Rants and Raves: Dark Bridges Film Festival
Extreme Film Fest Creates Controversy
The Canadian grindhouse homage "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" screened in San Diego last year at Horrible Imaginings but the film has run into controversy trying to get a screening in Saskatchewan for the Dark Bridges Film Festival.
Censorship really ticks me off. The case involving "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" is the kind of censorship that business folks like brush off by saying they are not really "censoring" they are just responding to the marketplace. Only problem with that is sometimes the "marketplace" is just one person or a few complaining people trying to force their narrow boundaries of acceptable fare on others. And to make matters worse, the people who claim to be offended have never bothered to actually see what it is that they are trying to ban from public view. But wait, I get ahead of myself.
Dark Bridges Film Festival is Saskatchewan's self-proclaimed "premiere showcase of cool independent and foreign genre films." The festival was launched in 2009 with the Saskatchewan premiere of "Grace" and the Canadian premiere of "Ink." In 2010 the festival blossomed to a dozen features including "El Monstro Del Mar!," "Werewolf Fever," "[REC]," "[REC 2]," and Korea's "The Good, The Bad, The Weird." So although young, the Festival is developing credibility as a showcase for genre filmmaking. The Festival also sponsors midnight screenings throughout the year.
John Allison is the Festival director and founder. For one of his midnight screenings he decided to play what looked to be a fabulous grindhouse style double feature of "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" and "The Taint" at Magic Lantern's Roxy Theater. "Dead Hooker" is a Canadian indie film from the deliciously twisted Soska Twins, Jen and Sylvia (check out my interview with the Twisted Twins). It's a violent thrill ride that challenges stereotypes about what women can do in front of and behind the camera. It also possesses a do-it-yourself energy and cleverness that make it a delight.
"The Taint" hails from Richmond, Virginia, and was directed by Drew Bolduc and Dan Nelson. The filmmakers describe it as: "an intellectual experience. It is a violent and misogynistic film about violence, misogyny, and entertainment. It features sadistic violence, gratuitous sexual content, and scenes of spellbinding dramatic interest. It also contains more cock explosions than any other movie ever. It’s the ultimate sexually-frustrated-male-nerd-emotional-masturbation-release film, done in the style of an 80’s horror-comedy." Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
Ironically, the complaints that led Magic Lantern to cancel the screening were focused on the poster from "The Taint" (which contained a tagline "Kill women") and the title of "Dead Hooker in a Trunk." Allison states, "It seems like most people were just jumping to conclusions without finding out anything about the movies."
Now I'm not saying that these films are inoffensive or that if the complaining folks had seen the films they would change their mind. Quite the contrary. These films are almost designed to be offensive and the the outraged parties might have become even more outraged if they had bothered to see the films or even watch the trailers. But the films serve up a gleeful kind of offense, the kind John Waters would be proud of because it offends as it skewers conventional values and suggests anarchy is better than a tame status quo. Plus there is such a sense of joy in the inventive, do-it-yourself filmmaking that if you love horror or just film in general it's hard not to take some delight in the filmmakers' passion. The real question is, "Are these films not just offensive but obscene, and obscene to the point that audiences should not be allowed the choice to see them?"
In my opinion these films are not obscene, and people who want to see them on the big screen should have the opportunity. A midnight screening with viewers made fully aware of the films' ratings and content seems perfectly reasonable. No one is being forced to watch and the late hour restricts who would be able to see the extreme films. So there has to be a very clear distinction made between merely offensive and obscene.Because as John Cleese once said: "Some people deserve to be offended."
Those who raised complaints were apparently not open to any discussion, and did not think the late night program was acceptable in any way. The posters for the films were reportedly vandalized and torn down in protest.
Sylvia Soska wrote in an open letter: "Had anyone taken the time to actually watch the film, they would have seen a project filled with hardworking individuals that created a love letter throwback to the grindhouse films of the past. The story is a dark comedy that satirizes many horrific instances to give the audiences a sense of action-packed levity and excitement. The only scene where the actual horror of the situation is highlighted is when the title character meets her demise at the hands of an ignorant killer. The title character, despite what knee-jerk reaction the title stirs, is treated with reverence throughout the film by the group of twentysomethings as they struggle to give her a proper end. A level of respect that we don't often see given to these women in this particular trade."
