"What you get for your money is not just admission to the films but admission to a subculture" -- Roger Ebert

The Chicago Underground Film Festival stands as the world's longest-running event of its kind, highlighting the boldest and most innovative documentaries, experimental films, and avant-garde narratives. Our objective is to spotlight works that defy convention, championing filmmakers who challenge norms and pioneer fresh approaches. Through our accessible and distinctive event, we aim to cultivate an audience for boundary-pushing media art, inviting creators who perceive their work as "underground" to participate.

The heart of the "Underground" ethos is best articulated by filmmakers themselves. We curate films that transcend mainstream conventions, celebrating innovation, experimentation, subversion, and audacity. Our mission is to champion cinema that both entertains and challenges, pushing boundaries and forging new paths.

Since our inception in 1993, our focus has remained steadfast: to showcase the visions of independent filmmakers with singular perspectives. Rather than emulate mainstream, commercially-driven festivals like Sundance, we carve out our own space, providing a welcoming platform for avant-garde and cult cinema.

2023 Jury Awards
Really Good Friends dir. Adam Sekuler
Neighbor Abdi dir. Douwe Dijkstra
THE MöBIUS TRIP dir. Simone Smith
Sweetheart Deal dir. Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller
Stillness of Labor dir. Chris Larson
Goddess of Speed dir. Frédéric Moffet

Made in Chicago Award
Sit Where the Light Corrupts Your Face dir. Gillian Waldo

Honorable Mentions
With The Tide, with the tide dir. Anna Kiper-vaser
Alpha Kings dir. Enrique Pedraza Botero, Faye Tsakas
smrt piece dir. Charlotte Hong
Mariposa Apartment dir. Jinglu Ji
Lesser Choices dir. Courtney Stephens
Welcome to the Enclave dir. Sarah Lasley

Audience Award Melomaniac dir. Katlin Schneider

And it's not just about the movies - we also offer panels and workshops and host some pretty epic parties and concerts featuring artists like RP Boo, Pedestrian Deposit, Brett Nauke, Fire-Toolz, and The Handsome Family.

A Note on "Category"

In order to ensure proper classification of entries, please note the following guidelines:

If your film falls under the categories of documentary or animation, please select one accordingly.

For works that are neither documentaries nor animations but have a narrative, please choose either narrative feature (for works 45 minutes and over) or narrative short (for works under 45 minutes).

The term "experimental" is reserved exclusively for non-narrative, non-documentary works. If your film lacks a narrative and does not fit within the documentary category, please select experimental.

In cases where a film could be classified as both experimental and animation, we suggest prioritizing animation.

Failure to adhere to these guidelines may result in re-classification of your entry.

Your cooperation in selecting the appropriate category is greatly appreciated and ensures a fair evaluation process for all submissions. Thank you for your understanding and interest in the Chicago Underground Film Festival!

Every year at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, we give out awards to recognize the best and most interesting films and videos. A jury will select six winners in various categories, and each of these filmmakers will receive a custom-made trophy. We'll also present "Made in Chicago" and Audience Choice awards. While making movies isn't a competition, these awards are a way to honor and celebrate the badass work of our filmmakers. The awards might change from year to year, depending on what the jury decides, but one thing stays the same: they're all about celebrating the underground vision of our talented filmmakers.


• All foreign language films must be dubbed in English or have English subtitles.

• We only accept online screeners, so don't even bother sending DVDs. Vimeo is preferred.


• We only accept entry fees in US dollars.

• If you've screened at our festival before, you don't have to pay an entry fee. You're one of us now.

• If paying the entry fee would be a financial burden for you, just hit us up at info@cuff.org and we'll see if we can work something out. But keep in mind, entry fees help us keep this whole operation running, so we can't waive them for just anyone.


• You're responsible for getting your exhibition prints to us. Make sure to send them prepaid so we don't have to deal with any extra hassle.

• Label everything with the title of your entry, because we can't keep track of all this stuff without some kind of system.

• We'll cover the cost of returning your materials via FedEx or US Mail. If you want 'em shipped somewhere else, or if you need 'em fast, you gotta pay for it yourself.

• We can't be held responsible for any damage or loss of materials during shipping. Use plastic or bubble pack envelopes to protect your stuff.


• Our selection committee makes all the decisions about what gets shown. If your film gets in, we'll let you know via email and phone. If it doesn't, you'll get an email.

• If your film gets accepted, make sure we have the exhibition print or presentation video by May 1, 2023. And don't forget to tell us the aspect ratio and any other special screening or presentation details (like language and subtitles).

• We only accept DCP files for video work, so don't even try sending anything else. If you've never made a DCP before, don't sweat it. We can help you out.


• Pick ONE category for your entry when you fill out the form.

• For us, a "feature" is 40 minutes or longer, and "experimental" means non-narrative, non-documentary stuff.

• We reserve the right to re-categorize your submission if we see fit.

Overall Rating
  • Martin Mulcahy

    CUFF showcases the most amazing experimental work every year! Loved the new venue, and every film we saw. Can’t wait for next year!

    October 2023
  • Hands down the most fun I’ve had at a film festival. Heaps of inspiring films in the programming. The kindest, warmest staff imaginable. Irreverent afterparties that were actually fun, full of local culture, rather than awkward schmoozefests where filmmakers crawl over one another just to exchange servile pleasantries to investors and distributors who pretend not to be resentful that everybody only wants to suck up to them because of their power. CUFF creates such a warm and fuzzy atmosphere, filmmakers forget to be rivals and just have a great time in the underground. This is not one of those career-boosting networking marathons. It’s passion over profession. CUFF is all about what got filmmakers into cinema to begin with. I want to go every year!

    October 2023
  • Simone Smith

    Felt so welcome the moment we arrived and watched some of the most creative, coolest and thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen at a festival. This festival really understands true underground. Deeply honoured to be selected here and respect its history so much 💗

    September 2023
  • Ryan Worsley

    It's very nice that the Chicago Underground Film Festival selected my feature-length documentary to be part of their program. However, they had little to no communication with me, I was never invited to the festival, and never heard anything about the screening. I guess it played all the way through, I may never know.

    September 2023
  • Richard Wiebe

    Best festival, ever. Long live CUFF!!!!

    September 2023