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5 Underground Film Festivals: R.I.P.?

Graffiti style logo for Miami Underground Film Festival

I don’t want this post to sound like I’m spotting a trend or anything, but I got a little sad today while updating the Underground Film Journal’s Underground Film Festival List. I’ve been a little out of the loop the past couple weeks — due to health and work issues — so I hadn’t realized it before, but several underground film festivals have quietly gone into their goodnight.

Also, I’m just basing these obituaries on a couple criteria: No calls for entry going out in 2009 and/or currently defunct or un-updated websites. Some of these fests may just be on hiatus, but it’s more than likely they’re just gone. If I’m mistaken on any of them, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

1. Miami Underground Film Festival

Most of these fests normally run in September, so that’s why I noticed them all at once. However, the first one to go was the Miami Underground Film Festival, which missed it’s run this year back in March. Now, with these fests, I was never particularly close with any of their festival organizers, so I can’t say for sure what happened to any of them.

The Miami Underground I’m particularly sad to see go since they screened lots of Underground Film Journal favorites. After posting up the 2008 award winners, I was very pleasantly introduced to Anthony Rivero Stabley‘s brilliant “pop art comedy” Marta’s Sex Tape. Portland filmmaker Bob Moricz — whose work I haven’t seen enough of, but of which I have I adore — was also a 2008 award winner; while the Butler Bros.’ Confusions of an Unmarried Couple also screened.

2. San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival

Meanwhile, Joshua Grannell, aka Peaches Christ, is shutting down his popular Midnight Mass screening series in San Francisco this year. This was an annual summer cult film festival that marks it’s 12th edition in 2009, screening diverse fare from Roller Boogie to The Exorcist (both starring Linda Blair, of course) to Heathers to Pink Flamingos to Poltergeist and more. Typically, Peaches Christ would close out each Midnight Mass with the San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival, but not this year and with shutting down Midnight Mass, I’d assume never again.

The San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival only screened films by local Bay Area filmmakers, but the fest did introduce me to the fabulous work of Waylon Bacon, director of great short films like Poster Boy and My Worst Nightmare. Grannell is most likely shutting down his Midnight Mass to concentrate on his own filmmaking career. He’s currently hard at work on his new film All About Evil, which is due out in 2010.

3. Hi Mom! Film Festival

Speaking of short films, one of the most extensive U.S. short film festivals hasn’t posted any news since January. That would be the interestingly named Hi Mom!, which ran in around Chapel Hill, NC. This was one of the few festivals that I have listed over the years that didn’t actually have the word “underground” in it’s name. But, I’m all for supporting filmmakers who primarily make shorts, so that’s why I liked listing this one. Hi Mom! used to screen work by Underground Film Journal faves like T. Arthur Cottam and Tony Gault, and almost invariably had a new short by the legendary Bill Plympton.

4. New Haven Underground Film Festival

Another quasi-shorts-only fest was the New Haven Underground Film Festival. Although screening mostly shorts, sometimes the fest would include a feature or two. Originally founded by Michael Mongillo and Todd Dzicek, they turned NHUFF over to author and Film Threat contributor Phil Hall last year. But with the fest website having gone dark recently, I’m assuming Hall is not going to be continuing on with it.

However, Hall did write an amazing film history book that came out earlier this year called The History of Independent Cinema, which is chock full of interesting and obscure facts about indie cinema. I recommend checking it out. Also, original co-fest director Michael Mongillo directed the funny mockumentary Being Michael Madsen, which has been making the festival rounds this past year and will hopefully see a release sometime soon.

5. Twin Cities Underground Film Festival

Lastly, another site that’s gone dark is the one for the Twin Cities Underground Film Festival, which ran for three years in Minneapolis and screened mostly modern-day B-movies, but also documentaries and lots of shorts. It was a fun festival to list.

So, what to ultimately make of all this? Not much, except to morn these individual losses to the underground film community. Like I said, I don’t want this to be a trend-spotting post. Just wanted to note their passing. Underground fests are usually small, scrappy affairs that are a labor of love for the people who run them. However, sometimes it simply becomes unfeasible to keep them going.

So, after the sadness of these passings, let’s rejoice in the fact there’s still plenty of underground fests going strong. Plus, a whole crop of new ones began in 2008 and 2009, so this is all part of the cycle of life.  Long live the underground!


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