Chicago Underground Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

Chicago Underground Film Festival 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Now in its 13th year, the Chicago Underground Film Festival features experimental, documentary, and narrative works by independent film and video makers. Screenings continue through Thursday, August 24, at the Music Box. Tickets are $8; a festival pass, good for all screenings, is $100. For more information visit www.cuff.org.

FRIDAY 18

Keeping Time

Irene Lusztig's video The Samantha Smith Project recalls the little girl who traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983 to meet premier Yuri Andropov. Three more shorts complete the program. 80 min. a 5:45 PM.

In Loving Memory

Robert Todd directed this 16-millimeter documentary about death row inmates, which screens with five short works. Total running time is 75 minutes. a 6 PM.

Shattered

This brooding, somewhat surreal video is described as a "poem on the life and work of Barney Rosset," the owner of Grove Press (which published Beckett, Genet, and others). But it would be pretty hard to figure that out from seeing it--or to guess what else it might be about. Unexplained computer-synthesized faces drift through, Buster Keaton repeatedly locking himself in a room could stand for Rosset, and various performers recite texts (most from Rosset's writings). Director James Fotopoulos's images are dreamily suggestive and starkly beautiful, and repeating scenes create a sense of an entrapping cycle, but nothing quite comes together. 77 min. (FC) a 7:30 PM.

Danielson: A Family Movie

J.L. Aronson's documentary on Daniel Smith and his siblings, who perform as the alt-rock Christian band the Danielson Famile, offers no juicy exposes of cultish faith or dysfunctional family dynamics, and nonfans may be put off by its relative lack of dramatic tension and soft-focus analog video, which paints the Smiths' childhood, adolescence, and musical career in a sort of rosy-holy light. But the live footage, the weave of personal and professional history (marriages, births, tours), the observations from nonrelatives who've played in the band (especially Chris Palladino and Sufjan Stevens), the assorted tidbits (animated sequences, remarks about faith and rock from Steve Albini, of all people), and the commentary from delighted, frightened, or puzzled audience members supply a context for Daniel Smith's religious odyssey that makes even his terrifying falsetto seem reasonable. 105 min. (Monica Kendrick) a 7:45 PM.

R Bulldog in the Whitehouse

Prolific underground director Todd Verow riffs on Dangerous Liaisons, playing a gay hustler deployed by queen Karl Rove (Theodore Bouloukos) to bed his way to the top of the Bush leagues. Verow knows how to get the most out of a throbbing close-up, and with his killer bod and air of reptilian menace he shares some smoldering sex scenes with a tormented press secretary (Jono Mainelli), a punk GOP honcho (Michael Burke), and the dim-bulb president (well played by Bryan Safi). The movie is too serious to qualify as melodrama or camp (though the low-budget sets are pretty funny) and not quite graphic enough to be porn. But as a treatise on how power corrupts, it's a corker. 79 min. (AG) a 9:15 PM.

Moments of Greatness

Music videos featuring the Chemical Brothers, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Negativland, Black Mountain, Starter Set, Cat Power, and others. a 9:45 PM.

Glam-o-Rama Short works in various formats, mostly experimental. 76 min. a 11 PM.

Dangerous Men

Shot over several decades, this shoestring production by John S. Rad has built up a cult following on the strength of its singularly perverse vision. It begins as a revenge fantasy--after being raped by two loutish bikers, a woman poses as a prostitute and kills her johns--but any plot momentum is subverted by cutaways that have nothing to do with the action. About halfway through the movie Rad drops the woman altogether, focusing instead on a cop as he tries to track down an albino biker named Black Pepper. 80 min. (JK) a 11:30 PM.

SATURDAY 19

In Loving Memory

See listing for Fri 8/18. a Noon.

R Making Waves

Documentarian Michael Lahey recounts the brief but rocky history of the Tucson pirate station KAVL FM, which was launched in response to the 1996 Telecommunications Act that permitted media monopolies to buy up more local stations. It's a chilling and instructive tale about the curtailment of free expression, though Lahey's video (2004, 64 min.) favors crankiness and jokey found footage over polemics. A better reason for attending this program is Paul Chan's Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry (18 min.), an experimental yet plainspoken work in which the radical human-rights lawyer, unjustly convicted in February 2005 of aiding foreign terrorists, reads poems and reflects on her life and prospects while Chan finds original and lyrical ways of depicting her. (JR) a 1 PM.

