Every year, the nation’s top festivals and award ceremonies devolve more and more into glorified showcases for their respective brands. Sundance has the market cornered on self-indulgent middle-achievers who impress people at parties with facts from only the most obscure Wikipedia articles while showing films about how they learned to love themselves in the face of no opposition whatsoever. The Oscars may as well have trophies for “Most Desirous Performer” and “Most Offended by the Suggestion that They May Be Racist.”
At the Boston Underground Film Festival, the recipe for success is precisely the opposite of a brand: something the world has never seen before, rooted in pure, raw, brutal creativity. If you’re a proud weirdo who’s inspired enough to pick up a camera and share an idea bouncing around in the furthest reaches of your psyche, you’ll find a home at BUFF among your fellow admirers of the bizarre.
The festival begins with a stunning lineup on Wednesday, March 23. BUFF kicks off its 18th year with The Lure, a tale of vampiric mermaid sisters in Communist Warsaw who, in search of prey, become acquainted with the city’s seedy nightlife and the realities of being women living above sea level. As you digest (heh) the opening film, take in a restoration of the notoriously explicit, gorgeously realized, hugely influential anime Belladonna of Sadness, which begins immediately after The Lure.
For the uninitiated who are curious about the the world of underground cinema, there will be some familiar A-list faces in this year’s films. The pitch-black comedy Kill Your Friends (Thursday, 7:45 p.m.) stars redeemed War Boy Nicholas Hoult, Danny Perez’s twisted body horror Antibirth (Saturday, 9:30 p.m.) features Natasha Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny (and is preceded by the holy-shit-did-I-just-see-that short Innsmouth from Boston director and BUFF alum Izzy Lee), and Adrian Grenier makes a clean break from his squeaky-clean Entourage image in the closing film Trash Fire (Sunday, 8:45 p.m.). Add to that the under-seen Wendigo (Thursday, 9:45 p.m.) from living legend Fessenden, and you have a festival worth attending even if no other films were playing.
But this is just the beginning of a weekend full of the most indelible images of your life (until next year’s festival, that is). BUFF is partnering with the Harvard Film Archive to present Sympathy for the Devil: The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgement (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.), which chronicles the rise of what may be the greatest psychedelic Satanic hippie music cult of all time. Later, artist Ross Sutherland performs his mixed media piece Stand By for Tape Back-Up (Saturday, 2:45 p.m.), a gripping experiment in synchronicity utilizing live poetry and VHS cassettes. Sunday at the HFA boasts the must-see Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It (2 p.m.), a semi-remake of Purple Rain from Niger (so named because there is no word for “purple” in Tuareg).
Along with its exceptionally talented, hard-working staff and volunteers, BUFF’s success in cultivating such an anarchic yet intelligent tone—as well as a tight-knit family of fans and returning filmmakers—is in no small part due to its being located in Greater Boston. This is city is full of filmmakers who remain committed to their craft despite living in one of the most difficult major cities for artists. Thursday’s “Homegrown Horror” block is dedicated exclusively to shorts from local artists. Sunday boasts the premiere of the third film from Somerville creative team Michael Epstein and Sophia Cacciola: a ’70s-style lesbian vampire exploitationfest called Blood of the Tribades (in which the writer of this piece plays a prominent role, full disclosure). Shorts block “Fugue & Riffs” features the return of 2015 Best Short winner, South Shore resident Jim McDonough. And though they’re from out of town, Zach Clark (White Reindeer) and Frank Henenlotter (Bad Biology) will forever be part of the BUFF family, and both are returning in 2016 with Little Sister (Friday, 7:15 p.m.) and Chasing Banksy (Saturday, 7 p.m.), respectively.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all there is to experience at BUFF. If you see something on the program not mentioned here, we promise it’s worth checking out. There are shorts accompanying every single feature, compilations of music videos, and the truly unsettling Trigger Warning shorts collection. Saturday Morning Cartoons (10:30 a.m.) is curated by House of Psychotic Women author Kier-La Janisse and comes with all the cereal you can eat—really, there’s an all-you-can-eat cereal buffet. There’s something lurking in every corner of the BUFF lineup to delight or disturb you, perhaps both. So cancel your weekend plans, notify your loved ones as to your whereabouts—quit your job if you have to. You’ll need that time to soak in all the glitz, glam, grime, and gore.
BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL | WED. 3/23 – SUN. 3/27 at BRATTLE THEATER & HARVARD FILM ARCHIVE | BOSTONUNDERGROUND.ORG FOR TICKETS, PASSES, & SHOWTIMES