Chicago Underground Film Festival gives little productions a big stage
By BILL STAMETS For Sun-Times Media March 31, 2014 8:21PM
Columbia College grad Usama Alshaibi directed the autobiographical "American Arab," screening at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.
CHICAGO UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Logan Theater, 2646 N. Milwaukee
Admission: $8 per program
($70 pass covers all 21 programs and five after-parties)
Updated: May 2, 2014 6:11AM
On Wednesday, the Logan Theater turns into that annual anti-multiplex known as the Chicago Underground Film Festival.For five days, on two screens, this fete of non-conformity serves adventurous viewers with fiction, non-fiction, hybrids and mash-ups of sound and sight.
Programmer and artistic director Bryan Wendorff sorted through some 2,000 entries and selected 100 or so shorts and features shot in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bali, Canada, Czech Republic, Egypt, India, Italy and South Africa. Locations range from Lower Wacker Drive to the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Subjects include an ex-con with “poly-substance abuse” and an obese cat named Trouble.
Some filmmakers refer to philosophers: Jameson, Kristeva, Ranciere, Peirce. Others cite and recycle earlier films, from “Citizen Kane” to the Soviet war drama “The Cranes Are Flying.”
White face paint creates scary looks in two films about channeling violence. “East of Hell,” a French documentary by Matthieu Canaguier (6:30 p.m. Friday), reports on screamer Black Metal bands in Indonesia. Offstage, the soft-spoken thrashers downplay their satanic image. In a different film showing at 8 p.m Saturday, with a confidential title, a panorama of thuglike performance artists dead-eye the camera. All wear make-up borrowed from psycho-killer films as they kiss, hit each other with chairs and burn up cars.
Quests supply the plots for two features that toy with realism. “Sick Birds Die Easy” (6:30 p.m. Thursday) is a druggy docu-myth set in West Africa. “La Ultima Pelicula” (7 p.m. Saturday) tracks a Yankee in the Yucatan shooting on obsolete celluloid. This wryly revelatory meta-movie is inspired by Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie.”
The opening and closing nights star Chicago directors. Jennifer Reeder’s “A Million Miles Away” is a 28-minute story that adds to recent narratives on elusive emotions by this UIC prof. An insecure substitute teacher leads a music class of girls rehearsing a Judas Priest song. Giant yellow eyes of the cat adorning her black sweater take flight and look around the classroom. A helpful student decodes a cryptic 26-letter all-caps text the distracted teacher received from a suitor. It screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, preceding “What I Love About Concrete.”
Usama Alshaibi (“Nice Bombs”) screens “American Arab,” his new autobiographical essay on identity with hyphens, at 8 p.m. Sunday. The Columbia College grad was born in Baghdad but then moved to Iowa. During a later stay in Saudi Arabia, Alshaibi was attacked as an “American.” Back in America, his first name spelled trouble after 9/11, and he got bashed as a “camel jockey.”
“If I’m being true to myself, I can be a complicated Muslim,” says Marwan Kamel, a local Arab-American musician in the Kartemquin Films documentary who also contributes its score. Kamel will perform live in his City of Djinn duo at the “American Arab” after-party. Also screening on closing night is “Encounters With Your Inner Trotsky Child,” Jim Finn’s hyper-ironic propaganda on the “prime material plane of corporate capitalism.” There is also “Ellie Lumme,” an auspicious 42-minute debut that Chicago film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky shot on Division Street (2 p.m. Saturday).
Presented by the Independent Feature Project/Chicago, the fest lets audiences interact with artists. On Saturday and Sunday, from 5:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., Newcity film critic Ray Pride hosts Bar Talk sessions in the Logan Theatre Lounge. “When filmmakers talk informally, unexpected affinities and alliances bubble to the surface,” said Pride, who borrows his format from a documentary festival in Thessaloniki, Greece. “Everyone is part of the conversation — not hierarchical in the least.”