Sad that the New York Underground Film Festival is closing because it had a real reputation for taking chances on experimental programming while still getting people in the seats. This is the latest in a series of festivals going under like Cinematexas in Austin and the Thaw festival in Iowa City. All three were festivals that showed the breadth of new cinema in the US. They mixed satire and difficult conceptual work with personal docs and performative videos and really focused on film and video as a artistic expression without playing to the fantasy of modernist high art.
A number of things have happened in recent years to affect this. A lot of high quality video work is going to galleries now and a lot of funny and smart political videos are going right up to youtube so that takes a good chunk of the traditional material out. The underground and experimental festivals are getting squeezed out of the market to a certain degree. For me, these kinds of festivals are a safe venue to try different things. My first feature film Interkosmos got great reviews and played at lots of international festivals, but I followed it up with a more difficult film that had almost no plot and was politically very heavy. A number of programmers told me there was just no way they could find a place for it. But it showed at festivals like New York and Chicago Underground, which took a chance on it. I think there has to be options for films that do not fit into a market slot, whether its the independent market, straight political docs or the gallery scene, which is about collectors hoarding work in the hope that they can be buried with their 60-million-dollar DVD when they die like the Japanese businessman with the Van Gogh.
There's another school of thought, which is that everything dies eventually and new spaces and opportunities grow up and adapt. That's certainly true. There's a couple of newer experimental festivals that seem to be thriving like PDX in Portland and FLEX in Gainesville, Florida and the folks who ran NYUFF are now doing screening series (Light Industries and Migrating Forms). But it's nice to have a festival in the heart of the capitalism, which celebrates at one time over one long weekend work that really gets at what the hell is going on in our country and on our planet without playing by the rules set out for us by the folks that are running the show.