but it was his self-taught passion for developing the aesthetic of movie watching that took his attention and he ran with it, turning it into a successful 33-year career.
In that time Bond has been named head projectionist of the annual Ebertfest: Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Bond restored U of I’s Virginia Theatre, where the fest is held) and he also founded Chicago’s Cinema Borealis movie festival, which drew significant crowds during its 10-year run. It’s also the name of his private loft space in Wicker Park where Bond meets with archivists regularly to screen a variety of gilded footage. “It’s my life,” he admits, keen to make sure there’s never a last picture show.
For more information about Gorton Community Center and its film
series, visit gortoncenter.org