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Talking Horror And HIFF

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Horrible Imaginings Film Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this Labor Day Weekend at the Frida Cinema so that is the perfect excuse to speak with the festival's founder and executive director Miguel Rodriguez about all things horror. We will discuss trends as well as some of the standout films from the festival.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 For the first time publicly screened in over 20 years. We present to you Andrew, the deadliest fan ever made horror movies. They're often the scapegoat and debates about violence with politicians pointing a finger at the genre and urging for Hollywood to cut back on Gore violence and stories that take viewers out of their comfort zone, but perhaps horror movies are less the cause of real world violence and more a means by which we react to the world and filter our anxieties and fears through art or use art as a means of expressing the anger and violence towards things we can't control.

Speaker 2: 00:54 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:54 welcome to another edition of listener supported KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I'm Beth Armando. Today I'll be talking about all things horror with Miguel Rodriguez, founder and executive director of horrible imaginings film festival. I was there when the festival began in San Diego and last year it moved to the Frida cinema in Orange County. This year it celebrates its 10th anniversary of bringing a diverse array of horror to the screen. I'm going to take a short break so you can prepare for the terrorist that await you. And here's a little more from the film and Trump to put you in the right mood for talking about horror.

Speaker 3: 01:34 The dog symbol. We can maybe move this about l on the double

Speaker 4: 01:44 [inaudible]

Speaker 5: 01:45 just forms

Speaker 4: 01:48 [inaudible] he's not. So

Speaker 5: 01:59 Miguel horrible imaginings film festival is entering its 10th year and this year as usual. You have quite a few selections in watching some of the films because I'm one of the judges so I'm getting to see a lot of the movies that you are running. Full disclosure. Yeah. Full disclosure, I'm one of the judges, but one of the things I've noticed this year, and it's not something that's particularly new, but I think just seeing a number of films in a row that were similar brought this to my attention, but there are a number of films this year that work without dialogue and they're not silent films in the sense that there's no soundtrack to them at all. But I wanted to talk to you a little bit just about what it is about horror that I think does lend itself to this kind of wordless narrative and makes it very kind of global and international because you can show that anywhere without subtitles. Well, I, yeah, I think there are a couple of things going on. I'm glad you brought up the international aspect. I think one of my favorite

Speaker 6: 03:00 dialogue, free short films that we have is from Mexico.

Speaker 7: 03:07 Uh,

Speaker 6: 03:07 and it does make it universal. And one thing that we're trying to show is that we can come together. Different types of people can come together because of fears so universal that that emotion is so universal. So there's that aspect, but also there's just something about the leaving out words that kind of makes it a little more nightmarish. It makes it a little more ethereal, a little less real dialog and words tend to ground things in a way that makes them potentially, it makes them familiar and a little less

Speaker 8: 03:45 scary. Whereas without the dialogue, it has this effect.

Speaker 6: 03:50 The fact that

Speaker 8: 03:51 maybe you're dreaming, maybe something is askew

Speaker 6: 03:55 that is a little hard to describe

Speaker 8: 03:59 and if done correctly, it can be very effective.

Speaker 6: 04:04 It could also be a detriment if not done correctly. So a, I will say that, you know, of the hundreds of submissions we got, we also noticed a trend. There are quite a lot that were, that had no dialogue that were just soundscape and image and tried to blend those in a way to give something powerful. Um, and uh, and there were many that we had to decline. So it's not an easy thing to do. Uh, even though it seems like it could be. I said, yeah, I think that it just, it just is a good effect. I like horror as kind of a campfire or um, uh, communal campfire narrative where people get together and share something that might be uncomfortable and not being able to talk is uncomfortable.

Speaker 5: 04:51 Well, it also really lets the music and sound design shine in those films. And those are elements that really are key.

Speaker 6: 04:59 Tell horror. Yeah. I mean, I think without, if you skimp on the sound design, then any sense of tension, uh, is, is gone. Uh, you, and yet bringing that to the forefront is very important. Um, and for the ones that we chose, I think that sound is absolutely a key element, possibly more so than the images even now.

