Monte Yazzie was extremely busy when I tracked him down for a little chat a week before the festival starts. He is the Director of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival here in Phoenix, a husband, father and rabid movie fan. I can’t think of better hands than his for the festival to be resting. Not that he ever gets rest because Monte’s also a film critic for ‘The Foothills Focus,’ for www.dailydead.com and their publication known as ‘Deadly.’ You can find all of his reviews on his extremely interesting site www.thecodafilms.com, which covers horror, art house films, music and even his own work in the independent filmmaking community. I, being completely unaware of the horror side of the festival circuit, of course, asked him to inform me of what I have been missing out on.
Me: I haven’t yet gone but plan to so could you educate me about the festival?
Monte: It’s going into its fourteenth year. It started as its own entity for quite a few years. It was its own separate event that happened in October of every year and its transitioned to a partnership with the Phoenix Film Festival so now we run concurrently. We’ve been running with the Phoenix Film Festival now, at the same time, for probably going on six to seven years. It’s a really great partnership that we have with them and I always mention that Horror and Sci-Fi now is becoming so mainstream and crossover, it makes sense for us to play at the same time as the film festival. It’s a great opportunity for us to, kind of, expand, continue to grow and get better at what we’re doing.
Me: You want it to run at the same time so you can get more attendees rather than stand alone?
Monte: Part of it was just necessity. It’s hard doing a film festival in October, especially a genre film festival. And with Arizona being so widespread, trying to find a place to do that and make it run efficiently and try to compete with all the other horror events that were happening at the same time, was pretty difficult and so part of it was necessity. We needed the help from the Phoenix Film Festival to continue to grow but it has also been a great opportunity for us to expand so that we can continue to service and provide these great horrors and fantasies to our viewers.
Me: How and when did you get involved?
Monte: I’ve been involved in some way shape or form for probably the past seven years. But I have been going to the festival since year one. I was sitting in the audience, as a film fan, year one. It’s so amazing that I was given this opportunity to be in the audience and slowly evolve into being a volunteer to working as a judge and then moving into program management work and just four years ago I was given this opportunity to take over. It’s been pretty much a dream come true because this festival has meant to so much to me when it first started, and it still means that much to me now. To have this opportunity to be a festival director is just fantastic.
Me: What has been your largest attendance so far?
Monte: I believe was last year. I don’t know the exact numbers but we had so many movies playing last year, we filled every single slot.
Me: What percentage of the films being submitted are you able to watch yourself?
Monte: Most of the films that are going to be programming for our showcase for the horror showcase at the festival, I have probably seen all of them. We’re talking about anywhere between, depending on the year, anywhere between ten to sixteen movies. While I’m at the festival, I often fill my schedule up and I’m sitting and watching everything at the Phoenix Film Festival because that’s something I’ve been going to from the very beginning, as well. So, this is my time to sit and indulge in cinema. I try my best when I’m not actually working at the festival, to fill those open spaces with movies that I can watch.
Me: How many do you see a year?
Monte: My record at the festival, right before I took over as festival director, I believe I saw thirty-seven films in seven days.
Me: I don’t know how you do it. Do you have any special guests coming this year?
Monte: This year we have one special guest that will be coming for our opening night. We have the world premiere of a movie called ‘Cynthia.’ It’s a crossover between- kind of a little of ‘Basket Case’ and ‘The Unborn,’ two 80’s throwback movies. But, what makes it so fun is the lead actress is Scout Taylor-Compton. She was in Rob Zombie’s Halloween I & II and she will be our special guest for the evening for that opening night film; along with the directors who’ll be there and the producers will be there, as well, so it’ll be a big event. World premieres are a lot of fun because, you know, you got the entire cast and crew; everyone wants to show up for it so we’re going to have a lot of people who were involved with the movie, here. We’re hoping we get a nice big crowd of people to come and show up for that one. It’s a lot of fun.
Me: How do you unwind after all of this, Monte?
Monte: I go back to the movies! For me, growing up… I started as a cinephile when I was pretty young. My parents turned me onto ‘Twilight Zone’ and King Kong movies when I was probably four or five years old. ‘Twilight Zone’ was something that shaped me into the genre fan that I am today and it just continued to grow. Every single year I got older, I seemed to watch more and more movies. In the heyday of the video store, Blockbuster Video, Video Update, Superstar Video, Hollywood Video, all those places, on my summer break, I would go into the horror section and start at A and work my way all the way to Z. That was kind of my summer thing that I would do and then I started to expand and watch more stuff. Before you knew it, I was traveling to different places to see movies. Vacation for me, well when I had kids going on vacation became about them, but before them, it was going to theatres. This week I’m in San Francisco and I can guarantee that I’ll be downtown at the Castro. I’ll be going there Thursday night to watch, Mulholland Drive on 35mm.
