Ad: [ ? ]
TODAY

Tuesday, November 25

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


A/C
« Picasso and Chicago: An Artist Who Shaped Our City The Best of Second City @ UP Comedy Club »

Film Tue Mar 05 2013

You Can Almost Buy CUFF a Drink

cuff20.jpgBy Troy Pieper

While small independent film festivals gradually become fewer, the Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF), now in its twentieth year, remains a cultural outpost in part by refusing to define (even if it were possible) the nature of its programming. "The key is to keep being open to all possible ideas of what "underground" can mean and show the best examples of that work that we can," says Bryan Wendorf, CUFF's director. Could so simple a philosophy be what has allowed this member of an endangered species to survive into the age of YouTube?

CUFF, which opens Wednesday, March 6, is one of the only places where a certain type of film is screened for a public audience, according to Andrew Lampert, curator of collections at Anthology Film Archives. There are few venues left in which to show experimental and decidedly non-commercial work. Of course the Internet is where it can now be found. Filmmakers may gain an audience there "if they're lucky," says Lampert, but what they'll never have is the more vibrant forum of live screenings to engage with their viewers. And what other underground film festivals don't have (or didn't have when they were running) is a willingness to ignore politics in the construction of its identity. CUFF is not a place for queer film, black film or feminist film alone, but any one of them might be represented in the programming.

Jack Sargeant, director of programming at Revelation Perth International Film Festival, defines "underground" as being of the counterculture, but admits that the underground is always changing — by definition. He also notes the value of not limiting festival programming too much, and even expanding its definition to include some genre or indie or cult films because they "a) won't otherwise get seen and b) guarantee an audience."

In addition to a dogged executive director and staff, some of whom have for years volunteered their time, this widening of the scope of programming has been used by CUFF to great effect. Wendorf's goal as a curator, it seems, is to include work that is not so esoteric that it's alienating. One documentary in the 2013 CUFF is about nuns and clergy who burglarized draft offices during the Vietnam War and destroyed records. It attempts only to do what documentaries do: bring to light something historical that has been ignored. Also this year, in a very different attempt at broader programming, is Untitled, which incorporates the film projector itself and brings the projection out into the audience in a genre appropriately named Expanded Cinema.

One of the best and probably the most obvious definition of what it means to be underground also comes from Sargeant. In the case of film, it is work that is challenging and subversive, either thematically or aesthetically. The opposite of conservative. This year's A Body Without Organs is "one of the more daring and personal" films Wendorf has seen in some time. In this unflinching documentary, the director follows his family and how it has been affected by the removal of his father's cancerous colon. CUFF programming coordinator Lori Felker calls it perhaps the most underground film she has ever seen. CUFF is the first festival to accept the film for screening.

Then there is the short film The Stairway at St. Paul, part of the festival's retrospective celebrating its 20th year (Stairway screened in 2002). In it, the Dutch filmmaker records himself singing "Stairway to Heaven" phonetically backward while standing on the steps of Saint Paul's Cathedral in Amsterdam. He then plays the footage in reverse, sounding as you might expect as if he were the night's entertainment in the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks. Another retrospective is work curated by Amy Beste including Miranda July's Getting Stronger Every Day. Like other films by July, it's an intensely sentimental and symbolic, and at least partially narrative, work. The variety in the festival's program is as evident in the festival's programming over two decades as it is in this year's lineup.

July isn't the only filmmaker who has had work screened at CUFF and later gained fame, and Wendorf points out that often what is considered underground simply has not yet entered the mainstream. But, at least for a time, "you still have to seek it out," he says, which is what the festival really promotes. The underground film scene, locally and around the world, holds CUFF up as one of its crown jewels, and the community surrounding it is strong. In addition to the fact that it has lasted longer than any other festival like it, the annual event has borne fruitful collaborations, fascinating rivalries, lasting romances — and new fans.

CUFF's organizers, naturally, have the survival of underground film in mind. The myriad types of it to be found at the festival, the requisite festival panel discussions and the parties are not just meant for people in the scene. The festival's program of screenings and events has that air of celebration that anyone can relate to, and what CUFF wants is to make converts who will strengthen the community. Because, you know, new and exciting art contributes to society's vitality, and like any scene, it needs year-round participants. CUFF is a very, very important part of the underground film community, but Wendorf is modest: "Maybe people will come to CUFF to see a film because it's entertaining, and they'll see all of this other stuff, too."

 

Add a Comment




Please enter the letter k in the field below:



Live Comment Preview


Notes & Tags

Items marked with a * are required fields. Please respect each other. We reserve the right to delete any comments borne out of douchebaggery or that deal in asshattery.

Permitted tags and how to use them:

To link: <a href="http://blahblahblah.com">Link text</a>
To italicize: <em>Your text</em>
To bold: <strong>Your text</strong>

Culture Tue Nov 04 2014

7,550 Miles from Home, Chicago's Ethiopians Build a Cultural Museum

By Danielle Elliott

Some 7,550 miles separate Chicago from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. For the 10,000 Ethiopians living in Chicago, that distance seems a lot smaller due to the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Nov 21 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Foxcatcher, The Homesman, Force Majeure, America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth, National Gallery & Miss Meadows

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

Blogroll

ACRE
An Angry White Guy
Antena
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Collaboraction
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Defibrillator
Devening Projects
Digressions
DIY Film
ebersmoore
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
HollywoodChicago
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
InCUBATE
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
J-Pointe
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Marquee
Mess Hall
N'DIGO
Neoteric Art
NewcityArt
NewcityFilm
NewcityStage
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Onstage
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
Performink
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
SAIC Blog
The Seen
Sharkforum
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Steppenwolf.blog
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
threewalls
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Vocalo
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

 

Events

Tue Nov 25 2014
Chicago Italian Film Festival

Wed Nov 26 2014
The Warriors @ Logan Theatre

Wed Nov 26 2014
You're Being Ridiculous @ Mary's Attic

Wed Nov 26 2014
Chicago Italian Film Festival

Thu Nov 27 2014
The Warriors @ Logan Theatre

Thu Nov 27 2014
Second City's Holidazed & Confused Revue @ UP Comedy

Thu Nov 27 2014
Chicago Italian Film Festival

Fri Nov 28 2014
You, Me, Them, Everybody Live @ Hungry Brain

Fri Nov 28 2014
Sing-Along Sound of Music @ Music Box

Fri Nov 28 2014
Michael Milano Solo Exhibition for Trunk Show

Fri Nov 28 2014
23rd Annual Wreathing of the Lions @ Art Institute

Sat Nov 29 2014
Chicago Indie Artisan Market


A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.



About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: LaShawn Williams, ldw@gapersblock.com
A/C staff inbox: ac@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15

Newsletter

Sign up for our free email newsletter I Star Chi and get a weekly round-up of the best of Gapers Block, plus our picks for must-do events each weekend!

istarchi

Preferred format    Preferred format