Speaker 5: 05:23 Well, I know you're not showing mine hunter, which is a series on Netflix, but having just watched that, there were a couple of interview scenes which are strictly dialogue and nothing really horrific happens in the sense of what you see. But the soundscape that was going on underneath those interviews, it was some kind of Hummer drone that just kind of pulled you to the edge of your seat and made you so uncomfortable.

Speaker 6: 05:51 [inaudible] yeah, there's a, there's a name for it that I can't think of it, but there's a particular frequency that just gets under your skin. And a lot of these types of films, a mine hunter being at very genius element of this, uh, takes advantage of that. Sometimes it's almost imperceptible and you just feel it in your chest. Yeah. It's just, there's just something about it that it appeals to your emotional core in a way that is more effective than someone just talking. Well, and the other thing from the filmmaking point of view too is that these filmmakers who are able to do these word free films are smart enough to realize you can shoot a lot cheaper when you're not shooting sync sound. And it's a lot cheaper to distribute your films to foreign outlets because you don't have to subtitle them. So it seems like there's a smartness behind the camera.

Speaker 6: 06:44 Great point that I wasn't thinking of cause I just keep thinking of, wow, you know, this really shows that we can avoid exposition altogether. This really shows that we are taking advantage of what is a visual medium and, and, and playing to its strengths rather than just info dumping with a lot of words. Um, but yeah, that, that's a whole other aspect to that I hadn't even thought of having been in the student filmmaking realm for quite awhile and anything that can save you money. Yes. And this is immediately to my SRT for a movie that has no word or a subtitles for movie that has no words, and we talking about these homes that are wordless. But there was one film I saw that really jumped out for me that is very scripted and it reminds me a little bit of a, one of the animated shorts you had last year, which had this kind of Edgar Allen Poe quality, I think it was Winston, was the film where it had this driving narrative where the language just kind of pounded out the beat that was making you tense. But this year, uh, how to be alone. Oh yeah. Had a great script of someone who's just trying to spend some time by themselves and letting their imaginations,

Speaker 9: 07:56 let me go crazy. It's not so bad. Just follow the steps. Don't slip into old habits. Stick to the plan. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You've always been alone. You always will be when you get down to it. The only real rule is survival.

Speaker 6: 08:28 Call something harmless and watch it destroy you.

Speaker 4: 08:33 [inaudible]

Speaker 6: 08:38 so I'm glad that you compared how to be alone to Winston from last year because the words in both of those are not really like dialogue or traditional. They're more poetry. Yeah. So if we talk about the visual medium, the, this is picture with words, right? It's really the, are used to describe an emotion or to instill an emotion rather than tell a, a kind of more traditional type story. And that one will be interesting. That was actually written and directed by one of the writers from stranger things, the show. But you know, I like it better even than the show stranger things. So, uh, I'm excited to show that one.

Speaker 5: 09:16 Well, on both of those, use the dialogue actually I think to set the pace, it's almost like editing it, it sets a beat and it just drives it in such a way that you feel tense. Yeah. Just listening to the [inaudible]

Speaker 6: 09:29 oh yeah. Oh yeah. And the acting's great too. Cause uh, I think, uh, you've got the Micah Monroe from it follows is the lead in that. And for the most part, she's alone in a room. And yeah, in a way that's the opposite effect. The words are what build the tension. I love, that's a great point to bring up after our last conversation.

Speaker 5: 09:51 And this just goes to the diversity of the films you program, your program starts Friday, August 30th, and you open with some young filmmakers. Now. This is really exciting to me because seeing the next generation or even the next next generation is always great and it's amazing to me how kind of eloquent and talented some of these young filmmakers are. How difficult was it to choose some of these?

Speaker 6: 10:18 Oh, you know, we got a bunch, but some really stood out. You know, there, there's one called butterfly by a young filmmaker named Ella McKeon. Uh, that I just cannot wait to share with people because not only is it really well made, but it is a film with purpose. And, uh, and I think for a lot of filmmakers that's the hardest thing. You know, what is the purpose of making this film? We call that future fears, that block. And I'm also really excited about it. Uh, and we partnered with a local education group called creating creators in Santa Ana. So we were able to get some content from the local high school. So not only are we showcasing young and we're talking middle school aged filmmakers, but we're also showcasing from the area. Uh, some of them, not all of them, but some of them. So this is something I've actually wanted to do for a long time. And we've always had a youth and student program, but nothing this focused. And this is one of the things I'm most excited about.

