The 14th Chicago Underground Film Festival runs Wednesday, August 15, through Sunday, August 19, with screenings at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, and Elegant Mr. Gallery, 1355 N. Milwaukee. Tickets for all screenings are $7; a $50 pass admits you to ten sceenings. For advance tickets visit brownpapertickets.com; for more information call 773-341-6727 or visit www.cuff.org. Following is the schedule for August 15 and 16; a complete festival schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.
Orchard Vale Interspersed with experimental fairy-tale segments using cutout animation, this ambitious, underlit first feature by musician Tim Kinsella mostly consists of postapocalyptic dysfunctional-family drama. Despite some striking music and edgy performances, the fact that terms like postapocalyptic and dysfunctional family spring so readily to mind makes the narrative armature feel more generic than it apparently wants to be. Packed with filmmaking ideas, Kinsella's strange object oscillates between stylistic and thematic concerns that rarely mesh, though a lively and busy surface is fairly constant. In other words, I was sometimes bored by the story but never by the movie. 99 min. (JR) a Chopin Theatre, 8 and 10 PM.
RThe Goodtimeskid Filmmaker Azazel Jacobs calls this "a story about stolen love and stolen identities shot on stolen film." He's the son of Ken Jacobs (Star Spangled to Death), with some of his pa's anarchic spirit, and because he apparently stole good 35-millimeter stock, he doesn't have to worry that much about the story anyway. The slender premise--two guys are named Rodolfo, one of whom gets renamed Depresso by the girlfriend of the other--seems mainly an excuse to hang out with these people, and it's a tribute to Jacobs's skill that this is enough. He knows how to put air around his characters, pace their movements, and chart their interactions in various locations, and when the heroine starts dancing at one point, she's so good that I wanted to cheer. 77 min. (JR) a Chopin Theatre, 6 PM.
The First Lowering Short experimental and documentary videos. 82 min. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 6:15 PM.
Celluloid #1 Alternately grating and hilarious, Steve Stasso's independent feature is an acerbic send-up of American celebrity. Steve Buckley plays an unctuous movie director who's been coasting on his debut film for ten years; desperate to jump-start his career, he scores an interview with a drug-addled actress (Julie Atlas Muz) whose strong-arming agent keeps her on a short leash but can't prevent her coming apart on camera as the questions become increasingly personal. Stasso's narrative can be rough sledding, with the tension between the three principals pitched too high, but he savages the scuzzy complicity between celebrities and the media. 78 min. (JK) a Chopin Theatre, 7:45 PM.
Everybody Is Hurting and On Deaf Ears Richard Sandler's video Everybody Is Hurting (2006, 52 min.) focuses on Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks and in the following weeks. His rather random cinematography and editing add little insight (yeah, 9/11 was bad). But some of his shots (posters seeking the dead) evoke the desolation, and the sequence at the video's center, an impromptu debate in Union Square Park, is more intelligent than one might expect--some of the speakers actually think U.S. foreign policy should be reconsidered. Josiah Bultema's pointless On Deaf Ears (14 min.) features diffident footage of street preachers and passing atheists offering their comments. (FC) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 8 PM.
Each Time I Kill Legendary exploitation filmmaker Doris Wishman died in 2002 with this not-so-scary horror video mostly shot; it was completed four years later. A gawky, lonely teenager finds a magic amulet that promises her the ability to take for herself one physical feature of anyone she kills; after her parents die she starts using the amulet, with predictably bloody results and a neat final twist. It's rather mindless entertainment, and its commentary on overemphasizing women's looks seems obvious. But it's interesting for Wishman's strange, clunky pauses and weird cutaways to characters and objects--like it or hate it, it's got a personal style. 82 min. (FC) a Chopin Theatre, 9:30 PM.
RMilk in the Land Using stop-motion animation, archival footage, photographs, and contemporary interviews, directors Ariana Gerstein and Monteith McCollum look at the culture and politics that have shaped the milk industry. One especially frightening segment concerns the emergence of "swill milk" in New York in 1852, when dairy cows were fed used grain from whiskey distilleries and produced a bluish milk that caused disease and death, especially among children. Gerstein and McCollum contrast the droning efficiency of modern-day dairy farms with several renegade farmers who have returned to grass-fed cattle and unpasteurized milk. Their video is eye-opening but maintains an ethereal tone, greatly abetted by Mark Hadsell's songs and McCollum's carnivalesque score. 90 min. (JK) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 9:30 PM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Celluloid #1.