Experiments and Alchemy
The Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, about to embark upon its twelfth year, is a UWM student-run festival celebrating experimental film, or film that doesn’t fit into the pigeon hole of feature length, narrative work, to paraphrase Andy Gralton, one of the student organizers of MUFF. The Underground Festival is a strange, magical place in which stories are like ghosts wafting through the screen, but never landing upon it.
The film department at UWM is carving out a place (and a name) for itself in the world of non-narrative and experimental film. Last year, Expanded Cinema premiered at Inova/Kenilworth, providing students the opportunity to show experimental work that they themselves produced. MUFF is at least a small part of the reason why the demand by students to have such a show exists. Entries are submitted from around the country and around the world, and students view each and every one before discussing and then voting on what will be included. There are no broader overarching themes, although once pieces are selected Gralton notes they strive to create some sort of continuity between pieces shown together so that every piece of art stands in an environment where it thrives.
With only the loosest of narrative structures (or no such structure at all) it is the technical aspects of each film that strike the viewer. The way light plays off of different surfaces, or the technical skill involved in superimposing film images onto each other (for example) are at the forefront of consciousness, not lost as mere backdrop to a story. And it is sometimes easier to bring home a complex concept, like the inherent instability and transience of the ways we attempt to preserve memory, when you are not encumbered by attempting to make sense of the pieces that are left when time takes its inevitable toll. Do not mistake non-narrative for without a point; there are points in abundance to be made and viewed and understood among the films in this festival.
Ross Nugent, faculty advisor for the student organization responsible for putting on the festival each year, and Kellie Bronikowski and Daniel Kelly, both adjunct faculty members in the UWM film department, are each established film makers in their own rights. This breadth and depth of reach allows the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival to curate quite carefully, as well as attract “wonderfully generous” jurors to judge the festival.