Speaker 5: 11:22 And I think one of the things that's impressive is that although they may not have the highest production values or the largest budgets, it just proves that if you really have something to say and think about how you want to say it, you don't necessarily need those things that you can overcome those kind of shortcomings to deliver something with a really, yeah.

Speaker 6: 11:42 Powerful message. Oh yeah. Oh, absolutely. And it really, and it transcends their age. A lot of them that you forget, you're just watching a story. And the fact that some of these films by

Speaker 5: 11:54 the, by these young filmmakers deal with important and real issues kind of dovetails into something you've done for a number of years at the festival, which is this sidebar of horror for humanity. And this year you continue that and you're not just showing films, but you're having a panel with the filmmakers. So what is the, what can people expect from this horror for humanity panel?

Speaker 6: 12:15 Well, what I really want to focus on for the conversation is talk about how the Genre Lens, whether that's horror or suspense or thriller, can be a potent way to express real world anxieties. And what about it is potent. And I feel like now is an interesting time to really delve into that conversation because it's become a little more mainstream that that's possible. Now, I don't think this is a new thing. George Romero was doing it in the, in the late sixties and seventies. Uh, arguably, you know, Edgar Omers, the black cat back in the 30s was a, uh, a commentary on World War One. So this has always been there. But lately you hear a lot of talk wall. Now horror can be sociopolitical because of get out, you know, this is becoming more mainstream conversation. So I wanted to focus on that specifically, not just to show that it's always been there, but to give.

Speaker 6: 13:18 Some are uh, some filmmakers a chance to explain why they thought it was right for what they wanted to do. We have one film called what Daphne saw and it kind of tackles two different sociopolitical anxieties. One of which I will say is human trafficking, which is a huge problem right here in southern California. And this film was partly produced by a group called not an hour city. So we will have representatives from that group to talk about it. So it's one thing to make a film to kind of build awareness around this problem. But this is at like a science fiction thriller. Mr. Sanford,

Speaker 2: 14:02 this is Daphne. She'll be here, the domestic companion for the next five years as stated in your lease. She can't speak at all. That makes sound or feel generally the connect crimes though two of one's resulted in death penalty or life in prison. Good. There's nothing out there thinking women are dangerous. [inaudible] what it is

Speaker 6: 14:37 he did. I bet it was pretty serious. Am I Daphne? Why build that awareness via this genre and, and that's something really personally interested in and, and I think it's worthy of conversation. So that's what that will be about.

Speaker 5: 14:58 So you have a special panel for whore for humanity, but that doesn't mean that only those films occur in that one panel. You have these kinds of films that deal with social issues sprinkled throughout the festival. And one of the things that did seem to come up in a number of films was using horror to deal with specifically gender issues. And that seems to be something that's been popular recently. And I don't know if you see any reason for that particular trend.

Speaker 6: 15:27 Well, I mean I think it's kind of an obvious answer to say, you know, this is kind of a reaction to a post me too world. When I saw when we were going through a lot of the submissions and I was going through some of the ones I liked, it was just, you know, when we look for films that are made with a purpose, obviously these jump out and I just think that that whole movement and the action or lack thereof that has happened since then has really galvanized people to want to tell these stories. So there's definitely that trend and it's not just happening at our kind of art house, Film Festival level a, you have films like Carolyn Fargo's revenge that came out for example, that's gained a lot of traction that that fits that mold as well. So I definitely think that there is a movement in the film world for these types of films, particularly not just the gender identity films or, or the, the kind of anxieties that come from gender roles, but also how we define gender anyway and, and that who is behind the camera and who is being represented.

