Who Needs A Wrinkled Cannes, When CUFF Looks Stunningly Fit At 19?

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on May 22, 2012 6:00PM

2012_05_21_CUFF.jpg That paragon of cinematic elitism, the Cannes Film Festival, is currently unspooling for a 65th time on the same ritzy European playground half a world away with the usual glut of overstuffed column inches and overcooked festival diaries being filed from every corner of the film universe.

While we wouldn't exactly turn down any offers to underwrite our own jaunt to the Côte d'Azur for coverage, we're just as happy to note that right here we have the proud and glorious antithesis of that schmoozing, glitz and exclusivity, an example of all that is right with our own film community, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, back for its 19th year. And who do you really want to party with, the 65-year-old dude sunning his bloated self amid moneyed excess, or a fit 19-year-old brimming with energy and surprises?

Under the artistic direction of co-founder Bryan Wendorf, CUFF long ago transcended its identity as a showcase for strictly experimental work and cultivates a genuinely invigorating mix of films, genres and vibes. The sole common denominator seems to be that nothing about the programming is in any way market-driven, The key to its continued success might be the flexibility of that "Underground" tag. We agree with director John Waters: "The word 'independent' carries a stigma of whininess. 'Underground' means a good time."

Opening the festival is a work of suitable unpredictability: The Fourth Dimenson features chapters from Harmony Korine, Russian filmmaker Alexsei Fedorchenko, and Jan Kwiecinski of Poland, brought together by Vice's Eddy Moretti to explore the theme of "The Fourth Dimension." How Korine gets to extra-dimensionality via a motivational speaker named "Val Kilmer" (played by Val Kilmer), and where Fedorchenko lands after the 2005's lunar mockumentary First on the Moon, is anybody's guess.

Chicago filmmaker Lindsay Denniberg has a striking debut film, Video Diary of a Lost Girl, about a race of immortal women called the Lilin who must have sex with a man every full moon (the catch being that every man who sleeps with them dies). On the other side of the visual palette is Ben Rivers' monochromatic and enigmatic documentary about a man going about his life off the grid in Scotland, Two Years At Sea.

Other documentary choices stand out in this year's program, including CUFF veteran Robert Todd's Master Plan, a look around the U.S., from private houses to planned communities to prisons, to investigate the challenges of residential design; an exploration of real people who agreed to participate in filmed recreations of their darkest and most murderous fantasies, Zero Killed; Girl Model, a document of a 13-year-old Siberian girl's journey to Tokyo for a break into the modeling industry; and Chicagoist fave Andrew Bird: Fever Year

Several killer shorts programs round out the program. Some of the titles we'd watch again include Bryan Boyce's disturbing Walt Disney's Taxi Driver and local filmmaker Alexander Stewart’s mesmerizing fusion of drone rock and, well, actual rock, Crust. If Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke lives up to its description as a re-imagining of Chris Marker's La Jetee starring 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell as the mayor of Miami, our minds are surely in danger of getting blown.

Most of the screenings will feature audience discussions with the filmmakers. Fresh off a successful kickstarter campaign, the fest usually lines up nightly parties, concerts and events to go along with the screenings. Tickets to individual programs and festival passes are available, along with a full schedule, at the CUFF and the Film Center websites.

The 19th Chicago Underground Film Festival runs from May 31 through June 7 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.