Monte: All time or only at the festival?
Me: All time.
Monte: Oh, my goodness! That’s like asking me which my favorite child is. (laughs) Science Fiction is actually pretty easy. I still have the one ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by Stanley Kubrick. That’s the easy answer. Everyone’s going to say that. But I really love that one. I think there’s something about that movie that continues to captivate my mind every single year that I get ahold of it… it means a little something a little bit different to me every time I watch it. On the horror side, you know, the greatest horror film ever made was ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.’ I think it changed the genre. That and ‘Night of the Living Dead’ had two of the biggest impacts on what filmmakers were making at the time but ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ took it to another level. The visceral feeling that you get from that movie, that gut-punch, the fact that it looks so authentic and genuine, it just paints this portrait of horror that I think, even today, it still stands up some forty years later… that movies still has such an effect on people that I think people sometimes think it’s unreal that they were able to do that. As far as the GREATEST horror film ever made, that’s it but my FAVORITE, greatest and favorite are two different things, my favorite today, at this very moment, is probably Evil Dead Part Two, or Psycho or… there are so many! Evil Dead Part Two. That’s my favorite right now. For the next five minutes that’ll be my favorite movie until I realize I told you the wrong movie.
Me: Now what’s your favorite for the festival this year?
Monte: We have a lot of really fun stuff and part of the fun of programming the festival is the puzzle. You know, we can’t bookend it with just horror stuff because we are horror and science fiction so, we’re trying to meet all of those prerequisites and I think this year, as with most years, we do a pretty decent job of getting that good balance of films. This year, our opening night film is ‘Down Range.’ It’s a really visceral, kind of, gut-punch of a film. Simple premise. There’s a sniper in a tree and a bunch of college kids get broken down outside of town and what happens after that is pure mayhem and explosions of gore. But it’s a great adrenaline rush to start the festival off. We have a really subdued yet really innovative science fiction film called ‘Imitation Girl.’ It has a really strong performance from actress Laura Ashley Carter and it’s directed with such confidence by Natasha Kermani, a female director. We have that female perspective really on display this year. We have four films that are directed by females. Jen Wexler is the director of a film called ‘The Ranger.’ It’s also a simple premise, it’s a punk-rock, slasher mash-up. I just love saying that. It’s a lot of fun. Great soundtrack, great performances. It’s a slasher. Everyone loves a slasher. We have a dystopian fantasy film called ‘Rock Steady Row.’ It’s about… in the future, fraternities are in control of the school and they’re terrible people. This young boy, a college freshman, gets his bike stolen by the fraternity group and he ends up turning the tables on them. It’s not like ‘Animal House’ or ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ or anything like that, it’s like ‘Mad Max’ at a college. It’s a lot of fun. Great social commentary on the state of what college kids might be feeling their college is doing to them for them to get their education… it’s a really fun movie.
The best part of our expansion is we were able to program a majority of our films twice which gives you the opportunity or not having to make that difficult choice of picking one festival over the other. Many of our films will be playing two times during the festival so it makes it a little easier to catch them. The second weekend of our festival is kind of dedicated to horror and sci-fi. We have two dedicated screens at the theatre and we’ll be playing horror and sci-fi movies during the day so I believe if you look at Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, you can start programming horror/sci-fi movies at 2:00 in the afternoon.
Monty: I know there’s a lot of people who will think it’s an obvious choice, but I was really happy with myself. We have a documentary in the festival this year called, ‘To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story.’ He’s the iconic version of Jason Voorhees from the ‘Friday the 13th’ movies so, we programmed that movie to play on Friday the 13th. When we did it, I had a big smile on my face. No one has mentioned it yet but I’m sure it’ll seem very obvious.
Sounds like I’m going to finally get my chance to check out Monte’s festival and I can’t wait. I’m checking my schedule now so I can get my tickets today. You better do the same and stop and say hi to Monte if you see him. He’ll love it. Don’t miss out on the fun. Come check out the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival, where you can watch features and shorts in both genres from all over the globe. See you there!