Chicago Underground Film Festival: The Shorts | Movie Review | Chicago Reader

Chicago Underground Film Festival: The Shorts 

Reader critics assess eight short works screening in the 25th edition

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click to enlarge Amarillo Ramp

Amarillo Ramp

Some of the best films screening at the festival each year are short works. Following are reviews of eight that are featured in various programs; for more information visit cuff.org.

Writer-director Jennifer Reeder (Signature Move) tackles the Brothers Grimm with All Small Bodies (Sat 6/9. 6:30 PM), a grisly update of "Hansel and Gretel" set in a post-apocalyptic but still verdant forest. Two orphaned girls fight hunger, only to fall in with a pervy kidnapper (Tim Plester from Game of Thrones) who reckons they'll make a fine snack. He reckons wrong. –Andrea Gronvall

Bill Brown and Sabine Gruffat open their documentary Amarillo Ramp (Fri 6/8, 8:45 PM) with snapshots of cowboys, cattle, and old Route 66 artifacts, but they ditch the Texas iconography for high culture when they reach Mack Dick Ranch, site of the last earthwork by sculptor and photographer Robert Smithson. Resembling an ancient berm but evoking the sinuous curve of Smithson’s earlier Spiral Jetty, the ramp—only yards from where Smithson later died in a plane crash—serves as a meditation on entropy and infinity. –AG

Clouds of Petals (Sat 6/9, 2 PM), an installation video from artist Sarah Meyohas, examines notions of beauty and creativity within a gridded, regimented environment. In the atrium of Bell Works, the giant R&D facility that architect Eero Saarinen designed for Bell Telephone, 19 office temps process bushels of roses to find and digitally photograph 100,000 "perfect" petals; computers convert the images into an algorithm for regeneration in which, as with snowflakes, no two are the same. The floral close-ups carry an erotic charge, as does the image of a python slithering by. –AG

The subject of Haley McCormick's D A N C E R (Thu 6/7, 7 PM) is whatever the viewer wants her to be. Obscured by static in cotton-candy hues, she appears in parts—tap-dancing legs, lips, cleavage—that add up to something primal. With an ambient soundtrack and a scratchy VHS aesthetic, the film evokes nostalgia as well, positioning the dancer as a spark of humanity in an increasingly technological world. –Leah Pickett

click to enlarge Haute Flash
  • Haute Flash

The computer-animated Dream Journal (Sat 6/9, 9:15 PM) reflects many of the self-confessed obsessions of Canadian filmmaker Jon Rafman—gaming, fantasy, science fiction, virtual reality—but also reveals his affinity for fine art. Two female avatars traverse a constantly shifting environment, where they fend off a rapid sequence of monstrous threats. Like the Surrealists, Rafman finds nightmarish symbolism in eyes, trains, and empty corridors, but the gorging and impaling (sexual and otherwise) recall Hieronymus Bosch. –AG

Annelise Ogaard's mockumentary Girl Powder (Thu 6/7, 9:15 PM), which follows the twentysomething CEO of a modish drug cartel, satirizes both millennial startups and the Vice-style shorts that profile them. "I like to say we're farm-to-glass-table," says the pink-skirted entrepreneur, in one of many lines that exemplify the filmmaker's gift for breezy black comedy. –LP

Subtitled "An Infrared Ode to Menopause," Marne Lucas's Haute Flash (Thu 6/7, 7 PM) is a strange yet hopeful depiction of a woman's relationship with her aging body. Marne shot this along the Hawaiian coastline on a military-grade thermographic camera, using its hazy black-and-white video, heat sensitivity, and crosshairs to great effect: the coast resembles the moon’s surface and the woman a space alien under surveillance. Her poses, from washing herself in dark water to cradling a mannequin head, suggest rebirth. –LP

"I post, therefore I am" is the apparent ethos of the Generation Z kids documented in John Fullmer's SRY! (Thu 6/7, 7 PM), a tightly edited collection of YouTube videos in which each poster, a child or a teenager, apologizes for not uploading a new video in a while. Though the kids have different accents and ethnicities, Fullmer's experimental collage serves to highlight the eeriness of their similarities. Mostly they record from their bedrooms, on iPhones or webcams, offering excuses that range from schoolwork to anxiety about what to post—a sad comment on the current obsession with Internet presence as performance. –LP

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Agenda Teaser

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June 13

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