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Feature Article

July 23, 2017

Flashback: 2nd Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival: Award Winners

Guy with dreadlocks and no shirt driving a convertible

The second annual Chicago Underground Film Festival was held in 1995, at multiple locations in the city, from Thursday, July 20 to Sunday, July 23.

The festival opened on July 20th at the International Cinema Museum with the film What About Me?, directed by Rachel Amodeo. Other highlights included a retrospective of the work of Kenneth Anger, who attended the fest and screened Fireworks (1947), Scorpio Rising (1963) and KKK (Kustom Kar Kommandos) (1965) at the Congress Hotel, 520 S. Michigan, on Friday, July 21. Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin also attended and screened films on July 23; while the Reverend Ivan Stang of the Church of Subgenius screened films on July 22.

Also, Charles Pinion screened the world premiere of his feature film Red Spirit Lake, which was preceded by the short film The Operation, directed by Jacob Pander and Marne Lucas. Other short films that screened were Desktop and a preview of Monday 9:02 am, both directed by Tyler Hubby.

We know of two films that won awards at the 1995 festival:

The Four Corners of Nowhere, directed by Stephen Chbosky, won the Best Narrative Feature Award. This was an ensemble film about eccentric characters visiting and living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

So Wrong They’re Right, directed by Russ Forster, won the Best Feature Length Documentary Award. Forster, the publisher of the zine 8-track Mind, traveled the U.S. and profiled several 8-track cassette collectors.

It’s not clear if The Four Corners of Nowhere ever had a traditional theatrical or video release, but on October 8, 1997, the film screened at the Cleveland Museum of Art as part of the museum’s “Wednesdaypendents” screening series. A trailer for the film indicates that it was intended for a Summer 1994 release that most likely didn’t happen. Despite the lack of screenings, director Chbosky would go on to a successful writing and directing career. He wrote the popular novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower; then wrote and directed the novel’s film adaptation. Chbosky also created the cult CBS TV series Jericho; and co-wrote the live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

So Wrong They’re Right was initially released on DVD by Other Cinema, but is currently out of print. However, the film is currently streaming on Amazon and Fandor.

(Above information comes from a 1995 article in the Chicago Reader; an Illinois Arts Council residency program booklet; Kim Adelman’s Making It Big In Shorts; a Cleveland Museum of Art press release; and Facebook comments by Charles Pinion and Tyler Hubby.)

Watch the trailer for The Four Corners of Nowhere:

Online Cinema

July 16, 2017

Jammin’ The Blues — Gjon Mili

Jammin’ the Blues by Gjon Mili. Completed in 1944.

Gjon Mili is primarily known for his work as a photographer, particularly his portraits and experimental use of strobe lighting, much of which appeared in Life magazine.

In the book Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice, author Tad Hershorn goes into great detail in the making and release of the film. After building a career as a photographer in New York City, Mili was flown to Los Angeles by Warner Bros. to see if he would be a good motion picture director. Mili proposed a jazz film to producer Gordon Hollingshead, which the studio moved forward on. Granz, the subject of Hershorn’s book, is listed as the Technical Director of the film in the opening credits (see below).

Jammin’ the Blues was filmed over four days in September 1944, and released that December. There was some controversy surrounding the film due to the almost exclusively African-American cast. Barney Kessel was cast as the only Caucasian musician, and his race is primarily disguised by the shadowy lighting.

Jazz musicians jamming

The film opened to positive reviews and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject. It lost to Who’s Who in Animal Land, a Paramount film.

The original source of the above bootlegged film is unknown.

The film also did screen in the Spring 1947 edition of the Art in Cinema series, the catalog of which does note that the film was produced by Warner Bros. and was screened courtesy of the studio.

The opening credits lists all of the musicians appearing in the film, but not the songs. The biography Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon by Donald Clarke notes that the song sung by Marie Bryant is “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” According to Clarke, Holiday and Bryant were lifelong friends beginning in the 1930s.

The full opening title credits read as follows:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Presents
Jammin’ the Blues

With
Lester Young
Red Callender
Harry Edison
Marlowe Morris
Sidney Catlett
Barney Kessel
Joe Jones
John Simmons
Illinois Jacquet
Marie Bryant
Archie Savage

Produced by
Gordon Hollingshead

Photographed by..Robert Burks, A.S.C.
Technical Director….Norman Granz
Film Editor…….Everett Dodd
Sound by..Charles David Forrest
Art Director……..Roland Hill

Copyrighted MCMXLIV
By the Vitaphone Corporation
All Rights Reserved

Directed by Gjon Mili


The film concludes with a THE END card.