Chicago Underground Film Festival

August’s sixth edition of the Chicago Underground Film Festival once again built on the quality of earlier editions, drawing an ever more diverse range of films while commandeering, for the first time, an actual multi-screen moviehouse for its week of shows. Nightly parties, including the annual bowling event, pitched filmgoers and filmmakers together in a lively brew. A local upstart, June’s Chicago alt.film festival seemed to have little effect on CUFF’s ability to draw high quality alternative work. The only friction between the two events came when Cass Paley’s studious John Holmes documentary, Wadd, was withdrawn from alt.film in favor of CUFF; alt.film showed a VHS screener against Paley’s wishes.

Opening night was sold out with shows added to meet demand for Reed Paget’s giddy, nervy Slamdance Best Documentary winner, Amerikan Passport. (His chronicle of tramping across the planet as a 23-year-old in war-torn 1989 also wound up winning Audience Favorite.) The closing night feature, Jon Hewitt’s crackerjack shot-on-DV Australian police procedural, Redball, won Best Narrative Feature, followed by a nod to Todd Verow’s latest lifestyle quickie, The Trouble With Perpetual Deja Vu. Salutes also went to several short films, including Martha Colburn’s animated Spiders In Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical; Mitch Davis’ noir about abuse, Divided into Zero; the experimental Ingredients by Thomas Gosser and Robert Judd’s Jesse Helms is Cleaning Up America. Documentary notice went to The Gods of Times Square, Richard Sandler’s observant doc on street preachers in Times Square; Jon Reiss’ look at the rave scene, Better Living Through Circuitry, as well as cable access vets laugh-a-second making-of tale, I Created Lancelot Link. And who could fail to note the Best of Chicago Award, which went to the just-what-it-sounds like short by Shawn Durr, Meatfucker.

Other notable titles: Christopher Wilcha’s hour-long video, The Target Shoots First, a fine diary video about the deadening world of the modern office, seen through a job at CD-peddlers Columbia House; Julian Nitzberg’s Bury Me In Kern County, a pleasingly grotty white-trash saga; Ian Kerkhof’s DV bit of post-genre filth and nastiness, Shabondama Elegy; the brightly colored improvised dark comedy about battling pet supply salesmen, Suckerfish; Jon Jost’s hypnotic study of London transit patterns, London Brief; Peter Calvin’s simple, often gorgeous essay movie, Sleep, about the incessant pull of L.A. at night; and Mark Edlitz’s eminently functional drama of family dysfunction, The Eden Myth.

The closing night party was a genial blowout at local music dive The Empty Bottle, but the drinking continued across several bars toward dawn. End of the night, breakfast was indicated, toward the nearby Hollywood Grill. Traffic was heavy. Someone asks, "Where’s Hollywood?" Festival Director Bryan Wendorf pointed into the indeterminate distance, into the darkness, saying, "Hollywood is across the street." Indeed.

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© 2005 Filmmaker Magazine