Speaker 6: 16:45 These questions are all being asked. And I think this year there was just a lot of those types of films submitted. So it was not only that we're looking for these types of films, but also just in terms of sheer numbers, there were just a lot to choose from. There were just a lot of them. So, uh, yeah, you know, we have a whole block called shock to the system, which in a way is kind of a, a s a sociopolitical theme, but I'm, I'm, I'm thinking of it more of the anxiety and the fear is based in something that is not easily identified. So, you know, classically you could have like Jason Vorhees, it's a, you know, a huge killer with a machete that that is an easily identifiable fear. It's an easily, easily identifiable threat. But if the threat is domestic violence and what causes that, that is a little bit more ingrained in our cultural surface, it's a little more hard to push, harder to peg and, uh, and so that's what those are, what, that's what those films are really focused on. And Yeah, some of them are definitely about, you know, gender inequality, relationship abusive relationships. There's one film called lovers that we're world premiering and it's all about not just abusive relationship but more interestingly to me why someone chooses to stay in an abusive relationship. I find that really interesting. I find it really, uh, more personal

Speaker 4: 18:39 [inaudible] [inaudible]

Speaker 10: 18:39 that was some of the soundscape from the film lovers that we'll be screening at this year's horrible imaginings film festival. I'll be right back after this final break with more of my interview with Miguel Rodriguez.

Speaker 5: 18:55 Well, we have a mutual friend in Michael McWiggin who programs film out and a few years ago he did his first track of gay horror films. Just as a separate sidebar. And one of the things I noticed with those selections was this shift in the tone of the horror from the gay characters being victimized to the gay characters being the ones who are either in control getting revenge or appear to be the victim at first and then turn and become, you know, the, either the villain or the one exacting revenge. And it seems like with a lot of your films this year too, that there does seem to be that flip where the characters that 10 years ago might've been used as the victim in a horror narrative, are now the ones kind of being the catalyst and taking charge.

Speaker 6: 19:49 Yeah. Um, a couple of years ago we had a theme that I called dark fantasy or uh, um, yeah, I f so there are two sides to what horror could be. One is just showing us something that is scary to us, but the other is kind of living out this, this fantasy that, you know, we wouldn't want to necessarily bring to reality, but some of us want to be the person with the machete, you know? And I think that there's a dark fantasy aspect to that that is uncomfortable to talk about. And you certainly wouldn't admit that at work per say, talking to your boss. But, uh, but if you're going to get something off your chest and, and use the cinematic medium to express why you're angry about something or why something causes you anxiety, maybe you put yourself in the, in the, the, the role of the antagonist. Maybe you put yourself in a more villainous or I guess violent role. Uh, I think that there is something to be said for that.

Speaker 5: 21:02 Well, and one of the other things that comes up to seeing some of these films and seeing some of these trends is that we now seem to have in this post me too movement, a shortcut that filmmakers take, which is if you present a straight white male, it's almost like filmmakers feel like they don't have to do any work to make them the bad guy or to make them the villain in the piece. And um, it seems like this is a new trope that they, not necessarily new, but it seems like it's a trope that is being seized upon right now as kind of this short hand for like how do we create something quickly? Right, right.

Speaker 6: 21:39 The CIS white male is the, is the mustache that gets twirled. Yes. Yes. I definitely think that's true. I definitely think that that is something that we've seen. Certainly looking at the submissions as a whole and just looking at films as a whole in general, not just, you know, cis white males. That's certainly true. But also I have noticed a trend of just the 1%, I guess the bourgeoisie as an easy target too. And that can be fun, but it's definitely something that is, is could be seen as a shorthand. Like there's a film that's coming out now called ready or not. That's definitely about that. And there's a film that we were opening with a film called satanic panic. It's definitely the, the, the rich well to do are the, are the immediate villains. Um, and it's a lot of fun, eh, but it kind of, you know, one thing I like about that one is it, it turns what we know about the satanic panic on its head.

Speaker 6: 22:43 You know, this, this, uh, time in our American history where, um, people were really scared of these satanic rituals taking kids and sacrificing them and stuff. And largely the escape goats that were supposed to be doing a lot of this were kind of outcasts or teenagers or lower class people or people, you know, uh, people of color. Like it was a way to really scapegoat the other by largely upper middle class or middle-class suburbanites who really were scared of their safe bubble. Being in front impinged upon this tunes that, you know, in this movie you've got the, uh, woman who the main character is a pizza delivery person. She's definitely a bit of an outcast. She's someone who may be, would have been, Ooh, she might be a seat satanist if we were in 1984, but she goes and delivers pizza to this rich house and, and that Lo and behold, they're, they're performing rituals in there and she has to deal with that.

