04.30.14 | Eddie Guzelia
This week’s AFF Guestblog comes from the writer and co-executive producer of 2013 Dark Matters Audience Award winner Blood Punch, Eddie Guzelian! Blood Punch was a hit with AFF audiences in 2013 and we asked Guzelian to chronicle his Festival experiences and why he loves competition categories such as AFF’s “Dark Matters” Category. Do you have a film to submit to our film competition? The first deadline for submissions is April 30th, 2014 with the final film deadline being July 15th, 2014. Click here for more information and to submit your film!
Last October, the Austin Film Festival hosted the world premiere of our low-budget horror feature, BLOOD PUNCH, as an official selection in the festival’s ‘Dark Matters’ lineup. It was the first time we screened the movie for an audience and the place was packed. It was literally standing room only–with people lining the aisles and stacked up against the back wall of the theater. I had long ago given up my own seat. As the lights dimmed, I was sweating bullets and pacing over the little floor space that was left.
For myself and the rest of the movie’s principal cast and crew, the stakes and the tension felt sky-high. We had all devoted years of our lives to making BLOOD PUNCH–and now, for the first time, we were about to watch the end result of all of our hopes, dreams, and hard work get put to the final test in front of a rowdy crowd.
About ten minutes into the movie, I stumbled out towards the lobby, my head spinning. A passing usher smiled. Having no idea I was connected to the movie playing inside, he nodded back towards the theater—“So how’s the movie? Scary stuff?” I stared back, swallowing hard. “Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but let me tell you–I’m definitely shitting my pants right now.”
Fortunately for us, that night’s screening ended with lots of cheering and applause. In fact, our entire experience with the Austin Film Festival, from start to finish, was pretty much a dream come true.
BLOOD PUNCH went on to win the Audience Award in the festival’s ‘Dark Matters’ section. And just in case we weren’t already feeling humbled and honored enough, AFF generously invited us to return this year for a special encore screening of the movie as part of its Audience Award Series, again as a representative of the festival’s ‘Dark Matters’ category.
It’s no accident that I keep mentioning ‘Dark Matters’ when I talk about the amazing experience we had screening BLOOD PUNCH at Austin. Not only am I incredibly grateful that the Austin Film Festival features and celebrates this category as a major part of their programming schedule, I’m actually especially proud that BLOOD PUNCH was specifically selected to screen in the festival as a ‘Dark Matters’ film.
Now I know what some of you are thinking—“Well, sure—those kind of horror/sci-fi/genre movies that are selected and shown in festival sections like ‘Dark Matters’—I mean, they’re a lot of fun and everything—but they’re there more as guilty pleasures, right? I mean, no one takes them seriously as films—or as art, right?” You’re thinking—“Come on, be honest now–generally speaking, those movies do not receive the same amount of creative and artistic respect as other film festival movies, do they?”
The answer is no. Generally speaking, they do not. And generally speaking, I don’t give a fuck.
Film festival categories like ‘Dark Matters’ and the movies that play in them are all kinds of awesome anyway. And just off the top of my head, here are three quick reasons why—
1. Categories like ‘Dark Matters’ aren’t just a genre in a festival. They’re actually a secret code between film festival programmers and filmmakers.
This is how the Austin Film Festival’s website describes the criteria for movies eligible for their ‘Dark Matters’ category–“Films should be easily identified as belonging to the horror genre or a particularly dark suspense, thriller or sci-fi film.” O.k. I think I see what they mean–but how dark is “particularly dark”? And does this apply to all sci-fi movies or just “particularly dark” ones?
The Toronto International Film Festival describes its’ ‘Midnight Madness’ section as—“The wild side: midnight screenings of the best in action, horror, shock and fantasy cinema.” Right. I get it. But that’s pretty vague, too, isn’t it? And why do they use the term “best” here? Are they not showing the “best” in the festival’s other categories? That’s kind of weird…
And here’s how the Sundance Film Festival describes its’ ‘Park City At Midnight” selections—“From horror flicks to comedies to works that defy any genre, these unruly films will keep you edge-seated and wide awake.” Wait a second—“comedies”? “Works that defy any genre”? And what’s that part about keeping you “wide awake”? Jesus, now I am confused.
Like I said before—it’s all just part of a secret code. The actual wording for describing the categories in each of these festivals may be different, but they are all saying exactly the same thing. If you’re someone who is passionate about making certain kinds of movies, you can see it as plain as day. Here is a translation, totally decoded, of what each and every one of these film festival category descriptions is REALLY saying—
“LISTEN UP, PEOPLE! WE WANT THE KIND OF MOVIES THAT TRADITIONALLY GET NO CREATIVE OR ARTISTIC RESPECT FROM THE CONVENTIONAL FILM ESTABLISHMENT, BUT WE REALLY DIG THEM! AND WE SECRETLY KNOW THAT THEY ACTUALLY HAVE PLENTY OF ARTISTIC MERIT–WE JUST CAN’T COME OUT AND SAY SO (THAT’S WHY WE’RE TALKING TO YOU IN THIS SECRET CODE)!”
I’m actually not joking here. This is exactly what all of these film festivals are saying when they’re describing those genre categories. And you know what? It’s a fucking beautiful thing. Because it means that the people who are running and programming these festivals genuinely love movies of all kinds. They care enough to establish these specific categories as “back doors”–a way to sneak brilliant movies into their festivals that normally might be considered too weird or lowbrow or “out there” and give them a chance to be seen and recognized by an audience.
2. Film festival screeners, programmers, and volunteers love these categories and love these kinds of movies.
The traditional film establishment and conventional ways of thinking may not give these kind of genre movies much creative respect, but film festival people—the ones who actually program and run the festivals—are psyched for these movies.
When we brought BLOOD PUNCH to Austin, we were enthusiastically welcomed with open arms by everyone involved with the festival. Far from feeling like we were overlooked or unappreciated for being a ‘Dark Matters’ movie, I got the impression that the people working at the festival were genuinely excited and appreciated both us and our low-budget horror movie.
3. A lot of the most interesting, innovative, ambitious, and ground-breaking filmmaking, particularly low-budget, is happening in movies that would qualify as ‘Dark Matters’ selections.
Maybe one day these movies will get the kind of creative and artistic recognition they deserve. Or maybe they won’t. Who gives a fuck? One of the best things about these movies and the people who make them is that they don’t really seem too concerned with being recognized by the traditional film establishment. They’re too busy kicking ass and blowing people’s minds.
My hope is to continue in that tradition.