The Tailenders

From its humble beginnings in Depression-era Los Angeles, Gospel Recordings has developed into a worldwide evangelical operation--Global Recordings Network--that distributes cassette tapes of scripture readings and hand-cranked players to remote third-world cultures; with its library of recordings in more than 5,000 languages and dialects, it also preserves some tongues that would otherwise be lost forever. This video documentary by Adele Horne is rather drily presented, but it's also uncommonly thoughtful, examining the complex interrelationship between Protestant values, machine culture, and modern imperialism. Horne's murmuring voice-over can be lamentably didactic, but given the unsophisticated villagers' fascination with technology, it's fair to ask whether they convert to Christianity in pursuit of eternal life or a luxury car. 72 min. (JJ) a 1:45 PM.

Chance Encounters

Paul Lloyd Sargent's Random Sampling #3--which combines video of Humboldt Park with samples of found audiotapes--anchors this program of experimental shorts. 78 min. a 2:30 PM.

R Lay Down Tracks

Danielle Lombardi and Brigid McCaffrey used a 16-millimeter Bolex and nonsynchronous sound to make this spare, pensive travel film about five professional loners: a carny, a female trucker, a troubleshooting railroad executive, a chimney sweep who spends his leisure time surfing, and a nun who's also the country's first female riverboat pilot. The voice-over interviews play like interior monologues as the subjects explain how their lives were shaped by their career choices (and vice versa) and wonder how others perceive them. If every journey is a process of self-discovery, these five globe-trotters are experts on the soul. 60 min. (AG) Also on the program: short works by Roger Beebe and Robert Todd. a 3:30 PM.

From the Mountains to the Prairies

Todd Chandler's Magnolia Electric Co., a video tour diary featuring the title band, is featured in this program of short works. 78 min. a 4:15 PM.

We're Not Laughing With You, We're Laughing at You

Comic shorts, both video and 35-millimeter. 74 min. a 5:15 PM.

The Young and the Restless

Short videos, including Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby's Song of Praise for the Heart Beyond Cure. 80 min. a 6 PM.

R The Monks--The Translatlantic Feedback

The Monks were a short-lived rock band launched in the mid-60s by five army vets in Germany. They began as a run-of-the-mill combo, but an encounter with two German admen transformed them into concept-rock mimimalists who wore black robes and matching tonsures and whose sole album, Black Monk Time, presaged the rise of heavy metal and punk. This absorbing video documentary by Dietmar Post and Luc'a Palacios tells the Monks' story with precision and flair, climaxing with a 1999 reunion gig in New York. But it's the witty and unsentimental interviews with the five band members that reveal their focus and idiosyncratic brilliance. 100 min. (Peter Margasak) a 7 PM.

Valley Girl

Gallery video artist Michelle O'Marah deconstructs the 1983 teen romance of the same title, which was directed by Martha Coolidge. This oddity has none of the original's charm, yet it manages to comment on Hollywood film culture through its very clunkiness. The nonprofessional actors are too old to play teenagers, which only raises the question of why audiences readily accept the same disparity in mainstream movies. The poor lighting and tacky rear-screen projection call attention to film artifice, which in turn highlights the creakiness of high-school-movie conventions. Still, it's all a little too arch, and so very meta. 112 min. (AG) a 8 PM.

Dance Party USA

Aaron Katz directed this video feature about two teens who meet at an Independence Day party in Portland, Oregon. Also on the program: Todd Davis's short In the Tradition of My Family. 75 min. a 9 PM.

Rhinoplasty

Rich kids in Mexico City snort coke and harass people in this video by Yoshua Okon. Short works complete the program. 75 min. a 10 PM.

Headspace

Directed by Jethro Senger, this video documentary offers yet another inquiry into rave culture, held together by a narrative frame in which hopped-up kids drive around the Detroit area searching for a party. Various talking heads regurgitate one cliche after another, and as a kind of visual analog of the club experience, extended passages of kids dancing are treated with excessive digital effects. 90 min. (Peter Margasak) a 10:45 PM.

