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The Last New York Underground Film Festival

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 21, 2008

Well, this sucks.

After 15 years and a couple of leadership changes, the current folks in charge of the New York Underground Film Festival are calling it quits. The last ever NYUFF will run this year on April 2-8 and I’ll have the full schedule up in the next couple of days, or weeks depending on how long it takes me to finish it (it looks like a doozy). I’m also reprinting in full below the final statement made by the fest. I could just link to it, but I don’t know if they’re planning to leave their archives up or not.

I’m not quite sure why they’re doing this. The statement says that a “restructuring and refocusing” is needed to keep the spirit of the event going, so they’re killing this one and a couple of the current co-directors will be starting a new fest. NYUFF has had a couple of different directors over the years, so I don’t know why they don’t just pass the baton to someone else. Or maybe the baton’s worn out from being passed around so much.

NYUFF was founded in 1994 by filmmakers Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland as a venue to screen Chicken Hawk, a documentary on NAMBLA. They ran it for a few years until handing off the reigns to the then Festival Programmer, Ed Halter, in 1998. Since then, Gurland has gone one to direct some direct-to-DVD and indie features, while Phillips directs mainstream comedies like Old School and Starsky & Hutch and is an amateur poker player.

Ed meanwhile transformed NYUFF into one of the premiere avant-garde screening venues in the world. He served as Festival Director until 2003, then for the next two years he oversaw the event as Executive Director/Producer while Kendra Gaeta served as Festival Director. Both Ed and Kendra officially left the fest for the 2006 edition while Mo Johnston took over. In 2007, Mo shared co-director duties with Kevin McGarry; and this year those two share that duty with Nellie Killian.

Ed is now the author of the book From Sun Tzu to XBox and is launching his own brand-new avant-garde screening series in a few days in Brooklyn called Light Industry with his partner Thomas Beard. Finally, after this last NYUFF, McGarry and Killian will launch another screening series called Migrating Forms, named after the awesome film by James Fotopoulos.

On a personal level, while I haven’t been to NYUFF in many years, I have to say that the¬†Underground Film Journal probably wouldn’t have its current focus on underground film if it weren’t for the years I did attend, which were extremely formative experiences for me. You can read my coverage of those years here: 2000, 2001, 2002; which I migrated over from the old HTML-based format of the site.

In addition to seeing a mind-blowing amount of amazing movies those years that opened me up to a whole new world of film, I met a lot of awesome people and filmmakers. Most importantly, if it weren’t for NYUFF, I definitely wouldn’t have met the love of my life, my wife Jessica, whose great documentary Plaster Caster played in 2001.

So, I’m sad to see it go. I’d always hoped I’d make it back sometime, but on to other things, I guess. NYUFF helped launch what seems to be dozens of underground festivals in cities all over the world that I happily cover and now I get to correspond with an international range of filmmakers and festival directors. But New York has always seemed to hold the central spirit of the underground film scene since the 1960s. NYUFF may be gone, but underground film will live on.

Finally, as promised, here’s NYUFF’s final statement:

After 15 years, 2008 will mark the last New York Underground Film Festival. Former festival director Ed Halter says NYUFF was “created to showcase films that weren’t being supported anywhere else. Over time, we evolved into a festival that promoted our own special blend of documentaries, features and experimental work. People came to expect the unexpected at the NYUFF; we became an anti-institutional institution.”

The organization has undergone many changes over the last 5 years and has decided that a restructuring and refocusing is in order if the spirit of the institution is to live on. A new organization called Migrating Forms has been formed by two of NYUFF’s current directors, Nellie Killian and Kevin McGarry, and will continue to produce a film and video festival in the spring, with the addition of year-round programming.

The name Migrating Forms signals a passing of the torch from NYUFF to the future, and it also addresses the present condition of film and video arts-filmmakers are exploring new technologies while re-inventing and re-contextualizing traditional practices. The name Migrating Forms comes from a title of a film by a filmmaker who has gained much attention from his 8-year participation in the NYUFF, James Fotopoulos, and we think this is a nice, if oblique, way to remain connected to our past. A full press release with more information on the new organization will be available soon.

So let’s migrate… stay tuned to www.migratingforms.org for details and to join our mailing list.