Highlights from the Chicago Underground Film Festival
May 31 – June 4, 2017
by Leslie Gray
1992, a Chicago suburb
Open on two male clerks at Video Adventure. Guy #1 has returned from the Famous Monsters of Filmland Convention, where he had a revelation. He pitches it to Guy #2.
“Let’s start an underground film festival.”
“Alright”, Guy #2 says, recently post-woman, post-job and possibly post-Chicago, “what have I got to lose.”
Fast-forward a quarter century later to the 24th Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF) – the longest running in the world.
This year, 102 independent, experimental and documentary films were showcased from May 31 – June 4 at Chicago’s Logan Theatre. Widely recognized and respected, the festival is helmed by none other than Guy #2, Artistic Director and Programmer Bryan Wendorf.
I ask Bryan what he looks for when choosing films.
In our early days we were very influenced by Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, George Kuchar, Craig Baldwin, John Waters. Films that were deliberately shocking or provocative. Over the years I became much more interested in formal experimentation. ‘Underground’ means a lot of different things to different people and I try to explore all those different interpretations.
While CUFF’s films push boundaries in either subject or format, the fest’s vibe is decidedly mid-Western: laid-back, intimate and unpolished. This is a beer and T-shirt kind of film fest.
Given that the boundaries between filmmaker and audience, creator and critic are almost nonexistent here, I ask Bryan what he thinks a filmmaker is anyway.
I've attended film screenings where no actual film ran through the projector…where a super8 projector was turned on a screen and various objects (a crystal ashtray, a glass of whiskey etc) manipulated by the "filmmaker" to create patterns of light.
To me, Bryan says, that is as much a "film" by a "filmmaker" as a narrative feature or a documentary.
A filmmaker, he says, is anyone who uses film or more often video to create or express something.
Below are a few standouts from the festival – you can view a full list here. If you want to submit your film for 2018, check CUFF.org in August for details.
All used with permission of CUFF.org, unless otherwise noted.
CUFF JURY AWARD:
THE PINK EGG, dir. Jim Trainor
71 min., 2016, USA
“You can find all of Shakespeare and De Sade in the lives of insects”
MADE IN CHICAGO AWARD:
HOW TO HAVE YOUR / OWN TELEVISION SHOW / (YOU ALREADY DO), dir. Jesse Malmed
13 min., 2016, USA
Trippy instructions on how to save yourself in the age of surveillance, set to a bootleg of Peter Hutton’s “Florence”. Channels that moment when stoner philosophy, the Twilight Zone and insomnia start to make sense.
CUFF JURY AWARD:
As Without So Within, dir. Manuela de Laborde
25 min., 2016, Mexico/United Kingdom/US
Do surfaces have depth? As Without So Within Investigates by transforming prop sculptures with framing, lighting, superimposition and projection.
CUFF JURY AWARD
Indefinite Pitch, dir. James N. Kienitz Wilkins
23 min., 2016, USA
We’re pitched a “pathetic” movie for a film set in Berlin, New Hampshire, that evolves into an extended reflection on the Northeast
– all using a pitch that has been reconfigured from a 1927 silent movie filmed in Berlin.
Luna E Santur , dir. Joshua Gen Solondz
10 min., 2016, USA
As reviewer Colin Beckett described, the film intertwines “Sex and death with the supernatural and subnaturalistic. Isn’t it always like that?
Fuck All Boys From Uptown, dir. K$K (Kira Summer Klein)
15 min., 2016, USA
Director’s Summary: Sometimes "f*ck you" and "I love you" means the same thing.
STATES OF DECAY dir. James Bishop
14 min., 2016, UK
Middle America is filled with stunning abandoned buildings you’re not allowed to go into. Photographer Todd Daleish went there and James Bishop filmed it.