Upstart film fest expands.

DEFINE UNDERGROUND. It's not so easy. In its second year, the beefed-up SUFF can't just rely on being a self-styled alternative to SIFF—as if it had no status, publicity, or sponsors. "Underground" connotes under the radar, beneath notice, out of the multiplex, excluded from mainstream film festivals, off the museum and gallery circuit. That's not SUFF, not anymore. Boasting some 130 films from 13 countries to be shown over nine days at two venues, the fest is poised at a critical and perhaps somewhat unstable juncture.


runs October 6-14 at Cinema 18 and Little Theatre

Stay small, lose momentum, remain pigeonholed, and you may fizzle out like so many other fly-by-night fringe festivals. Get bigger, chase corporate money, expand your programming, and you may lose your focus and identity. (After all, there's no point in competing with SIFF, as Jon Behrens and Steve Creson acknowledged last year while founding SUFF.)

With almost twice as many films as 1999, SUFF has wisely broken down its titles into various sections: features, horror, radical shorts, narrative shorts, experimental shorts, and documentary shorts. All span a variety of formats, including video, DV, and film from 35mm down to super-8. As with last year, SUFF provides a good opportunity to view a wide variety of short films by students and noncommercial directors, with particular emphasis on nonnarrative, avant-garde works that rarely screen at feature-oriented festivals.

Having previewed only a small fraction of SUFF's programming, we can only toss out a few impressions. Local filmmaker Rustin Thompson's 30 Frames a Second is one of the better WTO docs we've seen, with a notably less strident, tendentious tone than other efforts. The Golf War takes a more simplistic approach to land reform in the Philippines, but features some nice touches and an amusing deer-in-the-headlights cameo by Tiger Woods.

The trailer for Shafted!, a spoof about a delusional white John Shaft wanna-be, is certainly amusing, although the idea may wear thin after 90 minutes. A Step Removed nicely animates vacation photos to convey a North Carolina college student's memories of her native India; vivid colors and street noises bring her snapshots to life. Kalin's Prayer also reaches back in time, employing film and video to relate the unhappy past of a crack-addicted lesbian fashion model; it's a none-too-subtle but effective work. The black-and-white A Primer for Dental Extraction is refreshingly free of narrative and features some nice swooping Steadicam shots.

Other unseen efforts concern a killer toilet, the Linux operating system, oral sex, Matthew Broderick, tree-hugger Julia Butterfly Hill, a serial killer seeking to rehabilitate himself, cheerleaders, El Ni�a Blair Witch parody (riffing on Bewitched), and—certain to appeal to a mixed demographic—the kidnapping of a nubile young schoolgirl by lesbian vampires.

Also refer to the festival's Web site, for further details.

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