By Ray Pride
Among Chicago’s many, many film and video festivals small or large, three claim the greatest longevity. At Lake FX Summit and Expo last month, a “Festival of Chicago Film Fests” event welcomed programmers of more than thirty independent festivals to make a case for their mission. Of the three longest-running on display, Chicago International, in its fifty-second year, claims the title of “the longest-running international competitive film festival in North America.” Reeling, now in its thirty-fourth year, is the second oldest gay film festival in the world. And then there’s Chicago Underground, at twenty-three, the oldest underground film festival on the planet. (I’ve been an observer of the festival since its start and also present the annual “Bar Talks” series where extended conversations between filmmakers and audiences are encouraged daily.) I caught up with Underground co-founder, artistic director and programmer Bryan Wendorf after the schedule was completed in May. We talk about what “underground” means in this century, honoree Tony Conrad, special guest (and underground expert) Jack Sargeant, as well as highlights from the features and shorts programs.
Tell me a story from early on when you realized the festival would go on, if not on and on, and on and on and on.
When Jay Bliznick first approached me about being a part of the original team that organized the first festival, I put him off for several months. Deep down, I knew that if I committed to being a part of this, I would be in it for the long haul and be involved with it for years. Then as we were planning that first event in 1993, it became clear that one member of that team wasn’t pulling their weight and was avoiding calls from the other organizers. We met together in my dining room and basically fired that person. That was a huge step, because it was someone we were all friends with, but as a working relationship it was a disaster. Making that difficult decision was the biggest step in realizing that we were serious. The other big step that pointed toward the festival surviving for the long haul was in our third year, when we shifted our model away from the film-fan convention model that had inspired Jay, and more closely resembled other film festivals. We also managed to get Roger Ebert to write a substantial piece for the Sun-Times, which raised both our profile and attendance. That gave us the drive to continue. Read the rest of this entry »
Less than grand Grand Guignol, “Tale of Tales” (Il racconto dei racconti), is an insistently gruesome fairytale shocker from modern Italian maximalist Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah,” “Reality”). The gaudy, bawdy, ugly, disturbing excesses of “ToT” are strangely inert in this adaptation of three fairytales about three Renaissance royals in three kingdoms by seventeenth-century Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile. Read the rest of this entry »
Master British filmmaker Terence Davies spent the years between 2000’s “House Of Mirth” and 2008’s “Of Time And The City” working on projects that did not come to fruition, including his adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 “Sunset Song,” a novel beloved in Scotland for its portrait of rural families in the pre-World War I countryside. (“It is a dark and brooding novel about the Scottish peasantry, about the land in general and one family–The Guthries–in particular,” Davies writes.) Read the rest of this entry »
Radu Jude’s cruel, cunning “Aferim!,” a 35mm black-and-white Western set in the feudal Romania of 1835, is set in motion by a runaway Roma slave, and the moral clash that ensues in the episodic road-movie structure is no less pertinent in modern times. Read the rest of this entry »
Writer-director-star Julie Delpy’s sixth feature, “Lolo,” is a lightly likable, largely lowbrow slapstick comedy with dashes of eye-widening Oedipal terror, observing Violette, a hardworking single mother of forty (Delpy) who starts a new affair with a nice-guy “hick,” Jean-Rene (Dany Boon) while on a Biarritz spa vacation, before the hell-bent complication of her spoiled teenage son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste) raises its curly head. Read the rest of this entry »
Deadpan allegory without a single straight answer: Yorgos Lanthimos’ fourth precise, absurdist comedy (after “Dogtooth” and “Alps”), and his first in English, is the answer to the question: Is one of the worst bad-date movies ever made also one of the great ones? Oh yeah. Read the rest of this entry »
“A Brighter Summer Day,” the late Edward Yang’s four-hour 1991 masterpiece, set in Taiwan in 1959 or so, is a coming-of-age film, a love story or three or four or five. It is also a true-crime tale, a wondrous gift in so many ways, especially on a large screen in this recent 4K digital restoration. Its multitude of astonishments include a sure, novelistic mastery of accruing details in an expansive shape that is built upon observation of the smallest moments, gestures, blood-boiling fixations, fetish objects, mortal desires, moral frustrations. Read the rest of this entry »
A girl is a woman is a country in the bold thunderclap of “Viktoria,” Bulgarian filmmaker Maya Vitkova’s magical mixed-genre widescreen debut feature. Read the rest of this entry »
Álex de la Iglesia’s sprawling backstage farce “My Big Night” (Mi gran noche) revels in the chaos behind the scenes of a woefully disastrous New Year’s Eve variety show, as it’s pre-recorded months early, to extrava-gonzo result. Read the rest of this entry »
“Who would we be without museums?” In “Francofonia: An Elegy for Europe,” Aleksandr Sokurov’s latest prose-poem-cum-philosophical essay on art and history housed in a world-class museum, the Russian filmmaker alights on the Louvre in 1940 at the onset of World War II as museum director Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and German officer Count Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) collaborate to keep the assembled artworks from Nazi hands. Read the rest of this entry »