My Kind of Festival

Greetings from the Windy City, where the 90-degree humidity of summer has just turned into a cool Labor Day rain and the 10th annual Chicago Underground Film Festival has just wrapped up. Over the years, CUFF has established itself as one of the bright beacons of the underground film circuit, and judging from the strength of this year's programming it's easy to see why.

Opening night was Helen Stickler's fascinating skate-doc Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator. It had a credit (which I noticed on several other films) that said it was supported by the Chicago Underground Film Fund. I don't know how much that fund amounts to, but it is always nice to see a festival give back to the artists who have been supporting it over the years.

The very first full day of screenings did include the presence of one filmmaker of note: me. My short film Apoplexy was selected to play, which gave me the perfect excuse to fly back to the Midwest and visit family and friends and drag them to a package of short experimental films called Apoplectic Trauma. Not only did my film help inspire the name, but the package itself was particularly strong. Thing is, I didn't grow up watching experimental films with my family, so I had no idea how they would react. Happily, they liked almost all of the films (though they did like mine best).

Two of the films in the Apoplectic Trauma package ended up winning awards (but not mine, unfortunately). Seattle favorite Martha Colburn won Best Animated Short for her cut-and-paste insects in Big Bug Attack. The jury then awarded a Special Jury Prize to Xav Leplae's I'm Bobby, which boils down the soundtrack of a three-hour Bollywood film from 1973 into 30 minutes and recasts the movie with children. It's quite delightful, though I wish the quality of the soundtrack was tweaked so it wasn't so tinny-sounding. Also of note in the program was Catcycle, a film by Olympia's Devon Damonte that was photocopied straight onto leader.

Other shorts of note include Ben Coonley's prizewinning Trick Pony trilogy, a hilarious low-tech joy in which a poorly dubbed man discusses country line dancing, 3D movies, and Halloween football games with a toy pony who whinnies or sings a song depending on what button on his ear is pressed. Another Seattle favorite, Jeff Krulik, won the Best Documentary prize with Hitler's Hat, which played at the Little Theatre just a couple of months ago.

Chicagoan Jennifer Reeder moved from the world of shorts to the feature-length video production Tiny Plastic Rainbow, an audacious, slightly uneven mood piece with occasional injections of humor. Another Chicagoan, James Fotopoulos, had two features in this festival, the better of which was the 16mm film Families--it reminded me of the work of Harmony Korine, except on some serious tranquilizers.