“The festival or me personally?” Chicago Underground Film Festival programmer and artistic director Bryan Wendorf retorts when asked if he expected to be around this long.
Returning March 6-10 at the Logan Theater, CUFF is the longest-running underground film fest anywhere. Its sole contemporary, the New York Underground Film Festival, shut down in 2008.
“Passing the 20 year mark is obviously of extreme importance to us,” Wendorf says. “As a festival we are serious about what we’re doing and we’re here to stay.”
Wendorf has been with CUFF since Jay Bliznick started it in 1994, and Wendorf has been the primary programmer since 2001.
They began with a punk rock ethos inspired by the Cinema of Transgression directors like Richard Kern and Nick Zedd, and by Film Threat magazine.
“That type of underground film has become less common and we’ve become jaded by mere ‘shock value,’” Wendorf says. “I still like to be shocked and I still love a lot of the films we screened back then, but today’s underground has more breadth and includes a lot of different styles and moods.”
CUFF’s screening history shows a trail of late, lamented venues, some shuttered (the Fine Arts, the Village, the Three Penny), some reinvented (the Biograph, the Theater Building, the Bismarck Hotel).
“I’d like to think that all those places that changed their names or closed had to do so because of CUFF,” Bliznick jokes.
CUFF was at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the past three years, where Wendorf says audiences had leveled off — due in part to the downtown location — contributing to the decision to move to the newly-restored Logan theatre this year.
Wendorf hopes to stay at the Logan for the foreseeable future, and add film and video installations to the mix if the budget permits.
In addition to the theatre’s in-house digital projection, CUFF will bring in 16mm projectors for “the significant number of shorts still finished on film.”
Six world premieres screen March 6 opening night
Wendorf now runs CUFF with Lori Felker, whose films had been featured in the fest over the years, and who signed on as festival coordinator three years ago.
Opening night will feature Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder’s 16mm projector performance Untitled, scored by Chicagoan Olivia Block.
CUFF includes six world premiere features, including underground icons Jon Moritsugu and Amy Davis’s first film in a decade Pig Death Machine, Mike Olenick’s All the Memory in the World, Stephen Graves’s A Body Without Organs, and Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk’s Hit & Stay.
Bliznick and Jack Sargeant program retrospectives of movies from the early punk rock years at this year’s fest, while Wendorf and Amy Beste have programs showcasing CUFF’s more recent, formally experimental selections.
Danny Plotnick, Charles Pinion, Carey Burtt, Guy Benoit and Todd Verow are among past CUFF favorites returning this year. “Some of them I haven’t seen in over 15 years,” Wendorf says. “It will be like some underground film high school reunion.”
Corporate sponsorships have grown scarcer since CUFF’s flush years during the dot-com funded years. Lately CUFF has called on its audience for direct support through Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns ongoing through Feb. 15.