And another NAFF bites the dust…


Welp. It should go without saying that we had fun while the ninth annual New Art Film Festival lasted on Monday, October 29, at the Art Theater in ghostly downtown Champaign. Unfortunately, it was “ghostly” less in terms of Halloween flavor than the relatively dead air of the blocks surrounding 126 W. Church Street, save for a handful of semi-populated bars. For those who checked out the NAFF and staffed the Art and helped us prepare for show time, we express our gratitude to you like always. It’s too bad that so few of our friends and neighbors cared to stop in and share the local cinema with us.

So, what happened with NAFF IX? Did it not appear on your activity radar, were you not in the mood for it leading up to today’s elections, would you have gone if it wasn’t on a Monday night and/or right after your boozy costume parties, was it simply not whetting your appetite? This year felt subpar even to our sixth year in 2015 when the NAFF moved from the spring to the fall season. We expected that one to dip in attendance, though, and rolled with it in the effort to reestablish our presence at the Art outside the Boneyard Arts Festival. Compared to that outing, which otherwise ran smoothly like the one we just wrapped, NAFF VII in 2016 was a smash hit and NAFF VIII in 2017 provided the goods even if braving a slight drop-off in your attentions. Here in 2018, we counted relatively few heads from the back row and felt a low ebb of energy throughout the evening. Everyone acted cordial and content. Is that enough?

We had debated about skipping this year due to seeming NAFF fatigue and your humble program director’s personal needs keeping him far, far away from the C-U. Of course, we had also debated about taking 2017 off yet decided the show must go on and we’re glad it did. That said, we’re not sure how to feel about the present outcome even if there were a hundred legitimate reasons for folks to stay away.



Yours truly has a vested interest in continuing his lengthy and unpaid contribution to the NAFF, especially since no other perennial events of its kind have cropped up in Champaign-Urbana with rare exception, so we have to wonder if it’s too much anymore to expect our fest to play to more than a niche crowd. You can see in this buzz magazine feature by Roger Ebert Fellow and University of Illinois student Eunice Alpasan that the movie creators themselves consider the NAFF a welcome participant in our arts scene; it became clear that regulars, diehards, and film producers and their friends made up most of our meager attendance this time. You can also notice in this Paul Wood item run in the News-Gazette that, based on its curious bent stressing our dedications over our content, local history and legacy also figure into the NAFF DNA; it has always been expressed on the fest’s Web site. It fulfills particular needs, at the least.

Yet, these programs are primarily for our fellow citizens who love to explore the creative arts and media of our fair Twin Cities. If we simply wanted to give local filmmakers a platform to share feedback between themselves, which is always a benefit for them, we would rely on a group like Champaign Movie Makers to present sneak previews of their work at meetings. We also don’t need to beat the well-worn drum about how communal viewings can be a much more satisfying experience than watching the same material at home on the tricked-out televisions, massive personal computers, and compact portable devices of our day. By placing the NAFF in a respected public venue on a regular schedule without a ticket price, we’ve done away with nearly all obstacles that could possibly deter you from joining us, at least on our end.

You, dearest viewers, must be willing to plan ahead and take the plunge. Without your in-the-flesh participation, the NAFF has much less reason to be. Without your social interactions and feedback, the NAFF does not know what good stuff to increase and not-great stuff to improve upon. You can always send our thoughts and suggestions to us privately by writing newartfilmfestivalcu [at] gmail [dot] com.

It will be a very opportune moment for our morale and, arguably, the Champaign-Urbana film culture when the New Art Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in the near future. The occasion will give us extra incentive to tweak our formula to a degree – we might have to consider moving it out of the Halloween corridor on the calendar and back to the weekend, for starters – as well as dress up the festivities with unique bells and whistles. Despite this down year, we believe that continuing the NAFF is the right thing to do. “NAFF X” has a nice ring to it, no? The “ex” will mark the spot when your longest-running independent film festival for locally-made films in Champaign, Urbana, and the cities beyond returns in 2019. As for what happens beyond 2019, it remains to be seen.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. We’ll apparently receive an honest opinion on NAFFdom this week when Smile Politely publishes an essay by our friend Jarrod Finn, a writer and producer of the shorts WORDS and EMPOWERED who took his seat at the Art last Monday night. We thank you, Jarrod.

p.s.2 Notice the difference between Mr. JaPan’s photo at the head of this post and the comparable photo from last year in his poster design for this year. It almost hurt his heart to see this through his camera lens even more than the sparse crowd inside the theater. Gee, here comes that dreaded sense of déjà vu all over again

p.s.3 Go vote if you haven’t already and then return here in a couple of days to learn how to pledge your support for something much less dire. It is still important, at least on our end.



[Thud. This is post #1300 on CUBlog. Because of course it is.]

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