CUFF 2K By Mike White. How was I to know that by October all of my worries regarding the amount of vacation time at my job would melt away? With 1999’s trips to Toronto, Baltimore, and Colorado (see CdC #11), I had somehow used four weeks of vacation time, as opposed to my allotted three...

How was I to know that by October all of my worries regarding the amount of vacation time at my job would melt away?

With 1999’s trips to Toronto, Baltimore, and Colorado (see CdC #11), I had somehow used four weeks of vacation time, as opposed to my allotted three. Whoops! I was made aware of this fact during my annual review and told that I’d only have two weeks of vacation in 2000 to make up for it. I tallied my days carefully this year in hopes of having time available around my wedding as well as enough for trips to Florida and Baltimore. Thus, when it came to the Chicago Underground Film Festival 2000, I had to cut my trip short-coming in on Friday and leaving on Sunday.

It wasn’t until two weeks before my wedding that I was able to come and go at work as I pleased, secure in the knowledge that I didn’t really give a fuck about vacation days and neither did anyone else (see CdC #12 for details). No one was tallying my time any more to the point where my October trip to Austin and November trip to Baltimore weren’t even claimed as vacation. I simply filled in my time card as usual and let things work themselves out. I let everyone know that I was “working from home” (wink, wink) and my “home” numbers just happened to change area codes every few weeks.

Regardless, if I had known then what I know now, I would have spent most of August in Chicago. As it was, between the festival, my old roommate’s bachelor party and subsequent wedding, I ended up making three trips to the Windy City over four weekends. Luckily, I finally figured out the “trick” of going from Detroit to Chicago-take the damn train. For only a few dollars more than gas money and without the worry of falling asleep at the wheel, I traveled in “style” from Ann Arbor to Chicago. I could snooze, read, or just ponder the scenery with ease.

Running from August 18-23, CUFF 2000 picked up and moved venues from the smallish digs of 1999 down to Loews’s Fine Arts Theater, just a few yards from where I first saw the fest back in 1996. Loews allotted three theaters to the CUFF with plenty of room for even the busiest of screenings, making the need for festival passholders to score tickets from the CUFF box office a real pain in the ass. I hope that CUFF will rethink this policy for next year. I also hope that the quality of films will increase in 2001.

Certainly, the festival had its high points, especially the three screenings of Alejandro Jodorowsky films. Likewise, a good number of shorts kept me entertained. Overall, however, the opening night letdown set the tone of the festival.

Perhaps it was a bad print, but, more likely, I think it was poor mic technique and bad mixing. The terrible sound of Straightman rendered the reams of dialogue incomprehensible. If I hadn’t read that Straightman was scripted, I wouldn’t have believed it as the dialogue and story felt wholly amateurish and improvised.

Perhaps the dialogue provided motivation for the actions of Straightman’s characters. Otherwise, the film lives by its own internal, twisted logic. Written, produced, and starring Ben Redgrave and Ben Berkowitz (who also directed), it felt like the duo was too close to the source material to judge their audiences’ ability to interact with this dense film.

David (Berkowitz) is the manager of a comedy club and friend to Jack (Redgrave) and Maxine (Butch Jerinic). Unfortunately, the only interesting character out of the three is Maxine, who drops out of the story early on. Like the audience, Maxine feels alienated by her enigmatic boyfriend. Jack apparently discovers that he’s gay, while working at his blue-collar job and reading (nothing could be less exciting than watching someone reading silently to himself or herself on screen).

David’s new sexual orientation puts him in conflict with himself (he looks angst-ridden) and the swarthy Jack. The two become roommates and nothing much happens except for the two having several verbal confrontations and David cruising for guys. And...that’s about all.

In several reviews of Straightman, Berkowitz has been lauded as “the new Cassavetes.” Unfortunately, I’m not a big Cassavetes fan-I’ve spent my time fast-forwarding through many a Cassavetes film and would have done the same if I were watching Straightman on video. Being stuck in a theater for the interminable duration of the film was almost unbearable.

Though I couldn’t get the bad taste out of my mouth from Straightman, subsequent days of the CUFF managed to provide some tasty niblets.

For more info about Straightman, visit

The Moschops
This animated film is a short, fun look at the lives of the Moschops, a primitive creature whose social interactions mirror those of “modern” humans. With animation looking as primitive as the Moschops, the satire plays far ahead of its time!

King of the Jews
A story in three parts, Jay Rosenblatt’s King of the Jews begins as a personal film about his youthful dread and fear of fellow Jew, Jesus. As a child, Rosenblatt felt he had reason to fear the wrath of god, as, for centuries, Jews were scapegoats for various infractions, including the “murder” of Jesus. In the second part of the film, Rosenblatt explores this historical persecution of Jews, employing a terrific sense of montage. This section packs a wallop with shot after shot of abhorrent Holocaust footage.

It’s in the third section that Rosenblatt continues with his breathtaking montage, switching gears from the Holocaust to the Ascension. Here, the director bombards viewers with Christian imagery of Jesus’ alleged resurrection and entrance into Heaven. For even the most jaded audience, the beauty of the third section proves breathtaking.

While I would have liked a little more background on this event (even just a title card would have done), Coleslaw is a documentary cum music video with dozens of gals getting down and dirty in a seemingly endless supply of coleslaw. Wrestling, slipping, and oozing, the battle appears no-holds-barred and Hayley Downs’ piece sports some nice editing and a toe-tapping tune. Coleslaw is simple but effective and entertaining.

Magic City
David Wilson’s Magic City explores the city of Moberly, Missouri; a strange haven for punk rockers and an assorted cast of rednecks. The video documentary plays like an insightful public access show. I hope Wilson continues to produce more shorts like this!

Beyond the Screams
In CdC #11 I reviewed N.Y.H.C., a documentary on the New York hardcore scene with a colorful cast of characters who spoke without irony about hardcore’s place in the world. Simply put, Martin Sorrondeguy’s Beyond the Screams is the film N.Y.H.C. wanted to be. Focusing on the Latino punk scene in the U.S., Sorrondeguy’s half-hour video features insightful interviews and concert footage with various Latino bands, placing their music in a historical and cultural context.

A heart-wrenching documentary from Russia, Marianna Yarovskaya focuses her unflinching camera eye on the homeless and underprivileged youth of Moscow. As part of an effort to “clean up” the streets of Moscow, these kids are shipped off to their families or detention centers. Yarovskaya follows several youths as they journey through governmental red tape. Twenty-three minutes long, Undesireables has a wealth of information and raw emotion.

On my train ride home I realized that in years past the CUFF has tended to start in the middle of the week. By the time I’d get to Chicago, the big opening-night gala would long be over and the real “meat” of the festival was on display. Straightman makes me think that next year I’ll skip the opening night of the festival and show up a few days into the proceedings...

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