SUNDAY 20

We're Not Laughing With You, We're Laughing at You

See listing for Sat 8/19. a Noon.

Weird Paul: A Lo-Fidelity Documentary

Stacey Goldschmidt directed this video profile of Pittsburgh lo-fi recording artist Paul Petroskey. 60 min. a 1 PM.

R Palestine Blues

This first-person documentary about the effects of the security wall Israel's building across occupied Palestine in defiance of the International Court of Justice is an affecting cri de coeur, though director Nida Sinnokrot takes sides--we don't hear about any Palestinian terrorism. It's hard not to mourn with Arabs who've been convicted of nothing but have been driven out of homes and farms where their families have lived and worked for generations or to stomach the "Israelis only" road across which a Palestinian hauls furniture by hand. Bulldozers are made to seem like movie monsters, but most effective is Sinnokrot's constantly roving camera, sometimes tilted sideways, which effectively conveys the Palestinians' wrenching displacement. In English and Arabic with subtitles. 72 min. (FC) a 1:45 PM.

Subjects for Further Research

Short experimental and documentary videos. 72 min. a 2:45 PM.

R Transposition of the Great Vessels

Contemplating the American dream, Lee Lynch's 2005 debut feature follows a young husband and wife from Redding, California, to Los Angeles as they try to make a better life for themselves. Lynch based the movie on his parents' struggles, and despite a clear reverence for the past, he rigorously avoids cheap nostalgia, using spare dialogue as he charts the couple's small victories and setbacks. A sea change occurs when their first child is born with the title heart defect; underplaying the drama, Lynch maintains a respectful emotional distance as they keep vigil during the surgery to save the baby's life. 72 min. (JK) a 3:30 PM.

The Abominable Freedom

An experimental video by Torsten Z. Burns and Darrin Martin. Short works complete the program, which runs 79 minutes. a 4:30 PM.

R The Wild Condition

This 2005 video feature by Rolf Belgum (Driver 23, The Atlas Moth) manages to conjure up a marvelously strange world from the most banal ingredients: the inner lives of a feisty terrier and a grouchy, 81-year-old woman (Merrilyn Belgum). The woman's harsh judgments and senile wanderings are a burden to her lonely, overweight son (Christopher Wells), who battles cystic fibrosis and invests most of his emotional life in the pooch. At first his contentious relationship with the old woman seems to be the story's focus, but as Belgum artfully integrates vivid images of nature, we begin to sense that both she and the dog are governed by invisible and irresistible forces. 73 min. (JJ) a 5:15 PM.

The Traveler

In this terminally boring 2005 video a young Swede just finishing his MBA refuses to take his girlfriend on his summer trip. In a Berlin youth hostel he meets people from other countries, goes to discos, gets drunk, and struggles to become a writer. When his new friends leave he calls his girlfriend but gets only her message machine. He breaks down crying--but why would we care? The emotions and experiences are generic and trite, and director William Olsson's camera, staring stupidly at his characters' faces, shows all the insight of live television. In English and subtitled Norwegian and Swedish. Two shorts complete the program, which runs 73 minutes. (FC) a 6:15 PM.

The Maryland Trilogy

Jeff Krulik has been a CUFF favorite since his jaw-dropping Heavy Metal Parking Lot played the festival in 1997, and with the excellent Hitler's Hat (2003) he broke out of pop-culture kitsch into more serious themes. But this trio of short videos scrapes the bottom of the barrel: "Still Obsessed: The Further Adventures of Neil Keller" revisits the crazed collector of Jewish autographs who starred in Krulik's 2000 short Obsessed With Jews, and Heavy Metal Picnic 1985 is another exercise in dirt-head anthropology, taped not by Krulik but by one Rudy Childs. Sandwiched in between is the brief and modestly charming "The Legend of Merv Conn," in which an 85-year-old accordionist entertains at a meeting of the Masons. 72 min. (JJ) a 7 PM.

