Our First-Impression-Based Recommendations for the Chicago Underground Film Festival

For those who find SxSW’s film offerings a bit too safe or blasé, the Chicago Underground Film Festival also begins this week. This celebration of all things experimental and independent from around the world is now in its 20th year, and begins tonight at one of the best places in the city to watch a movie, the Logan Theatre. Experimental film can be pretty hit-and-miss, but many of the offerings looked pretty intriguing. Here are a few selections that caught our eye (based on first impressions); a full schedule can be found at the CUFF website.

Thursday, March 7th

Shorts Program: “Spectrum”: A handful of deeper observations of objects can be found in this nicely varied hour-and-a-half collection of shorts, including Nellie Kluz’s Gold Party, a look at the gold industry up close as the precious metal is processed; Cameron Gibson’s 10-19 Return to Base, a response to a History Channel series on the Vietnam War that “searches for empathy within representational clichés” and Bill Brown’s Memorial Land, a short tour of unofficial and contested memorials to the September 11th attacks from around the country.

Ape: Joel Portykus directs this “ultra-low budget” look into the mind of Trevor Newandyke, a failed comedian with a punk sense of humor and an appetite for destruction, who decides to barter with the Devil. A portrait of the artist as a young man, cracked, doused in grain alcohol and set ablaze that seems equally capable of resonating and shocking. Paired with Kat Candler’s short Black Metal.

School of Change: Jennet Thomas directs this “sci-fi experimental musical film” with elements of reality, high school stereotypes and Lewis Carroll. According to the program, the film is “inspired by traditions of absurd British satire,” so if you’re into that sort of thing, here’s your film Paired with Alee Peoples’ Them Oracles.

Friday, March 8th

Retrospective Shorts Program: Summarize Proust Competition: CUFF founder and former director Jay Bliznick offers his favorite selections from the early years of the festival. Not your average #Rememberthe90s session.

Pig Death Machine: Festival favorites John Moritsugu and Amy Davis return with a science-gone-wrong tale where a “brainless brunette” becomes a “dangerous genius” and a punk botanist develops the power of talking to plants. One of the most enticing elements of this selection is the soundtrack, which features Deerhoof, Dirty Beaches and Moritsugu and Davis’ own band, Low on High, who are also playing the following evening at nearby Township. Paired with Kent Lambert’s Wrest.

Saturday, March 9th

Taken By Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis: You may not recognize Storm Thorgerson’s name, but you will certainly recognize his work from record collections and college dorm rooms the world over. Several generations of musical luminaries come together in Roddy Bogawa’s documentary about Thorgerson’s iconic album album covers, including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy.

A Band Called Death: If you thought finding Sugar Man was a feat, you should see A Band Called Death. Before punk, there was a band called Death, who not only played music unlike anything the Motown and disco-loving populace had heard (but would be echoed later by the likes of Bad Brains and the Sex Pistols) but exemplified DIY and punk ethics in their recording process as well. They never even released an album, but their demo tape is earning them a new generation of fans. Jeff Howlet and Mark Covino chronicle their story and their journey to receiving the recognition they deserve for inventing punk before punk was invented.

Sunday, March 10th

Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression: Max Good chronicles a battle between graffiti artists and street artists and an unlikely enemy: the “Silver Buff,” a vigilante dedicated to eradicating graffiti, exploring the complexities of what is considered art and what motivates people to create and destroy graffiti works. Paired with Bryan Boyce’s short Road Show.

Watch the trailers for CUFF from Jennifer Reeder and Bryan Boyce, featuring a choir of teenage girls driven to hysteria by festivals and a disturbing take on infomercials, respectively, below.

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