Speaker 11: 23:46 Are you ready to make an investment in your future? Are you ready to take back what you are owed? Yes. Are you ready to fully commit yourself to Satan? Yeah.

Speaker 6: 24:03 [inaudible]

Speaker 5: 24:03 who are you? I'm the pizza guy and girl. Are he by any chance a virgin? That's a very personal question. She's a virgin.

Speaker 11: 24:15 Who is power unlocks our true potential. It's the Vinny idea what's happening here tonight. They are summoning bafflement big demon from hell. And when that clock strikes 12, he's gonna rip you open.

Speaker 2: 24:35 [inaudible]

Speaker 11: 24:35 where's my virgin? I don't know what's happening. My mom and her butt buddies are booty calling bath in that and they're not going to stop until you're struck. 12 barbed wire altered. That's bonkers.

Speaker 2: 24:49 [inaudible]

Speaker 11: 24:50 why the rich stay rich?

Speaker 2: 24:53 [inaudible]

Speaker 11: 24:53 you stay screwed. That are health care. They are stronger than us. No Virgin, no sacrifice. Let me protect you on, call it death to the weak wealth to the strong.

Speaker 6: 25:09 This, uh, finding this, who is the villain right now? What's in the zeitgeists right now is interesting, uh, particularly in a post me too movement in these questions of LGBT, uh, LGBTQ rights and um, what's happening at the border. It's, it's creating villains in a, in a, in a way that could be shorthand. It's like, Oh, who's the villain at, at the border? It's the, the, the white guy who's the villain with LGBTQ. It's the people with the Tiki torches in Charlottesville. Uh, if you look like them, then yeah, we don't have to give you a character. You're already someone who is the villain

Speaker 5: 25:51 and filmmakers can do that. But do it with some interests. You mentioned what Daphne saw is one of the films you're screening and the villainous character is a white male, but they give him some shadings that make him much more interesting and less predictable than if they had just done kind of the cardboard cutout stereotype. And I think what,

Speaker 6: 26:15 What's interesting too is when the true nature of what is horrific in that one is revealed the fact that he isn't just your mustache, toilet twirler that he has character and he has some depth to them is much worse. It's much more stomach churning because they've taken the time to show him at vulnerable moments. And, and I that what Daphne saw is something that other people could learn from.

Speaker 5: 26:47 And I just recently spoke to the organizers from the San Diego underground film festival here in San Diego. And like them, you also have some live performance and it seems like festivals are, you know, always trying to find ways to kind of engage their audience in new ways or to, you know, create something more interactive or immersive. So you have a a ballet component.

Speaker 6: 27:11 Yes. Yeah. I'm so excited. Uh, you know, it's funny cause this is not the first time we've had ballet [inaudible]. I like ballet. Um, and I like it in a horror context because being a ballet dancer means you're doing horrible things to your body. Uh, and things that seem unnatural and traditionally they are unnaturally beautiful there. You know, the grace that is on display is something that we look at as divine. Um, but what we have is a troop doing a Zombie Ballet. Um, so it's taking something unnatural to present something darkly unnatural, you know, with a little tongue in cheek. But, um, but I'm really excited a leaper till ballet company is the ballet company that is going to be performing. We're going to have three different performances on Friday the 30th. Um, and, and, you know, it's just another way to show how this genre is something that I think we all, it's like Halloween, you know, we all get excited about Halloween and getting a little bit scared and showing dark things. And, uh, and this is just another way to just have that, um, we are, part of our mission is to, to show horror in a variety of art and, uh, and this is trying to adhere to that mission.

Speaker 5: 28:41 All right, well, I want to thank you very much for talking about horrible imaginings. Thank you for inviting me on. It's always a pleasure.

Speaker 2: 28:56 [inaudible]

Speaker 5: 28:57 that was Miguel Rodriguez of horrible imaginings film festival. The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary over Labor Day weekend at the Fritas cinema cinema junkie comes out every other Friday. If you enjoy the show, please tell a friend until our next film fixed. I'm Betha Mondo your residence cinema junkie.

Speaker 2: 29:20 [inaudible] [inaudible].

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