Sabbia

Sabbia is Italian for sand, which makes it a suitable title for this trippy meditation on the beauties of southern California's Coachella Valley. Taking a cue from Koyaanisqatsi, director Kate McCabe uses time-lapse photography to capture desert landscapes and evocative cloud formations; more of this imagery and fewer sequences of a blond woman wandering aimlessly would have made for a better film. Brant Bjork of Fu Manchu contributes a fine psychedelic-rock score, though the kaleidoscopic animation is about as contemporary as tie-dye. 78 min. (AG) a 8 PM.

High Score

Jeremy Mack's video documentary looks at aficionados of 80s video-arcade games. Also on the program: Casey Clark's Circuit Bending: A Toy Story, about artists who turn old toys into musical instruments. 64 min. a 8 PM.

War Games

Short documentaries on political themes, including Frederic Moffet's Jean Genet in Chicago, about the 1968 Democratic convention. 83 min. a 9:45 PM.

MONDAY 21

The Young and the Restless

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 5:45 PM.

R Making Waves

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 6 PM.

Odd Balls

Richard Drutman's Trachtenburg Family Sideshow Players: Off & On Broadway profiles the title indie-rock band. Also on the program: Ben Olson's Ball Saved, about pinball fans. 78 min. a 7:30 PM.

The Treasures of Long Gone John

This video documentary by Greg Gibbs begins as a profile of Long Gone John, whose Los Angeles punk and garage label Sympathy for the Record Industry has released more than 750 records (including the first three by the White Stripes). But in exploring John's obsessive collecting of seedy pop-culture arcana, Gibbs ends up examining LA's so-called "lowbrow" art scene and its most celebrated figure, painter and comics artist Robert Williams. The colorful assortment of talking heads--including poster artist Frank Kozik and Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves--keeps this lively, as does the humorous computer animation. 100 min. (Peter Margasak) a 7:45 PM.

Keeping Time

See listing for Fri 8/18. a 8 PM.

R The Monks--The Translatlantic Feedback

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 10 PM.

TUESDAY 22

Rhinoplasty

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 5:45 PM.

Danielson: A Family Movie

See listing for Fri 8/18. a 6 PM.

The Maryland Trilogy

See listing for Sun 8/20. a 7:45 PM.

R Last Thoughts

For this highly personal documentary Kevin Henry made use of a tape recording in which his grandfather recalled hopping trains as a boy back in the 1920s, something he had previously never divulged to anyone. Henry spent a year traveling similar routes from Oklahoma to California, aiming his 16-millimeter camera at desolate freight yards and railroad tracks, weather-beaten bridges and farm equipment; the images are rhythmically linked to the old man's halting but remarkably vivid narrative. A disturbingly violent revelation near the end imbues the film with a haunting sadness, though Henry doesn't allow it to overpower his grandfather's memories of kindness from strangers. 72 min. (JK) a 8 PM.

Glam-o-Rama

See listing for Fri 8/18. a 10 PM.

WEDNESDAY 23

Valley Girl

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 5:45 PM.

War Games

See listing for Sun 8/20. a 6 PM.

From the Mountains to the Prairies

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 7:45 PM.

The Treasures of Long Gone John

See listing for Mon 8/21. a 8 PM.

Subjects for Further Research

See listing for Sun 8/21. a 9:30 PM.

Headspace

See listing for Sat 8/19. a 9:45 PM.

THURSDAY 24

High Score

See listing for Sun 8/20. a 5:45 PM.

R The Wild Condition

See listing for Sun 8/20. a 6 PM.

R Palestine Blues

See listing for Sun 8/20. a 7:30 PM.

R LOL

Three young Chicago guys try to strike a balance between their women and their telecommunication gadgets, and of course the gadgets win. This DV feature by local writer-director Joe Swanberg (Kissing on the Mouth) seems heavily influenced by Boston video maker Andrew Bujalski, whose charming Funny Ha Ha (2002) also chronicled the romantic fumblings of the "whatever" generation. As a storyteller Swanberg is even more lackadaisical than Bujalski, letting two of his three story lines fizzle out, but his movie offers a sly commentary on how people use digital toys not to interact with the world but to disappear up their own backsides. 81 min. (JJ) a 8 PM.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Frankenstein Theater Wit
October 24
Performing Arts
July 04

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories