MAGNIFICENT, Opening night – Director Ryan Njenga
If there is anything that comes close to withdrawing from cinema, it would be the feeling of returning from a trip to a place that is both exotic and familiar. The Kansas City Underground Film Festival, which opened on September 16 and runs through September 26, features 114 films, said Willy Evans, director and co-founder of KCUFF, from 800 submissions requiring 400 hours of viewing by the board of directors of KCUFF. 27 countries are represented and 39 of the films are by directors from Missouri and Kansas. The festival succeeds in presenting the familiar in its strangeness and the exotic in its banal.
The new modern space at the Charlotte Street Foundation, 3333 Wyoming, provides an ideal venue for the festival. Evans, from Manhattan, Kan., Was looking for a space to suit the needs of the festival. He founded the festival with Kari Bingham-Gutierrez to fill the void provided when arthouse mainstay Tivoli closed its doors in 2019. The festival’s mission is to break down barriers for filmmakers and moviegoers, to so that the former pay little or no submission fees, depending on whether they are local or international, and the latter pay no admission.
During a balmy opening weekend in late September – a far cry from the festival’s opening year, 2020, which required an outdoor setting during a cold and rainy October – attendees were treated to an extensive line of showcases that met KCUFF’s goal of bringing “undercover and independent films to the Kansas City community.” After the festival, Evans hopes that CSF sponsorship could form a future alliance in film preservation; The CSF currently contains an archive of local filmmakers.
KCUFF’s local opening weekend film showcase covered the gamut in tone and style. The opening salvo, “Come on baby, shake your body baby, do the conga,” was a two-minute cocktail of a man gaining the courage to ask his crush to dance but being dragged into a – well, don’t. will not give the spoiler. Other offerings for this showcase included “Magnifique”, a contemplation on the race filmed as a visual poem; “Goodbye, Vietnam”, an animated documentary narrated by the filmmaker about her father; “Breaking an Image,” a compelling look at fame and shopping mall culture, and “Faces of Suicide,” which focused on the heartache and grief of those who remain.
The horror shorts showcase was a strong indicator that the September 25th Female Lead Horror showcase will be a must see. The latter title implies that the films meet the Bechdel test, in which two women can have a conversation about something other than a man. “Bastion”, the French-language Horror Showcases feature film about two women surviving alone in a world at war, seems to meet this criterion. “Dora”, another French language film, delighted at the perversity in the way it handled the dynamics of mother / daughter tension.
A local storefront featured the beautifully crafted exploration of Petey McGee’s identity and perception in “Skin Deep.” The Intimate Filmmaking-Single Subject Documentary showcase delved into two disparate stories. “Good Intentions” followed one man’s attempts to overcome his addiction; if there had been a prize for the most heartbreaking, this self-filmed documentary might have won. “Built Lands” captured the daily life of Felix Cuadrado Lomas, the last remaining artist from a late 1960s collective who chose to settle in a rural Spanish village and endure well-deserved recognition. The Queer Shorts Showcase featured “Epiphany at the Honky Chateau” by local filmmaker Knik Woods.
Evans seems to have had a hunch that participants might want variance. “Two Miles East,” one of the documentaries on Earnest’s Thoughtful Documentary, examined the emotional impact on Dan Yoon, who lost his family, and the community left after the crash of a military training flight in 2008. The next film, “Verplant”, was a comedic travelogue by Waldemar Schleicher following two longtime friends in their attempts to cycle from Germany to Vietnam.
The last day of the first weekend featured two shorts that, while not appearing in the same storefront, explored family. Andrew Horng’s “Tammy” humorously criticizes the Asian American experience. Horng’s black-and-white feature film, which has also been screened at several film festivals – KCUFF does not exclude entries that have been shown at previous festivals – allowed him to gently poke fun at the focus of its culture over science over the arts.
Nicholas Sparger’s nine-minute short, “Chuck, Forever After,” provided a bittersweet glimpse into memory loss. Shot in the residence where Sparger’s grandfather now lives, the film speaks to those who have been denied visits to loved ones over the past year due to COVID-19. “Some things go away,” says Sparger, “but others reappear.”
The festival also features a few world premieres: the first weekend had “The Things Where They No Longer Are”, an Argentinian offering by Fabio Vallarelli, and “Excluded”, a Swedish film by Hiwa Abbasi, relevant to his examination of tempting migrants. to relocate while navigating personal changes and bureaucracy. The second weekend features the premieres of “8MM Boys”, about a group of filmmakers from the Appalachians; “The Straitjacket,” a grim take on addiction, and “Yang Metal Rat,” a documentary about being in China at the very start of the COVID epidemic.
The KCUFF takes place from September 23 to 26, with screenings from 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.kcundergroundfilmfest.com.