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Chicago Underground Film Festival: Let the gasps begin

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When: Wednesday through March 10

Where: Logan Theatre,
2646 N. Milwaukee

Tickets: $7 ($60 for festival pass)


Updated: April 4, 2013 6:20AM

This week’s 20th Chicago Underground Film Festival moves to a new venue but maintains its focus on nonmainstream cinema. The lineup at the Logan Theatre starts Wednesday with subjects far from Hollywood, such as “rectal prolapse” and “retinal persistence.” For opening night there’s a performance with 16mm projectors, humidifiers, glass panes and live music.

Bryan Wendorf, CUFF’s programmer and artistic director, lauds Logan Square as “where a large percentage of our base audience lives, or not far away. I’ve already seen an impact on ticket sales.” Besides opening and closing night events in the Logan Theater Lounge, there are four after-parties at nearby bars.

CUFF handled 1,500 submissions and selected 100 for the five-day festival. Most are shorts. One is only 11 seconds. Wendorf batched them into programs named after Monty Python sketches. For past fests he lifted Captain Beefheart song titles and “Moby Dick” chapter headings.

“Most are being made by one or two people,” said Wendorf, contrasting the films Hollywood honored last Sunday with Oscars. “All those decisions are theirs. It’s a more singular vision. And our festival is being programmed by one or two people.”

Wendorf’s co-programmer is filmmaker Lori Fekler, who watched the Oscar broadcast too. “People got upset host Seth MacFarlane made people gasp once or twice, which is not always a good thing at the Oscars,” she noted. “But CUFF hopes to make people gasp for five days straight, reacting to works with `Wow, I’ve never seen this before.’ ”

Titles range from the literal “Eleven Forty Seven,” which tells you how many minutes and seconds it lasts, to the lyrical “Our Summer Made Her Light Escape.” Filmmakers synopsize their films with style. “Fractal phonics accompany a delicate study of psychedelic paisley patterns,” writes one animator. An experimental video from Italy reads: “The aim is to incite the explosion of a closed system through a dispositive of audiovisual implosions.”

Thursday’s 7 p.m. retrospective program draws from past festivals. Highlights include the surreal, unsettling “Burn” by Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolly, and “The Moschops” (“The first motion picture set entirely in the Permian era”) by Jim Trainor, a Chicago animator.

When not transgressing or experimenting, undergrounders like to revisit vintage pop culture. There are documentaries about abandoned Canadian drive-ins, the 1981 girl-band film “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains” and an early ’70s Detroit band called Death and its prepunk single “Politicians in My Eyes.”

Rhythm rules in Andrew Rosinski’s limpid “Island Light,” Kimberly Forero-Arnias’ cubist-cut “Hay Algo Y Se Va” and “WREST,” Kent Lambert’s rip of clips from the Chicago Film Archives. Other found-footage efforts take imagery from ’50s stag films and a Hindu mythology television series.

Feature-length works include “Pig Death Machine,” Jon Moritsugo’s wacky story of a woman whose IQ skyrockets after eating undercooked pork. Recommended documentaries this year include “Hit & Stay,” about the Catholic left’s attacks on Selective Service offices during the Vietnam war. “A Body Without Organs” is an intensely intimate account of a Florida couple and the narcolepsy and colostomy bag that come between them.

On a lighter note, one comedy from the U.K. tells the outcome of a Most Marshmallows in the Mouth contest. Another, about “the culture of the copy,” includes “a nominee for this year’s Experimental Film Oscar.”

Bill Stamets is a Chicago free-lance writer and reviewer.

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