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Chicago Underground Film Festival 

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The 11th annual Chicago Underground Film Festival runs Wednesday, August 18, through Tuesday, August 24, at the 3 Penny. Tickets are $5 for matinees, $7 for screenings after 7:00. The opening screening and reception is $15. Festival passes are $75; a $35 pass admits you to ten films. To purchase advance tickets call 866-468-3401. For more information

call 773-525-3449. Following is the schedule for August 18 and 19; a complete festival schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com. Films marked with an asterisk (*) are highly recommended.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18

The Manson Family

Jim Van Bebber's long-delayed drama about the Tate-LaBianca killings, screened at the 1997 festival as a work in progress, was completed last year and made its world premiere in the UK. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. 93 min. The screening will be followed by a reception and Festival Kick-off Party. (8:00)

THURSDAY, AUGUST 19

Patriot Acts

Experimental film and video makers speak the truth to power in this mixed bag of shorts. Lee Lanier's giddy Weapons of Mass Destruction uses goofy 3-D animation to illustrate punning political terms, and Aaron Valdez's hilarious State of the Union (1998) reduces a Clinton address to nothing but empty statistics and rapturous applause (a sequel featuring President Bush was unavailable for preview). This kooky preaching to the choir is no substitute for political insight, but there's something to be said for the disquieting abstraction and allusion of Kelly Reichardt's guilt-ridden Travis and Deborah Stratman's nightmarish Energy Country, both of which obliquely question the motives for the Iraq invasion. 97 min. (JJ) (5:30)

Abstract Expressions

Short experimental videos and celluloid-to-video transfers. 77 min. (6:00)

Exist

More mystery than polemic, this low-budget video drama by Esther Bell focuses on the growing conflict between two young men in a Philadelphia squatters' camp, one a privileged black college dropout (Ben Bartlett) and the other a poor white kid (Nic Mevoli) estranged from his father, an alcoholic cop. After a police raid on their home leaves an officer dead, the rich kid disappears, and the poor one, pressured by his father, sets out to find the suspected cop killer. Bartlett and Mevoli give appealing performances, and Bell adds to the authenticity by peppering their radical clique with real-life activists. The gonzo camera style and judicious use of slow and fast motion enhance the restless feeling of lives spent on the fringe. 80 min. (AG) (7:15)

War

Jake Mahaffy directed this 35-millimeter feature about a preacher, a farmer, and a junk dealer trying to survive in a decaying American midwest. 84 min. (7:30)

* Weapons of Mass Deception

See Critic's Choice. (9:00)

Seafarers

British documentarian Jason Massot produced, directed, and shot this melancholy rumination on the loneliness of the long-distance sailor. A Swede deserted by his family, a disillusioned Polynesian, an embittered Liberian, and an angry, profane Croat all work different boats but share the psychic scars of their interminable sea travel. Their sense of solitude is so entrenched that they derive scant pleasure from leave in Rotterdam, whose industrial docks, cafes, shops, trams, and downtown streets seem weirdly underpopulated. Will Oldham provides the video's haunting acoustic-guitar score. In English and subtitled Croatian and Tuvaluan. 78 min. (AG) (9:15)

Jandek on Corwood

For the past 25 years, a musician calling himself Jandek has been issuing eccentric, lo-fi recordings (characterized by one critic as "suicide note blues") on his own label, Corwood Industries, which operates out of a Houston post office box. Director Chad Friedrichs works around Jandek's closely guarded anonymity by interpolating shots of the PO box and rocks on the beach with the talking heads of fans, critics, and journalists, always with lots of Jandek's wistful, haunting music. A concluding telephone interview with the reclusive artist suggests he's a fairly regular guy who's kept making records only because his first one garnered a favorable review. 88 min. (FC) (10:45)

* Shock and Awe

This densely packed program of eight experimental videos focuses on national affairs, particularly the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq, and it's more varied and less preachy than one might expect. The formal approaches run the gamut from near abstract exercises in image manipulation to simple recutting of found footage. Joon Soo Ha's Just (2002) degrades film footage of a waving flag by reproducing each frame first on a color printer and then on a photocopier, to haunting effect. Alain Pelletier's World Trade Opera (2003), the longest item, matches roughed-up images of urban and rural landscape with the periodic reading of disturbing environmental statistics. Other pieces are less successful, but overall the program is quite good. 85 min. (HSa) (11:00)

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