Jay Bliznick was introduced to underground films by his local video store clerk, Christian Gore, who’d just started publishing the cult fanzine Film Threat out of a garage in Detroit. “I started to rent every weird film I could get my hands on,” Bliznick says. “Suddenly I realized that you could shoot something on Super-8 or video and have people see it, have it get a reaction. It was then that I decided–Yes! This is what I want to do!”

Bliznick came to Chicago in 1992 to study film at Columbia College, but he felt the school was teaching only conventional methods of moviemaking. “The great films were stressed at the expense of other kinds of work,” he says. “You’d never see an experimental or underground film there.” Bliznick decided to get into video, making compilation tapes of shorts by Chicago filmmaker Raoul Vehill as well as a tape of B-movie trailers. “I went out to the Famous Monsters of Filmland convention in Arlington, Virginia, and I spent more money than I had and only sold two tapes.” But Bliznick made valuable contacts, and he returned to Chicago with the idea of organizing a film festival.

Linking up with partner Bryan Wendorf, Bliznick launched the first Chicago Underground Film Fest last year. The pair were members of the Psychotronic Film Society and they share a fondness for “bad drive-in movies,” Bliznick says. “Most people would consider those films bad, but we love them. We both love large rubber heads on monsters and sparklers hanging from model spaceships.”

The pair also admired the passion and freedom of expression in experimental movies. “Ultimately, underground films are to big-budget Hollywood movies as underground politics are to mainstream government–the ideas are just as viable, but they’re not as well financed and they’re not required to kiss ass,” Bliznick says. “These films are made by scrimping, saving, bleeding, sweating, begging, borrowing, and stealing. If you’re not obsessed, you’re never going to make it. It’s just too much trouble.” This year’s entries were held to a ceiling of $1,000 per finished minute of film, which, Bliznick notes, “is microbudget in the eyes of Hollywood.”

The Chicago Underground Film Fest starts with an opening night party at 7 PM next Thursday, July 20, featuring the film What About Me? by Rachel Amodeo, who’s usually associated with the Cinema of Transgression movement of the early-80s New York punk scene. Admission is $15; the band Big Chief will perform after the film. It will be at the International Cinema Museum, 319 W. Erie.

Legendary avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger will speak and screen films from his “Magick Latern Cycle”–including early classics Fireworks (1947), Scorpio Rising (1963), and Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965)–at 6:30 PM next Friday, July 21, at the Congress Hotel, 520 S. Michigan. Noted member of the Church of the Subgenius, Dallas animator Reverend Ivan Stang, will speak and show films at 4 PM the next day, and Canadian filmmaker Guy Madden (Tales of Gimli Hospital) does the honors at 5 PM on Sunday, July 23. For a schedule or information on other programs, call 866-8660.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.