11th Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival
by Alexander Rojas
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The Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF) offers an experimental/avant-garde style of films to an audience. They tend to venture into the b-movie realm at times or even dare I say the world of traditional narrative. That’ll make the non-conformists shudder in their mismatched socks. I unfortunately wear matching socks, thanks to my mother who taught me a laundry trick for maintaining a pair of socks united. However, be it as my socks don’t fit in with this crowd, I, like many others in attendance, will watch just about anything (check out my reviews) and have something to say about it eventually (I just need to let it soak and then simmer in my head). CUFF offers films that you need to think about because most likely your first reaction will be: that was interesting or what the fuck was that about. Tip to future reviewers: if you stay quiet, others will think you’re processing all the information and re-analyzing all the ideas the film presented to you.
And now onto what I managed to see at this years CUFF:
Thursday August 19
Short Films Screening Title: Patriot Acts
This animated short gave new definitions associated with consumerism and politics to words and terms we are familiar with. The animation is mostly creepy and the pop-up ads proved increasingly annoying. Very Effective.
The Thief of Bagdad (4min)
Clips from classic Hollywood films that take place in the Middle East and Asia are dubbed over to present a “swaggering Texas Empire-builder” attempting to take over Bagdad. The role of the Texan imperialist is dubbed over Charlton Heston’s clips. The short has a few laughs in it, but it is the start of my growing impatience with these short films.
State of the Union
Clips from one of Bill Clinton’s State of the Union addresses are strung together showing the former president saying and repeating a series of numbers to an overly enthusiastic audience.
Axis of Evil (5:45min)
Using Bush’s declaration of war, a young couple sing in French to each other using the very same words Bush used to justify the war to the world. This mostly amusing short grows tiresome in its last couple minutes, but you get the jest of it and it’s poignant.
La Calavera (2min)
This is part of a series of videos based off of the Mexican bingo type of games called La Loteria. La Calavera is the image of a skull and in this video a Gulf War simulator represents the death aspect of La Calavera. I suppose CUFF curators believed this particular video stood on it’s own. However, I feel like I’m missing the rest of the experience without seeing any of the other videos that are part of the La Loteria series. Perhaps none of the other videos had anything to do with Bush. I don’t know.
30 Seconds Hate/Suckers!
WOW! A lot is going on in this short video. Footage of a Henry Kissinger interview on the Fox News Channel is manipulated with Kissinger saying some evil evil things. Although how manipulated can that really be? In the meantime, scrolling headlines read of the hilariously bizarre news events that could be in a right-wing, Bush ruled world. Best 30 seconds of the fest!
This is from the CUFF screening guide:
“The frenzied detritus of trading floors, smart weaponry and the religious right are woven through the petrochemical landscapes of Southeast Texas. This short video harangue questions land use policy as it serves oil industry, patriotism as it absolves foreign aggression and fundamentalism as it calcifies thinking..”—DS
And may I add that this film seriously tested my patience (time-wise) unlike anything else before. Well that was until I saw the next short:
Notes From The Desk of the Dept. of Homeland Security (34min)
This is somewhat of an observational short about the post 9/11 world. Through the directors POV we see how the world around him has somewhat altered due to the anxiety and fear that has blanketed North America. At one point, a border patrol officer makes the director record over footage of a bridge near the Canadian border. Later in the movie, during the major blackout that hit the Midwest to the East Coast in the summer of 2003, we find ourselves on a small lake north of New York state watching smoke rising behind a large building. Immediately the director worries that the smoke might be the result of something tragic, but then comes to realize it’s just from a ship arriving in the pier behind the large building. I really do like what the director did at times in this short, but many scenes tended to linger far too long and I immediately felt myself withdrawn without at first being drawn into the material. By the end of it, I didn’t want to give the Notes From The Desk… a fair chance. In retrospect, it’s better than how I remembered it, but just don’t watch it along with Energy Country. Both those films need to be separated by something like 30 Seconds of Hate/Suckers!.
This is were I would have had a review of this film, but due to a very late start of this film and my relocation from one theater to another one, I couldn’t make the screening. That really sucks because I really wanted to see Exist. Perhaps I’ll get a screener copy of the film sometime soon.
Friday, August 20th 2004
Peep “TV” Show (98min)
With themes revolving around youths with dislocated lives amongst a voyeuristic reality and issues of identity, this film does not take a clear and cut narrative path, but rather shows us mundane and suffocated lives. A young man runs a website that chronicles the lives of a select few through a hidden camera set-up right outside of their apartment windows. He passes along business cards promoting his website and begins to draw in others into his perverse and voyeuristic rituals. A young girl becomes an admirer of his work and quickly partakes in the broadcast of his subjects, eventually becoming one of them herself. The story takes place a little before the one-year anniversary of 9/11. The main character has a self-pleasing fascination with the tragedy, constantly masturbating to the images of one of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. This act appears to be a sense of retribution, but also a kind of sympathetic connection. It’s a very contradicting behavioral pattern that flows throughout the film. The issue of identity and sex has this same type of configuration. For the most part I liked Peep “TV” Show, but in keeping with the overall feeling I was getting from CUFF, my patience was once again tested to its limit. Perhaps a different setting would allow me to see the film for more than what I took from it.
Monday, August 23, 2004
Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? (94min)
This documentary delves into the misunderstood and constantly ridiculed world of Christian rock music. That’s right, according to these folks, Jesus can be reached through the sound of roaring guitars. Through on camera interviews with underground and mainstream Christian rockers, we gain a broader and deeper perspective of a scene that appears to be a contradiction to itself. Bands such as The Detholz!, Duvall, Pedro The Lion, Five Iron Frenzy along with many others share mostly just a faith, but that’s were the similarities end. Their beliefs of what Christian rock means varies from member to member and band to band. Many choose to use their music to preach Christianity, while others refuse to push their faith onto others. Some of the documentary was shot at the Cornerstone Christian music festival held annually in Bushnell, IL. At this event, an array of Christian rock bands, ranging from third wave ska to death metal, come together under small tents or large stages performing amongst a mostly young Christian crowd. It is in the footage of this event that the vast differences amongst bands and audiences are witnessed. During one scene in the documentary, vocalist and drummer of the band Cool Hand Luke, stops a set and begins to shed tears as he declares he and many others at the festival are not doing enough to spread the word of Jesus. This creates a very unsettling moment for myself, knowing I would’ve walked out at that point. However, many of the kids in the audience are easily drawn to these kind of evangelistic tactics and are themselves made to feel guilt and remorse. The directors do a tremendous job of covering so much ground in the amount of time that they do. The documentary is incredibly entertaining and you really do go away learning a lot more than expected (well at least for me, considering I didn’t know very much of this scene). Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? is easily one of my favorite films this year.
That’s it for me at CUFF. Yes, that’ s really it. One of the shortest coverage pieces you’ll read, but certain circumstances kept arising, keeping me from most screenings. I’d like to thank CUFF for this chance to attend what screenings I could and to all the filmmakers for sharing their work.
Alexander Rojas is a reviewer for Film Monthly and is gearing up for the 1st annual I Love Alex Film and Hot Hot Wings Fest. Interested?
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