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The New York Underground Film Festival’s Last Hurrah

The New York Underground Film Festival’s Last Hurrah (photo)

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As film festivals proliferate like strip malls in nearly every city on the globe, say sayonara to the seminal anti-fest fest, the New York Underground Film Festival, giving up the ghost and closing shop after 15 years of courageously struggling to commercially showcase the inherently uncommercial. Over the years the fest has been the nation’s premier landing zone for every type of film no one else would show: screaming punk sci-fi, optical abstractions, found-footage statements, transgressive fiction features, counter-culture homage, post-Waters camp, video installations, ageless-teen rebellion, radical politics and what have you. It’s been a sack full of fighting rats every year as festival dockets go, but that’s been part of the festival’s charm and, frankly, its necessity, abetting and fueling as it has an entire secret film culture that has always had a hard time finding screens, and will now find times only tougher.

As usual, the fest this years favors shorts over features — “feature-length” being a construction of the marketplace, after all — although Thomas Bender’s “Hoopeston” is a sharp-eyed and ironic portrait of a small, NIMBY Illinois town beset by an influx of Wiccans; the Vice boys’ “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” punches out your lights limning the pressurized lives of the war-torn city’s only headbanger band; James June Schneider’s “The End of the Light Age” adeptly evokes a comatose hyperfuture by way of relentless tedium (even with Lou Castel in the house); and Josh Koury’s “We Are Wizards” offers up a queasy but endearing look at extreme Harry Potter fandom, including the perfectly awful phenomenon of wizard rock.

The shorts, from time immemorial the best-suited form for “underground” cinema, or underground anything really, play with fire. Amid works from vets like Leslie Thornton, Jem Cohen, Michael Almereyda, Peggy Ahwesh and James Fotopoulos, there’s Kevin Jerome Everson’s “Playing Dead” — a found-news-footage minute-and-a-half as painful as a dull knife used quickly — and Ahwesh’s sublime “Beirut Outtakes,” pieced together from old, decaying reels of American films, Arabic pulp, trailers, underwear commercials, etc., found in an abandoned theater in the titular city. Hito Steyrel’s “Lovely Andrea” follows the filmmaker’s investigation through the bondage-porn industry of Tokyo to find a trussed-up photo she’d modeled for 20 years earlier; unfortunately, Steyrel’s simplistic political points are made with a flat shovel. Takeshi Murata’s op-art loop “Untitled (Pink Dot)” is a rapturously sludgy orgasm of oozing pixels (I only watched it once), while Jennet Thomas’s “Black Tower” shorts smack too much to me of a tourist jaunt through Lynchistan.

04042008_californiablue.jpgThere’s no resisting, however, Abbey Williams’s “CALIFORNIA/blue,” which essentially crafts a Joni Mitchell music video from surreptitiously-shot scenarios played out in the fake rooms of an IKEA store, nor John Smith’s “Dirty Pictures,” which begins and ends in a Jerusalem hotel room with mysterious moving ceiling tiles, but embraces the entire dilemma of Palestine in the process. Almereyda’s work-in-progress “Paradise” sticks to my skull wall, though, because it is unfinished — an off-hand diary film of inconclusive real moments and minor ecstasies, often shot in night vision, the pieces we get climax in Pleasantville watching a pale Jersey girl in the ghostly video shadows trying to catch fireflies. What more could you want?

[Additional photo: “CALIFORNIA/blue,” Abbey Williams, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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