When Robert Redford notes that even he wouldn’t want to launch his Sundance Film Festival in today’s independent arena, it’s truly a sign of saturation in the film festival market. It’s no surprise that independent film festivals catering to as-yet-unearthed artistic voices as opposed to A-list Hollywood stars are not exactly running in the black. But at twenty years, you might think the Chicago Underground Film Festival would be one of the fests not in a state of constant peril. Yet the longest running underground film festival in the world, revered by many in the experimental filmmaking community, found itself facing the financial challenges to meet increasing operating costs this year, as it had in the last.
In 2012, CUFF utilized the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to assist with funding costs. Now, for its 2013 festival, the CUFF team took the more secure route and crowdfunded through Indiegogo. (Indiegogo guarantees you any money you’ve raised while Kickstarter, on the other hand, employs a more volatile “all or nothing” business model.) The modest $6,000 goal that the CUFF team reached was in an effort to afford an array of exhibition machines and technology in order to show as many of the film selections as possible in their native format—a rarity in today’s independent film festival culture. The campaign paid off: on Wednesday March 6, 2013, CUFF kicks off with an opening night of festivities before embarking on a five-day, fully loaded niche-programming marathon at Chicago’s newly renovated Logan Theatre. Part of this year’s specialty programming is a retrospective series of popular films from past years. (Also note: Several past CUFF films—including Mod Fuck Explosion and Revolution Summer—are available on Fandor.)
Festival director and programmer Bryan Wendorf has seen the evolution of CUFF from a convention-like, hotel-set festival to a cinematic event that has attracted such underground film titans as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kenneth Anger and John Waters. And while he’s been thoroughly immersed in the underground canon for years, he’s graduated from the old school of analog and is keen on the new school of digital filmmaking. He’s focused on his vision but not turned off by changing industry tides or technological advances for filmmaking.
This weekend I was able to sit down and talk to Wendorf about the origins of CUFF, the “ever-flowing stream and ideas” behind underground film and what the future may hold in store for one of the last exhibition showcases for independent “underground” and avant-garde film.
Watch the interview.