Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts Reporter and Author of the blog Cinema Junkie
Related Story: Rants And Raves: Horrible Imaginings
ST. JOHN: Now we have a brand-new feature on Midday Edition! The midday movies! In honor of Halloween, Beth Accomando went out to the 10th Avenue Theatre to interview Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings about horror and his upcoming art show and film festival. They may take you some place dark!
ACCOMANDO: I'm here with Miguel Rodriguez, and we're sitting in the gallery of the 10th Avenue Theatre where the Horrible Imaginings art show will be opening next Wednesday. This is also the building where his 2-day film festival will be in November. This is a 1928 building that was formerly a church. And it has a fitting history for a horror film festival.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, it definitely does, and when a building is as old as this, there will be a history that will lead to some scary things. Supposedly there are three confirmed ghost ares that roam the halls of this building.
ACCOMANDO: And we're here in the building on a night when some ghost hunters are going to be coming in to check this out.
RODRIGUEZ: That's right. It's very exciting. I can't wait to hear what they have to say because I'm definitely going to use it to promote the festival!
ACCOMANDO: You kind of have a mission statement about horror in general.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, horror I think has served many purposes. And so my decision statement for Horrible Imaginings in general is to take a look at a survey of horror films and see how the feelings that horror expresses can be expressed in a variety of ways and to show how it is a viable art form.
ACCOMANDO: As a genre, horror tends to be a bit maligned. But horror films especially seem to reflect a lot of the fears we have about things that are going on in our world, in our aside, and each generation seems to reflect something new.
RODRIGUEZ: Horror is a form of story telling. I am a classical literature major, and I've studied story telling throughout human history. And horror has always been a key element, whether it is cave paintings or ancient Greek mythology, or middle ages poetry, or the films of today. And horror has always been with us terrible things have happened in the world since long before films existed. And films are just an outlet with which we can attempt to understand why bad things happen. It doesn't make bad things happen.
ACCOMANDO: Why do you think you have this fascination?
RODRIGUEZ: Horror has always been a source of therapy for me. And I don't have a very clear reason as to why that is. I do know that partially it is -- I can see things can be a lot worse than they are. Partially it is I can experience a survival experience in a safe way and come out at the end feeling like a better person. Mostly what I think horror does for me, it helps me come to terms with the fact that I do have a dark side, and the fact that I know everyone in some part of their psyche has a dark side. And what I think is dangerous is when people deny that. I think denial is really what is dangerous. And I think what horror can do for us is help us understand that dark side. And when you can understand something, you can overcome it and make yourself a better person and make the world around you a better place. And I think when the horror genre is approached in this way, it can actually be a have been helpful thing.
ACCOMANDO: Can you remember the first film that I ever scared?
[ LAUGHTER ]
RODRIGUEZ: There are many of them. My grandmother, especially, tended to expose me to films at a very early age that perhaps I should not have been. For some reason, what's coming to my hind right now is the Haunting of Julia with Mia Farrow.
RODRIGUEZ: And the opening scene where she tries to do a tracheotomy on her daughter to save her from choking and ends up killing her. Oh, that still sticks with me!
ACCOMANDO: With your festival, you are showing short films, documentaries, features. How many films are you showing this year?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I have over 40 shorts and features that have made it into the program.
ACCOMANDO: And you make a point of showing not only new horror films that have never been shown in San Diego before, but also revisiting some classics am give us a example from the classic side.
RODRIGUEZ: First of all, Horrible Imaginings is taking place in the same theatre that evil dead, the musical, is playing in. And for that reason, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring back evil dead 2, dead by dawn, with the ever-loveable Bruce Campbell. That's one of my favorite films, it's a horror fan's go-to, and I think everybody will be excited about it.
ACCOMANDO: Let's hear from the evil dead 2.
(Audio Recording Played)
ACCOMANDO: It's one of the classics. You're also showing a new film which sounds very intriguing. A documentary called zero killed.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I got sent this documentary, and it's the first documentary I've accepted for horrible imaginings. And it's absolutely fascinating. One of the things I like about it, it doesn't attempt to answer questions like many documentaries do but rather to explore our deep-seated fantasies. And the fantasy in this case are murder fantasies. So what makes this documentary interesting is the director, he spent 16 years interviewing people from all walks of life, various countries, men and women, people who are affluent, not as affluent, and just asked them the same question: Do you have a murder fantasy, and what is it? And then on top of that, gave them the opportunity to film that murder fantasy as a short film. The condition being they had to be in the film, either as the perpetrator or as the victim. But then he interviewed those same people a decade later about the experience after they have had a whole decade to process it. And he brings up such really important topic, especially to today in regards to that. For example whether it would ever be legal for the government to use torture, when would it be okay to kill someone, and just see the kind of answers he got. And what really is remarkable is how candid people were, and how he was able to get them to open up and be totally brutally and relentlessly honest. And we see interviews and interspersed the short films. So it's this interesting mixture of short film and documentary.
