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Chicago Underground Film Festival

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Chicago Underground Film Festival
LocationChicago, Illinois, U.S.

The Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF) is an annual nonprofit international festival dedicated to the exhibition of underground and avant-garde cinema, video, and performance.[1][2]The festival offers an opportunity for independent artists who are frequently overlooked by other conventional, market-driven film festivals to showcase and be recognized for their work though jury and audience awards.[1] In addition to screenings, the festival also hosts events to build community amoungst the audience. Founded in 1993, the festival is widely regarded as the longest running festival of its kind.[3]


The festival was founded in 1993 by Jay Bliznick with Mark Siska and Bryan Wendorf as an alternative to the mainstream film festival circuit, which was increasingly dominated by distributor product. The festival celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2023.[4] The festival's stated goal is "to focus on the artistic, aesthetic, and fun side of independent filmmaking." CUFF promotes works that dissent radically in form, content, and technique from both the tired conventions of Hollywood and the increasingly stagnant IndieWood mainstream. The festival has an excellent reputation for curation and has become known for being one of the key events in the history of the underground. In February 2008 it was announced that the festival has become an official program of IFP/Chicago Independent Feature Project. From 2009 to 2010, the festival Was held at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a state of the art cinematheque connected to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 2011 the festival has been held at the Logan Theatre in Chicago, a popular independent movie theater on city's North side. The festival runs over the course of several days, featuring an extensive lineup of films, videos, and performances, as well as parties and concerts. In 2019 the festival once again became an independent organization and in 2022 it received its 501(c)3 not-for-profit status.[5]


CUFF welcomes a mix of films and videos of all lengths and genres, but the festival’s dominant focus is on works that chart new, experimental ground in form or content. The festival's mission is to showcase a selection of diverse films, videos, and related works to highlight filmmakers who take unconventional approaches to filmmaking and work to break boundaries in form, narrative, and length. It aims to provide audiences with a wide range of programming to promote innovative forms of media art and build an audience and community around the work.[6]

Festival program and events[edit]

While the festival has always explored the many different definitions of underground film, in its early years the festival's programming consisted mainly of low-budget b-movies and films in the tradition of the Cinema of Transgression but more recently moved its to focus more toward experimental and avant-garde films and videos and documentaries.The festival programming is diverse and varied and the festival's objective is to showcase the defiantly independent filmmaker by promoting film and video that challenges and transcends expectations. The festival has also featured retrospectives of legendary underground filmmakers such as John Waters, Kenneth Anger, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. The festival screens 100 films[2] and hosts workshops, Q&A's, and after-parties to encourage discussions about underground art and build a community among attendees.[1]


The festival jury presents six jury awards to films and videos selected as the best or most interesting in various categories well as "Made in Chicago" awards, which recognize films and videos made by local filmmakers. The jury awards vary from year to year and are determined by the current year's jury. Some awards given are more typical for festivals, such as "Best Documentary,"[7] while others can be more creative and specific to the winning film, such as "Radical Empathy Award."[8]Audience choice awards and honorable mentions also given in addition in order to recognize other outstanding films at the festival. [6][9] The film festival accepts a wide range of genres and styles of films for submission. The nine categories for festivial submission are narrative feature, narrative short, documentary feature, documentary short, experimental feature, experimental short, animation feature, animation short, and music video.[6]

Past winners[edit]

2022 Winners
Award Film Title Director(s) Nationality Source
Grand Jury Prize My Mother's Cat Annabella Schnabel Hungary [10][11]
Best Short Narrative Pretty Pickle Jim Vendiola United States [10]
Best Narrative Feature Endless Content Forever Jacob Gregor United States [10][11]
Best Experimental Short Judy's Thoughts Melody Gilbert United States [10]
Best Experimental Feature The Lost Record Alexandra Cabral, Ian Svenonius United States [10][11]
Best Documentary Circus of the Scars: The Insider Odyssey of the Jim Rose Circus Slideshow Cory Wees United States [10]
Best Animation Boys Clap, Girls Dance Dena Springer United States [10]
Audience Award Provo Emma Thatcher United States [10][11]
2020 Winners
Award Film Title Director(s) Nationality Source
The Race to Hell Award The Deepest Hole Matt McCormick United States [12]
Badass Bolex Award Felix in Wonderland Marie Losier [12]
Best Ghost Music Video Hybrid Feature Ghost of the Golden Groves Aniket Dutta, Roshni Sen [12]
Best in a Graveyard Short Blessed Land Phạm Ngọc Lân [12]
Best Pixelated Curiosity Magic Explained Paul Tarragó [12]
Honorable Mention ( ( ( ( ( /*\ ) ) ) ) ) Charles Fairbanks, Saul Kak [12]
Audacious Animation Award Umbilical Danski Tang [12]
Audience Award Paper Shadows Robert C. Banks Jr. [12]
Honorable Mention Supermarket Gianluca Abbate [12]
2018 Winners
Award Film Title Director(s) Nationality Source
Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records Audience Award Julia Nash Country source
Serpents and Doves Honorable Mention: Short Documentary Nellie Kluz
On the Rink Made in Chicago Award Benjamin Buxton
Black Dog Honorable Mention: Animation Joshua Tuthill
Dream Journal 2018 | Honorable Mention: Surrealist Daymare Jon Rafman
Anti-Objects, or Space Without Path or Boundary Best Experimental Film Sky Hopinka
The White World According to Daliborek The Most "Problematic" Vít Klusák
V/IRL Best Documentary Short Malia Bruker
Tomorrow Never Knows Radical Empathy Award Adam Sekuler
Girl Powder Best Comedy Short Annelise Ogaard
Common Carrier Honorable Mention: Experimental Narrative James N. Kienitz Wilkins
Craigslist Allstars Spirit of CUFF Samira Elagoz


  1. ^ a b c "CUFF". cuff.org. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  2. ^ a b "Chicago Underground Film Festival". FilmFreeway. 2024-01-15. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  3. ^ WordPress.com, Create a free website or blog at (2017-05-30). "Bryan Wendorf – Ringleader of the Chicago Underground Film Festival". The Chicago Ambassador. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  4. ^ Magazine, Screen (2023-09-13). "The 30th Chicago Underground Film Festival Is Here". Screen Magazine. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  5. ^ Magazine, Screen (2023-09-13). "The 30th Chicago Underground Film Festival Is Here". Screen Magazine. Retrieved 2024-05-04.
  6. ^ a b c "Chicago Underground Film Festival". FilmFreeway. Archived from the original on 2021-11-04. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  7. ^ Circus of the Scars: The Insider Odyssey of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow (2022) | MUBI. Retrieved 2024-05-02 – via mubi.com.
  8. ^ Tomorrow Never Knows (2017) | MUBI. Retrieved 2024-05-02 – via mubi.com.
  9. ^ Festhome. "Chicago Underground Film Festival". Festhome. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h "Chicago Underground Film Festival 2022". MUBI. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  11. ^ a b c d "Chicago Underground Film Festival (2022)". IMDb. Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Chicago Underground Film Festival 2020". MUBI. Retrieved 2024-05-02.

External links[edit]