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It’s Official: IFP Acquires Chicago Underground Film Festival

By Mike Everleth ⋅ June 15, 2008

IFP/Chicago has issued an official press release about their acquisition of the Chicago Underground Film Festival. You can read that in its entirety below, if you want to skip right to it.

The release officially confirms the reports that came out earlier this year about the deal and spends a good deal of time allaying fears that the festival might be be significantly changed. IFP/C seems to be bending over backwards to do that. There is one big change, though: the fest will move from its traditional late August dates to late October. This year, CUFF will run for five days from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2.

CUFF co-founder and longtime director Bryan Wendorf will be going by the title Artistic Director this year and a section of the release is actually labeled “Same mission, expanded programs.” From my own personal standpoint, I’m a little skeptical about these kinds of things, but that comes from working for several small companies that got swallowed up by or sold off to another company. Of course, the purchasing company assures everyone that everything will be the same and they usually are for a little while until the day when everything is different.

But I’m sure the fest will remain unchanged this year and that the goals outlined by IFP/C and its Executive Director, Elizabeth Donius, are sincere. Plus, Wendorf has served as an IFP board member, so he’s been close to that organization for awhile now. I still find it kind of amazing that Bryan has made CUFF into such a great institution with just himself at the helm for this long. That’s an incredible accomplishment.

The release is correct that in a year in which some underground fests are closing up shop and others are dropping the “underground” tag, I hope this deal does build a better CUFF in the years to come. As for now, it sounds like it’s definitely going to be a good time this year. And this is the official release in full. I just snipped out some parts that included contact emails and phone numbers:

IFP/CHICAGO and Chicago Underground Film Festival Create Strategic Partnership

15-year-old festival announces dates and venues

Chicago – Independent Feature Project/Chicago and Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF) proudly announce a strategic partnership that has IFP/Chicago producing the 15th edition of the “Defiantly independent and deliberately scandalous” (Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune) Chicago Underground Film Festival. The five-day event takes place October 29- November 2nd, 2008 at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N Western Avenue.

Same mission, expanded programs
For 15 years, The Chicago Underground Film Festival’s mission has been to support and promote innovative films and videos that dissent in form, technique, or content from the ‘indie’ mainstream. It’s goal: to create a community for makers and audiences of adventurous work that entertains, pushes boundaries, challenges viewers and transcends expectations.

This year, IFP/Chicago will combine its highly regarded Filmmakers Summit with the fest, incorporating the Summit’s panels and workshops – which provide local filmmakers with access to key programmers, distributors and journalists – with all the screenings and parties that inspired MSNBC Online to call CUFF “A highlight on Chicago’s film festival circuit.”

But the film festival landscape has radically changed in the last 15 years, and the partnership with IFP/Chicago comes at a time that has seen many long-term festivals struggling and even more – such as Cinematexas and the New york Underground Film Festival – shuttering their doors. And the festival itself has matured.

“CUFF has changed and grown since its start in the early 90s era of punk/grunge and transgression, says CUFF Artistic Director Bryan Wendorf. “It’s become an internationally recognized showcase for new visions in film and video, particularly in documentary and experimental work. As the festival has become more ambitious, our administrative needs have also grown.”

CUFF and IFP/C both have long histories of involvement with different facets of Chicago’s independent film community. And the organizations have maintained a close relationship throughout the years. CUFF co-founder Wendorf is a former IFP board member. And there are a number of current IFP/Chicago board members that have past involvement with the fest – as organizers or as filmmakers showing their work. Because the two organizations are so familiar with each other’s mission, a partnership seemed like a natural fit.

“This partnership pulls together the strengths of both organizations for the benefit of filmmakers from around the world and the local Indie film community,” says Elizabeth Donius, IFP/Chicago Executive Director.

IFP/Chicago will provide staff and not-for-profit management expertise and administrative skills including the support of IFP/C Development Director Colleen O’Neil and support of a broad ranging Board consisting of players in Chicago’s independent film community.

CUFF artistic director Bryan Wendorf will spearhead the programming, ensuring that the fest will retain its unique programming/artistic vision. It’s Wendorf’s ability to program films that are simultaneously serious and challenging as well as fun and entertaining that has garnered accolades from local and national press, such as:

“The Chicago Underground Film Festival is the city’s most eclectic yet best curated fest. Director and co-founder Bryan Wendorf has a knack for uncovering work that startles, upsets and spellbinds.” – Bill Stamets, Chicago Sun-Times

“The hottest and most ambitious festival on the local scene” –John Petrakis, Chicago Tribune

A Cultural Happening – Halloween with Never be the Same
CUFF has long been a benchmark of Chicago’s cultural scene, bringing the independent film and music worlds together for a five-day party that has the market cornered on the young, creative and counter-cultural audiences in Chicago.

In an effort to bring the festival to an even larger audience, CUFF organizers have pushed back the festival to Halloween weekend. The move promises to deliver on the fest’s reputation for the best parties in town – including a full-blown costume party.

“Halloween was made for filmmakers,” says Bryan Wendorf. “So of course we’re going to give them a reason to dress up.”

IFP/Board member Amy Cargill is working with Wendorf to curate a slate of parties that makes the most of the city’s vibrant music scene.

What people are saying about the Chicago Underground Film Festival

“What you get for your money is not just admission to the films but admission to a subculture” –Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“I like the word ‘underground’ as in the Chicago Underground Film Festival. The word ‘independent’ carries a stigma of whininess. ‘Underground’ means a good time.” – John Waters

“Defiantly independent and deliberately scandalous” –Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

“If you care at all about the state of culture on the margins, this is probably the most important project in the country reflecting its evolution” –Lumpen Magazine

“This festival continues to have more of an above-ground presence year after year. The festival’s focus, meanwhile remains consistent” -Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

“The most refreshingly offbeat film event in Chicago” – Adam Langer, The Film Festival Guide

“A cultural mainstay on its home turf” –Ray Pride, Filmmaker Magazine

“Without CUFF my movie would not be coming out in America” –Peter Hall, Director of DELINQUENT

“I’d like to think the work Chris Gore and I did at Film Threat helped inspire the lunatics behind CUFF but now they’re the ones inspiring me…not just a great “underground” festival but a great film festival PERIOD.” –Dave Williams, former editor FILM THREAT

“I had the best time of my life at this festival. Your lives are so much better than all those people who think they’re having a good time in Hollywood” — Penelope Spheeris, Hollywood Filmmaker

“CUFF gave me hope for the future” –George Kuchar, Underground Filmmaker

“There are still a few out there for whom the indie flame burns bright. Right on!” –Peter Howell, Toronto Star

“What can be said about CUFF that hasn’t already been written on every men’s room wall in Chicago? The ultimate late summer party? A film fix for the celluloid junkies? Free food? Take your pick…” – Producer JimDwyer (testimonial on friendster.com)