Well, it took a while, but we finally came back from the dead - twenty months after our first foray into film festival founding, we returned with our second stab. This time, we'd moved to a different venue, an enforced change, since the Paper Heart art gallery, where PFFF 1 took place, had been sold to property developers. However, this time, we were actually in a real movie theater, the fabulous Chandler Cinemas, which is the only independent venue in Phoenix, and is the closest I've seen to the late, lamented Scala back in my London days [they're playing Cannibal Holocaust next weekend]. This new home was a marked improvement in several ways - most notably that, unlike the Paper Heart, we did not have to spend three hours taping garbage-bags over the windows to try and keep out the daylight. We did not miss that one little bit.
As before, we were impressed with the quality of the films submitted to us, perhaps even more so: the increasing availability of technology means that it is become easier for directors to realize their artistic goals, without the need for large budgets. The breadth of content submitted to us was also a delight, with everything from cheesy B-movies through atmosphere-driven pieces to hard-gore horror, and even a short by Oscar-nominated animator, Bill Plympton, which was a real honor. We tried to squeeze as much in as possible, though in another lesson learned from last time, we did allow larger breaks between the programs, for bathroom trips and for people to check out the vendors, etc. whom we had set up in the main foyer [they also benefited since the evening of our event also had Rocky Horror and Lobster Man from Mars screenings].
After getting some training from Andrea, the co-owner, I spent most of the day up in the projectionist's booth, swapping out DVDs as necessary and fiddling with the aspect ratio on the projector: I felt like the Phantom of the Opera up there, though that might be in part because of the chandeliers which were lying in one corner of the room. I resisted the urge to throw them from my lofty perch onto the crowd below. It did get pretty warm up in there, though that may in part have been all the rushing about I had to do: in an awkward bit of planning, the switches for the house-lights were probably about 50 yards and down two flights of stairs from my station, which made for plenty of exercise over the course of the day.
Business started slowly, even if we thought that moving from a Friday to a Saturday would mean most people would be there from the doors opening at noon, While we did have more present for the first screening, people continued to arrived right up until the final movie, which started at 11:30pm. All told, I think we had about 150 people in attendance, a number with which we were very happy, especially as when scheduling the event, we hadn't realized it was a holiday weekend - in an Arizona August, people get out of town any chance they can get.
We had some special guests, in the shape of R.A. Mihailoff, who played Leatherface in the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, alongside some guy called Viggo Mortensen (Mihailoff also used to be a pro wrestler, so two of our favorite things in one, right there!), as well as the marvellous Count Smokula, a 496-year old accordion-playing vampire from Smoksylvania, who has composed songs for an appeared in a number of Troma movies. He entertained the crowd between movies, winning them over from an initial reaction of "What the f...?" - which was pretty much our reaction too, when we first met him a few years back! The Strange Family Circus, with their carnival sideshow act, also helped keep the audience amused.
L-to-R: R.A. Mihailoff, Scooter Harris of Studio Hadra,
Stephen Strange (at bottom), Count Smokula and Mother Fakir
I did make it down out of the booth now and again to chat to people. I particularly enjoyed speaking to Eben McGarr, director of Sick Girl - turned out his brother very likely knew Chris, two decades ago, back in New York! [They knew a lot of the same people and frequented the same places, but we're still trying to establish a final connection] Speaking of names from the past, I was also genuinely astonished by Hal - just like me, an expat Brit who moved to Phoenix and married an American - who pulled a stack of TC's, numbers one through seven, out of his bag, triggering an instant, massive burst of nostalgia. It's moments like that which make the whole event worthwhile.
But, make no mistake, it's a lot of hard work. Even with help from a variety of sources, we were utterly exhausted by the end of the day - I ended up lying down for five minutes on the floor of the projection booth, because that was only way to stop everything from aching. Wisely, we'd booked a hotel room just down the road, so five minutes after we left the cinema, we were in the room, and about five minutes after that, we were dead to the world. As with the first event, it'll likely take us a bit of time to recover [we've very glad it's a long weekend, so we have Monday off!], but all things being equal, it won't be long before we are looking forward to, and planning, the third incarnation of the Phoenix Fear Film Festival, some time in 2009.