Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF)
August 18-24

Subterranean screenings in the Windy City. The Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF) was founded in 1993 by Columbia College film student Jay Bliznick. He and partner Bryan Wendorf created a festival for the kind of films they wanted to see: offbeat, opinionated work that established film festivals refused to show.

Now in its tenth year, CUFF has - ironically - become a major stop on the international festival circuit. The pace hasn't slowed appreciably, though: screenings are still followed by nightly parties and live music at local venues.

This year's festival weighs in heavily on politikino, featuring several features, documentatries, shorts and animated films commenting on everything from commercialism to terrorism.


August 19
"Sound Class"
Dir: Adam Glickman
"Sound Class" traces the history of the Jamaican 'soundsystem' and its often overlooked, highly influential impact on hip-hop, DJ culture and modern music generally.

Filmed in Kingston, London and New York, the 'soundsystem' story is told here for the first time through interviews with musicians such as Coxsone Dodd, U Roy, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Paul Simonon of The Clash, Jerry Dammers of The Specials, Sean Paul, Wyclef Jean and many more.

From their humble beginnings outside liquor stores where they attracted customers, the 'soundsystems' soon moved into dance halls, with DJs/selectors doubling as MCs, replacing bands, assembling massive rigs in a funky battle to take over the thriving Jamaican music scene.

The development of the 'soundsystem' also had a dramatic impact on the music itself, spawning DJ culture and a new style of cutting and mixing tracks; dance-hall reggae, dub, ska and even hip-hop are inextricably linked to the rise of the soundsystem as its influence spread through the UK and into the US, via Kool Herc's New York block parties. Get ready to feel the bass.

August 20, 23
"Patriot Acts"
A related series of short films and animation, commenting on U.S. politics and culture, featuring:

"Weapons of Mass Destruction"
Anim: Lee Lanier
A tongue-in-cheek peek at the dangerous times we live in; words from a "New Millennium Dictionary" are juxtaposed with surreal clips of twitching heads of state and anthropomorphic consumer products. The first short film to feature annoying pop-up ads.

"30 Seconds Hate/Suckers"
Dir: Bryan Boyce
In "30 Seconds Hate," Fox News and Henry Kissinger want to kill you as a tribute to George Orwell's 100th birthday: 'Peace Alert: Kill Everybody.' "Suckers!" gives a half-minute history of Halliburton in Iraq.

Also showing: "States of the Union", "Notes from the Desk of the Dept. of Homeland Security"

August 21, 24
"Popaganda: The Art and Subversion of Ron English"
Dir: Pedro Carvajal
Documentary/Chicago Premiere
Mercilessly funny, engaging film about the culture-jamming and billboard-liberation antics of painter Ron English.

The modern day Robin Hood of Madison Avenue, Ron paints, perverts, infiltrates, reinvents and satirizes modern culture on canvas, in songs, and directly on hundreds of pirated billboards.

Shot entirely guerilla-style, the film chronicles the evolution of an artist who offers an alternative universe where spin is wrung dry, nothing is sacred, everything is subverted and there's always room for a well-merited poke in the eye.

"Advertising agencies are mercenaries, it's about profit. Is the product good for the environment? Society? The individual consumer? We employ the same techniques and pirate the same spaces as the advertisers, but to different ends."
- Ron English

"Certain Women"
Dir: Bobby Abate and Peggy Ahwesh
Video artist Bobby Abate and punk feminist filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh's collaborate to create this sordid melodrama loosely adapted from populist Southern genre writer Erskine Caldwel's novel and shot on a multitude of video formats.

Hilda, Louellen, Clementine and Nannette search for love and acceptance in a hopelessly old-fashioned town filled with residents -- good, bad and indifferent. Their stories, like their lives, intertwine, each woman reflecting an aspect of the other. These women must come to terms with and overcome many obstacles in a town fueled by ignorance, wickedness, and vicious rumors.

August 22, 23
"Elevator Movie"
Dir: Zeb Haradon
Jim is a loner, pervert, and virgin. Lana is a friendly outgoing born-again Christian who has renounced her past. They've never met until they step into an elevator together one day. The elevator gets stuck between floors. The building maintenance rep assures them over the emergency intercom that help is on the way. Hours, days, weeks, and months pass, and no repairmen ever show up.

Starvation is not a problem for them, as Lana entered the elevator with a bag full of groceries, which is mysteriously found to be filled with fresh food every morning. Is it a test? A miracle? An experiment? After enough time passes, Jim gives up all hope of escape and resigns himself to building a new life -- in the elevator. Lana, on the other hand, continues to look for a way out...

[Shown/header image: "Popaganda"]

Find it: Three Penny Cinema
22424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL
Get info: (773) 525-3449

Find out about other film festivals worldwide, in the August 2004 issue of "Arte Six".