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Set in a surreal, post-apocalyptic Chicago, Astray is the story of a toxic teenage couple wandering the back streets, chasing highs and searching for meaning. Though decked out in otherworldly costumes, and consuming strange drugs, the two protagonists’ search for peace and connection directly mirrors the struggles of contemporary Chicago youth. Emotional richness, the density of time, and aesthetic texture take center-stage in this film’s techniques and unconventional narrative structure.

As the night unfolds the couple lurks around the city, from alleys, to the lake, to a drug dealer’s house, taking film photos along the way. The film explores their unspoken doubts, fears, and existential questions through internal monologues. At the dealer’s house they ingest a psychedelic drug, putting them into a timeless journey that reveals the toxicity and poignancy of their relationship.

The psychedelic journey is followed by a whimsical car theft and joy ride around the city, which showcases scenic gems such as Lakeshore Drive and Lower Wacker. Eventually the cops follow and the protagonists ditch the car. The night of thrill seeking spirals away, and the couple finds themselves back in their grimy safe haven–the alleys.

Astray is accompanied by a score that bends between grit, eeriness, adrenaline, and nostalgia; an experimental sound design mutates reality into surreal new forms. Shot on 16mm, super 8, and 35mm still photography, this grungy film expands both the form of the narrative short, and awareness of Chicago’s emotional and urban underbelly.

Directed by Josh Brainin and Ernest Kabashi (USA)

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