IFP Chicago Goes Underground
by Matt Dentler
For the first time in either organization’s history, IFP Chicago and the Chicago Underground Film Festival joined forces in a new alliance to merge the decidedly disparate qualities of both.
The Chicago Underground Film Festival has spent 15 years earning a viable reputation as a mecca for avant-garde and anti-establishment feature filmmaking, as well as a Midwest platform for the year’s festival circuit hits. The 2008 program (held over Halloween weekend) was a mix of innovative experimental works by local filmmakers, and familiar crowd-pleasers from other American fests. Chicago-based artists like Jim Finn presented his latest, “The Juche Idea,” (pictured above) while the prolific James Fotopoulos premiered “Sleep Weep” (The Zookeeper).
These homegrown experimental talents were joined with new work from other acclaimed “underground” filmmakers like Kevin Jerome Everson (“The Golden Age of Fish“) and Jennifer Reeder (“Accidents at Home and How They Happen“). All screenings were held at the Viaduct Theatre near Lincoln Park, which allowed for an appropriately low-key and art-minded atmosphere.
However, programmer Bryan Wendorf did pepper the lineup with a few more conventional selections, such as James Westby’s porn mockumentary “The Auteur,” Chusy-Haney Jardine’s Sundance award-winner “Anywhere, USA” (the Opening Night Film), and Josh Koury’s Harry Potter fan documentary “We Are Wizards.”
As part of the IFP Chicago’s new involvement in the festival, the organization’s annual Midwest Filmmakers Summit ran concurrently with the screenings. Panelists spoke about various topics reflecting the sensibilities of the artist in attendance. Programmers from the like-minded Ann Arbor and Boston Underground Film Festivals shared advice on submitting innovative work to regional events, while installation experts shared war stories about non-traditional theatrical screenings in a panel called “Gallery and Art Film Exhibition.”
The vibrant local film community filled the seats, but many noted that attendance for the panels had been lower than in years past, when the Filmmakers Summit was a standalone attraction. Perhaps the “anti-establishment” and the “establishment” are a harder match to make.
It was apparent that the alliance of IFP Chicago and the Chicago Underground Film Festival may need a little time to grow into the ideal fit that it has the potential to become. It’s uncertain if the event’s slot — only days in between the Chicago International Film Festival and the Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival — hurts or helps the ambitious endeavor. One thing’s for sure: joining forces with IFP Chicago has allowed the Chicago Underground Film Festival to become a film destination unlike any other the Windy City has to offer.