Doc Films is on record with the Museum of Modern Art as the longest continuously running student film society in the nation, looking back on a more than 75 year old history.

A Short History of Doc

Doc Films was founded in December 1940 as the International House Documentary Film Group, though its antecedents stretch back to 1932. Initially the group focused on "the realist study of our time via nonfiction film," but the documentary alone could not sustain the organization; within a few years, the group's programs expanded to include fiction and experimental films, a mixture that it maintains to this day.

Past film series at Doc have showcased diverse artists, genres and national cinemas or tackled subjects like feminism and human rights. Doc routinely shows prints from some of the country's leading film archives.

Many film directors, among them Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and John Ford, have visited Doc to present films and lead discussions. Over the decades Doc has hosted an astonishing number of Chicago premieres, giving the city its first glimpse of such masterpieces as The Rules of the Game, Au hasard Balthazar and Brokeback Mountain.

Volunteering for Doc has led several former students to careers in filmmaking and film criticism. Former members include Ernest Callenbach, founding editor of Film Quarterly; Gordon Quinn and Gerald Temaner, co-founders of Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, Golub, Home for Life) and filmmakers Aaron Lipstadt (City Limits, Android) and Myron Meisel (It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles).

Perhaps the character of Doc Films is best encapsulated by our entry in Vanity Fair's The Film Snob's Dictionary (March 2004, p. 332): "The film society of the University of Chicago, founded in 1932 as the Documentary Film Group. Hard-core beyond words and lay comprehension, the society is populated by 19-year olds who have already seen every film ever made, and boasts its own Dolby Digital-equipped cinema and an impressive roster of alumni that includes-new Snob-revered critic Dave Kehr."

Doc Films hopes to reach a wide-ranging audience, from film aficionados to casual moviegoers, by cultivating and facilitating an excitement for the study of film. Our mission is to nurture and inspire future writers, filmmakers, and creative artists to tackle the professional world of cinema.

What was Doc Films? (2018) is projectionist Finn Jubak's ('18) catalogue of a quarter of operations and events at Doc, investigating our history and institutional memory.

How Doc Works

Providing an unquestioned resource to the University of Chicago and wider city community, Doc Films screens movies every night of the academic year, dedicating one night a week to a particular theme, often featuring movies that could not be seen elsewhere.

Besides regular screenings, Doc hosts a variety of special events, such as conversations with directors, faculty members, critics or other experts as well as sneak previews and student films produced by Fire Escape Films.

Doc is exclusively run by volunteers who manage every aspect from programming film series to projecting films. They also annually elect the Doc Executive Board.

If you are interested in getting involved or partnering with Doc on a special event, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in receiving regular announcements about upcoming events at Doc Films, please subscribe to our Doc Films mailing list.

The Max Palevsky Cinema

Dedicated to providing a low-cost, high-quality venue for artistic, relevant and socially important domestic and international movies, Doc currently shows films at the University of Chicago's Max Palevsky Cinema, located at 1212 East 59th Street. The theater is named after Max Palevsky, whose generous gift allowed Doc to build and operate a state-of-the-art cinema.

The cinema boasts two Simplex 35mm projectors with Christie xenon lamphouses, one Eastman 25 16mm projector, and a HIGHlite 8000Dsx+ made by Digital Projection Inc, throwing 8000 ANSI Lumens and contrast ratio of 2000:1. The projectors' variable speed and full aperture lens allow Doc Films to present silent films in the closest approximation to their original exhibition. The theater's Dolby Digital and Digital Theater Systems (dts) audio systems meet the highest standards in digital sound.

If you're interested in hosting an event at Doc Films, please contact our Special Events Chair through email.

The Doc Library

The Doc Library contains a substantial collection of film literature. If you are a current volunteer and/or board member, you can check out any book on the shelves in the Doc Office. For more information, please contact the librarian at

The Doc-mocracy

See our governing document to explore the duties of the doc films board, internal review tactics, and guiding principals.

Donate to Doc

Doc Films is part of the University of Chicago, a 501(c)3 organization registered within the State of Illinois. Donations to Doc Films are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please check with your tax advisor.

Gifts of all sizes are welcome. Please help, too, by checking with your employer to see if your donation qualifies for a Matching Gift Program.

GIVE NOW    Under area of giving, please scroll down to DOC Films.

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