NEW SPEAKER: When I'm in the post office, I regularly shoot up the entire post office cue in my mind. Definitely. Without a doubt.
(Audio Recording Played)
NEW SPEAKER: To be very violent, to express my unexpressed violence, and finally let it out. I don't know, any kind of role. I would like to be the killer, I would like to be God in the next killing scene. I want to be God! I want to kill everybody whenever I want!
RODRIGUEZ: It's great. It just goes to what my mission is, is about opening a conversation and realizing that we have these dark parts. And it helps us become better people because we're able to recognize that, not be in denial about it, and fix ourselves accordingly.
ACCOMANDO: It seems that also part of the reason why people don't respect horror is a lot of what we get in theatres are Grave Encounters 2, or paranormal activity 4, or some of these other films where they're not really embracing the darkness to explore horror for what if can be at its most interesting. But this sounds like the kind of film that does exactly that in terms of embracing that darkness.
RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. I think it does. And what really makes it special is it's smart. When I talked to the director, he says the inspiration came from growing up in Poland in the middle of very violent times, and seeing violence on the streets as a young child, and wondering about it. And he put those questions he's always had into the film. And it helps you just start discussions. And I think that is really what's important about horror.
ACCOMANDO: I'm speaking with Miguel Rodriguez, director of Horrible Imaginings film festival. And another of the new films you have is one called Gut.
RODRIGUEZ: Gut is an independent piece by a director named Elias, and it looks at horror in an interesting way. It is about two childhood friends. One of whom receives what is essentially a snuff film in the mail.
(Audio Recording Played)
SPEAKER 1: What do you think? Do you think it's real? It feels real, doesn't it?
SPEAKER 2: Where'd you get this?
SPEAKER 1: I ordered it online, you know? Some underground vid site.
RODRIGUEZ: And we've kind of seen this before in other films, but this one is interesting because these two tried and trusted friends see this film, and it affects them in very different ways, and it begins tearing them apart a little bit.
SPEAKER 2: You make copies? How many copies did you make?
SPEAKER 1: Just those.
SPEAKER 2: Well, you got to get rid of all of them!
SPEAKER 1: Yeah, right
SPEAKER 2: I'm serious.
SPEAKER 1: I heard you the first time!
SPEAKER 2: Did you?
RODRIGUEZ: And you get to see how this is affecting them in different ways, and it's a really great character piece, and a smart film especially from a low-budget, independent film-maker, a nice piece of work.
ACCOMANDO: Both of the new films that you're showing raise the issue of how watching horror or seeing images of violence can affect you. So what does that have to say about the films that are out there and people that are seeing them?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I chose them for that reason. And I think that horror is part of cinema, and cinema is an art form. And art at its best, even if it is exploitation or just, you know, a money-making tool, which is certainly is, even at its worst, it can drive conversation. If someone comes out of a film shaken or in thought, then they can have a conversation with the person who they saw that film with, and they can learn a little bit about themselves from that conversation. The films can depict certain things and raise certain questions. But ultimately films are only half of the conversation. The other half comes from the audience. So I'm really interested as a film festival director to see what the audience brings to the conversation. And what people the interpret from these films.
ACCOMANDO: So are you going to encourage that kind of conversation actually in the theatre after the films?
RODRIGUEZ: I always do. And I try to have that conversation too. That's my favorite part of doing this.
ACCOMANDO: And you're going to be showcasing some shorts as well. One of them is a highly-anticipated short called The Captured Bird.
RODRIGUEZ: It's a short film from a Canadian-based director who spent many, many years as the editor of rue morgue, which is a magazine from Canada. And it's produced by Guillermo del Torro, who is famous for pan's labyrinth, hell boy, and those films. And it's really making a splash on the film festival circuit. It's a really important short film, and I'm very excited to show it and have it as part of the program.
ACCOMANDO: You're also going to be showcasing some short animated films
RODRIGUEZ: One from Israel is called escape from hell view. It's a very abstract piece. It really is similar to Harold and the purple crayon. If you remember those children's books, if the purple crayon led Harold into hell. And it's a very interesting short film.
ACCOMANDO: And tell me about the art gallery.
RODRIGUEZ: I'm a big art fanatic. I love film, but I love art, whether it's literature or paintings or sculpture or what have you. From the first year, I decided to have an art gallery. The 10th avenue theatre is perfect for it. It has a gallery upstairs. So it's been a big piece ever since.
ACCOMANDO: What's your hope for the festival, how do you want to connect with an audience?
RODRIGUEZ: What I most hope for is that people the look at films of the horror genre and not immediately dismiss them as just base or just trite. And try to see them in the way that they, for most horror fans who make films, are intended to be seen, which is an expression of a feeling. So some horror films, people say they lack logic and a lot of horror films do. But that's because fear lacks logic. So that actually makes sense in the context of horror. I hope that people will learn to watch horror films in a way that is different from other genres and learn to appreciate what they can offer. And hopeful leaf open up the door to other people as well.