And Jen Soska told me, "In closing, we're disappointed with the decision made by the Roxy Theatre to cancel the screening based on our title alone. We're happy to have been welcomed into the Broadway Theatre and be moving on. We'd like to thank everyone for their support and emails throughout. We're glad that Saskatoon will play this great little Canadian independent film that has come so far. It's a pleasure to be screening in Canada."
Magic Lantern cancelled the screening and Allison had to scramble to find another venue for the April 22 event. He eventually rescheduled the double bill at the Broadway Theater but has since had to cancel "The Taint" because the film has not yet received its rating. But as of this moment, "Dead Hooker" will be playing Friday at 11:30pm. "The Taint," once it receives its rating, will hopefully be screened next month. So although it was a hassle for Allison and the filmmakers, horror fans will get to see "Dead Hooker." Meanwhile, "The Taint" will be screening this weekend in New Jersey at the Troma Dance Film Festival.
No one from Magic Lantern Theaters responded to emails or inquiries through their website. But Allison responded via email to my questions.
Who selected the film "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" for the festival and why?
JOHN ALLISON: I do the majority of the programming. I have friends who direct me to possible films but the choice for movies has pretty much been my call. I chose to see if I could program "Dead Hooker" in our midnight series as I am always looking for Canadian content. I emailed the Soska sisters and asked if it would be possible to screen the film and they were totally up for it. They sent out a screener and I watched it. Based off of what I was reading about the film and the number of screenings I wanted to give it every chance and I decided based off my initial viewing that I truly wanted to program it. I believe that the Soska sisters are going to become important in the Canadian film scene as "Dead Hooker" shows that they have ton of promise. Sure there are some technical problems and a few things that could use some tweaking but for a first time feature film it is pretty amazing.
How did "Dead Hooker" fit into the festival's theme and goals?
JA: I've always wanted to bring interesting independent film to Saskatoon. I've attended festivals across Canada and I was tired of having to travel all the time to see these hidden gems. While I love all films, I love the atmosphere of going to a genre festival with a large crowd. I really feel that "Dead Hooker" will play really well for the audience and that they will have a good time. I do have to say that I've never tied myself to a specific definition of genre film. For me, if a film is cool and never been played in Saskatoon then I want to bring it here. We have shown Prairie Gothic Dramas that focused on women in the 19th century; we've shown Korean westerns; we've shown Spanish zombie movies; and we've shown high school stoner comedies. I think the Soskas and their movie are cool and "Dead Hooker" hasn't played in Saskatoon before so it fit right in our programming.
What were the circumstances that led to the films not playing at the Roxy?
JA: After receiving complaints through email and phone the management of Magic Lantern Theatres, which is the overall chain cancelled the event screening. We have tentatively booked to screen both "The Taint" and "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" at the Broadway Theatre, which is a community run theatre. I personally cancelled the festival itself with the Roxy Theatre after a discussion with MLT.
How do you feel about this and what solution have you come up with if any?
JA: We are a non-profit organization but the directors of that are mostly concerned with maintaining the organization. The festival is my responsibility. I have been hoping that we could engage in discussion with people who were offended by these movies (without seeing them) and by the poster for "The Taint," which was included on our poster. But I decided to break off any discussions when they decided to tear down our posters. Perhaps I should have kept the discussion open but I felt that they didn't want to hear my opinion since they chose to censor me. We are continuing on with planning a fall festival and possibly other midnight screenings but truthfully, everything is up in the air right now.
Has your festival run into problems like this before?
JA: We are going into our second full festival and our third year and this is the first time that we have received any complaints, other than I had one person who didn't realize we had short films screening prior to a screening of "Centurion." I've always felt that film should encourage discussion and that pushing some boundaries was a good thing. My hope was that bringing in some grindhouse style films would facilitate discussion. I knew we might have a complaint or two but I never figured that people would rather see it shut down as opposed to having discussion.
Anything else you want to add about what happened?
JA: I am a big believer that art should promote discussion but I am also a bigger believer that one should never have to watch something that they do not. We always follow the legal laws that deal with screening movies and we inform the audience with posters of the content of movies and I also personally introduce each movie and give fair warning of any of the content.
I strongly encourage the people who wish to complain and see these movies blocked from being screened in Saskatoon to at least watch the movies before making their mind up on them. Otherwise, they are basing their thoughts and opinion on hearsay and that is wrong. My hope is that the festival will continue on this fall but that will depend on how this all falls out. We have tons of support and I want to keep bringing them in cool new movies.