A Robust Spectrum: Kansas City Underground Film Festival Starts Sept. 14

Still from “Pessoas,” directed by Arturo Dueñas Herrero (from the artist)

“Film is an integrating art and everything that happens in your life, or the stimuli you receive, influences your films,” says Arturo Dueñas Herrero, whose Pessoas, a bittersweet travelogue, plays at the Kansas City Underground Film Festival (KCUFF), which runs this and next weekend at the Charlotte Street Foundation (3333 Wyoming St.). Herrero is among the nearly 100 directors whose films among eight headings — Animated, Documentary, Experimental, Feature Film, Horror, International, Local, Short Film — were selected for this year’s festival. Ranging in length from five-minute shorts to hour-plus features, this year’s festival offers a robust spectrum of subject matter for festival attendees, particularly those deprived of the stimuli of travel. Or of a perspective that informs us of the unknown here at home.

Again, Willie Evans, KCUFF’s director and co-founder, has included films with a sense of the revelatory and the offbeat. Which is especially evident in the showcase themes. The 1993 cult documentary Damnit Jim I’m Only a Documentary will be a draw for Trekkies from the Copyright Laws Don’t Apply theme on the festival’s Sept. 14 opening night. The festival’s second night, Americans CAN Make Good Movies, features the short films Memoir of a Lonely Cloud, Good Years Gone, Candyland, Soft Launch (a provocative vignette on Internet boundaries gone awry) and the relationship feature film, Good Luck with Everything. Friday, the 16th, features two sequential programs, Ultimate World, an absurd comedy with tinges of Reality Bites, and Is There a Pine on the Mountain beginning at 7 p.m. Friday night’s second program, at 9:30 p.m., Kickass Kickoff, runs the French-produced 201 Days, the Canadian-produced The Card Cheat and closing with the Ivory Coast underdog feature, Ultimatum: Rise of a Hero.

Still from “The 3rd Side,” directed by Honor Ahmed Jabbar (from the artist)

Both Saturdays of KCUFF will offer full programming days, starting at 12:30 p.m. Animation & Animation Adjacent opens the Saturday 17th program, featuring titles ranging from whimsical — local filmmaker Jessica Whitney Love’s The Messenger — to the explorative — Carolyn Shadid Lewis’ InterGeneration, in which the filmmaker works with eight intercity teen animators. Singing in the Wilderness, the feature-length film of the Art & Asian Identity thematic group, follows the members of a Miao ethnic Christian choir and how they struggle to maintain their own lives and dignity despite being exploited for propaganda. The 3rd Side and Te’aa’s Guest, two films that also serve as the title for the following program offer a look at two very different cultures; the former is a must-see for its heartbreaking look at Iraqi life after the 2018 protests that continue to haunt those who were there. The Horror Showcase completes the first Saturday of the festival. Oz Overshiner’s disturbing short, Sanctus, is the perfect lead-in to the claustrophobia and isolation in Jack James’ Wild Bones.

Still from “Wild Bones,” directed by Jack James (from the artist)

Week Two

The aforementioned Pessoas, a reference to the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, is the feature highlight of Wednesday the 21st’s Road Trips & Family Bonds. Herrero’s film offers a twofold narrative: the subtle tension between himself and his daughter, Greta, as they travel to find the young woman Herrero photographed a decade previous and a visual essay on post-Castro Cuba. As they get closer to discovery, the allusion to Pessoa, a writer who devoted his life’s work to denial of his existence, becomes more poignant.

Likewise meaningful are the voices of the various Cubans Herrero and Greta interact with, and who have no desire to pass through this century unseen or unheard. A short trio of scenes features everyday Cubans who Herrero and his daughter give a lift. When asked if they’ll remain in Cuba, each person speaks with an anticipation of a flourishing Cuba even if, as Herrero says, “the openness…hoped for is taking longer than they had expected.” Herrero’s 2020 short, Dajla: Cinema and Oblivion, observing the attempts of the Sahrawi refugees in Southern Algeria to alter their existence through a film festival, is also included in the festival as part of the opening weekend.

Still from “In the Garden Of,” directed by Ji Stribling (from the artist)

Connor Rickman’s The Whole Lot, from Gentle Stories That Won’t Upset You – Except the Ones That Will Upset You, Ryan Balas’ Love is a Map from Good Movies for Cool People and Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque’s Greyland from Melancholy & Creativity in Modern America are promising features of the festival’s final weekend. Greyland, in particularly, for its sympathetic examination of Youngstown, Ohio, deemed the fastest shrinking city in the United States,” demands to be seen. “For young people like our characters in Greyland,” says director Sicotte-Levesque, “the system around them is so entrenched in corruption and elitism, that it is very difficult to break the cycle.”

Saturday the 24th winds down with the Local Showcase, featuring 13 directors. On another program, local filmmaker Ji Stribling’s In the Garden Of, a dreamlike study of identity, stuns for its opening imagery. “During the conceptualization process,” Stribling says, “I asked myself what my heaven looks like. I’m not religious, but my ideal place would look like a serene place where I can wake up and grow.”

The Kansas City Underground Film Festival runs Sept. 14-24 at the Charlotte Street Foundation, 3333 Wyoming St., with the exception of Sept. 15, which will run a one-night program at the Stray Cat Film Center, 1662 Broadway. For more information/schedules, visit kcuff2022.eventive.org/films.

Mel Neet

Mel Neet is a writer who lives in Kansas City. She has had residencies with Kansas City's Charlotte Street Foundation and with Escape to Create in Seaside, Fla. Her byline has appeared in “Pitch Weekly,” “The Kansas City Star” and “Brooklyn Rail.”

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