"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 is the longest-running underground film fest in the world, showcasing the freshest and most daring documentary, experimental, and avant-garde narrative films and videos. Our goal is to select and screen works that push the boundaries and focus on filmmakers who are shaking things up and exploring new approaches to established practices. We foster new forms of media art and build an audience for this type of work by putting on an accessible and enjoyable event that's unlike any other. If you think your film is "underground," chances are it is.

We started this thing back in 1993, and our mission has always been to showcase the work of film and video makers with unique and independent visions. We're not interested in imitating mainstream, market-driven festivals like Sundance - we want to create our own niche by presenting a user-friendly showcase for avant-garde and cult cinema. We've got all sorts of films and videos of all lengths and genres that are experimental in form or content, including recent programming highlights like the world premieres of Triple Trouble by The Residents and Homer Flynn and Circus of the Scars by Cory Wees, as well as Chicago premieres of Provo by Emma Thatcher, The Love Witch by Anna Biller, and Evaporating Borders by Iva Radivojevic.

We're not just about supporting the up-and-coming either - we also recognize and pay tribute to the rich history of underground and independent cinema by presenting retrospectives of legendary filmmakers like John Waters, Kenneth Anger, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

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 Pedestrian Deposit, Brett Nauke, Fire-Toolz, and The Handsome Family.

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
  • Richard Wiebe

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

    September 2023
  • Adam Sekuler

    Essential stop on the festival circuit. Despite some new venue hiccups, CUFF continues to deliver an incredible festival experience. So many filmmakers in attendance, great parties and a very supportive public. Love this festival.

    September 2023