Dean Bertram, a well-known festival director, gave us a wonderful insight to his events, especially his new one called MidWest WeirdFest.
BC: Introduce of yourself, festival director for how long how it occur the first time?
DB: I’ve run A Night of Horror International Film Festival for over a decade now. We started the fest when we realized there was no horror specific film festival in Australia. We’d basically just completed a short horror film (FORESTA ROSSA) which had screened at a few genre fests internationally. But there was no festival to submit to locally that seemed receptive to horror. We figured that there must have been at least a dozen or so other local short horror filmmakers in the same boat. So we launched A Night of Horror, which, as the name suggests, was intended to be a one night, one time only event. We planned to showcase a dozen or so locally produced horror shorts at this mini-fest. Little did we know that we would be inundated with submissions, not just from Australia, but from scores of countries around the world. So even in that first year we extended the festival to a three day/night event, as it felt disingenuous accepting a couple hundred submissions but then only screening a handful. And the fest just grew from there: first expanding to accept and screen feature films as well as shorts, and then gradually growing into the eleven day festival it is today. We’re still stuck with that original name though…
BC: Running two festivals already is correct which are? Where?
DB: A Night of Horror International Film Festival (which is now in its 11 year), and Fantastic Planet, Sydney Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival (now in its 8th year). Both screen concurrently in Sydney, Australia at Dendy Cinemas Newtown. Together the fests provide Australia its oldest and premier genre film event.
BC: Therefore, why create a third festival – the intention and goal?
DB: While I still run A Night of Horror and Fantastic Planet film fests in Sydney, I spend most of my year in the US, and now call Wisconsin home. Not long after I moved here, I began hearing and reading about an assortment of weird, fascinating, and frightening tales: and they were all in this part of the world. For example, I discovered that Ed Gein had lived in spitting distance from my new home town. Of course Jeffrey Dahmer preyed on Milwaukee, the biggest city to my south. I visited a nearby lake that allegedly has its own resident lake monster. People casually mentioned to me that they’d just been out in the nearby woods “squatchin’”. The Beast of Bray Road (a werewolf/dogman cryptid) allegedly prowls rural byways that are an hour or so drive away. Plus there’s a UFO landing port, a legendary village of retired circus midgets who kill interlopers, and the mythical Hodag beast… and this is all just in Wisconsin! The entire Midwest is loaded with such tales and phenomena. And it just kind of dawned on me one day, “I’m living in the middle of Weirdsville, USA!” Or at least that’s what it felt like. And I think it was then, in the back of my mind, that the idea started peculating: what a perfect place for a film festival dedicated to screening weird cinema…
We want MidWest WeirdFest to evoke the awe and chills of the sideshow alley of a dark carnival: A place filled with terrors, wonders, and forbidden surprises. We hope to create the cinematic equivalent of a collection of pulp magazines and underground comics. A film festival that celebrates not only the fantastic genres – horror, sci-fi, etc – but one that welcomes all types of underground films and offbeat documentaries. A broad, if shadow filled, tent, for all cinematic creations weird and wonderful.
BC: What is the Midwest festival about? How does it differ from others? Why was this location chosen since you are from Australia?
DB: MidWest WeirdFest is a cinematic celebration of all things fantastic, frightening, underground, off-beat, alternative, and just plain weird. Basically, it will screen a heady assortment of fantastic genre films (horror, sci-fi etc), underground cinema, and documentaries that are offbeat or about strange people/phenomenon. This focus on “weird” cinema, rather than a particular genre, or type of filmmaking, is what makes MidWest WeirdFest unique: you might watch a Bigfoot documentary in one session, a cutting-edge horror flick in another, then a drama about a demon/ghost hunter undergoing an existential crisis (and that’s just a tease of some of the feature films that have recently been locked for this year’s fest). While I am originally from Sydney, Australia and still return there regularly – particularly to run A Night of Horror and Fantastic Planet film festivals – I now call the American Midwest home. Eau Claire seemed like a great city for the fest. It’s a friendly, welcoming, college town and fairly centrally located. And our main venue – the Micon Downtown Cinema – is incredibly supportive of festivals and alternative screening events.
BC: Why should people attend your festival?
DB: MidWest WeirdFest will provide a unique cinematic smorgasbord of weird films. I’ve been programming festivals for over a decade now, and the inaugural MidWest WeirdFest program is shaping up to be different from anything else I’ve ever seen out there. It’s going to be an incredibly fresh mix of horror and sci-fi, underground flicks, and enthralling documentaries about weird subject matter. Plus there are all the regular reasons to attend a fest: mixing with fellow cinephiles and filmmakers, seeing cutting edge films long before they have wider distribution, enjoying cinema in that special way that you only can partake have in a festival environment.
BC: What is the toughest aspect of running a festival?
DB: My least favorite part of being a festival director has to notify those filmmakers that have submitted a film that hasn’t been selected to screen at the festival. As a filmmaker myself, I know how discouraging it can be to hear that your work hasn’t been chosen. It’s also one of the reason I’ve always programmed the festivals that I run primarily from cold submissions: films that have been entered by filmmakers to the festivals through our submission partner sites FilmFreeway and Withoutabox. It seems disingenuous to take money from hundreds of independent filmmakers (and in the case of some festivals: from thousands of independent filmmakers), only to source almost your entire festival program from what already has industry buzz, i.e. films that have major representation or distribution already in place, are vehicles for already famous directors and stars, or films that have already played several major festivals. Unfortunately, this is the way that all too many festivals behave today. They just milk submission fees from indie filmmakers (who have almost no chance of screening at this type of festival) then the programmers go and source almost their entire festival program elsewhere. It’s borderline criminal.
BC: What is the best or biggest thrill you have at your festivals?
DB: Connecting visiting filmmakers directly to their audience: through Q&As, after parties, and engendering a social atmosphere that encourages everyone at the fest to mix and mingle.
BC: Some festivals are following the trend of running online only, what is your opinion?
DB: I’m sure there is a place for online festivals (in fact, one year we experimented with an online component of A Night of Horror, which ran at the same time as the regular festival, and it’s not impossible that we might try something similar again). However, the joy of the festival experience for me is similar to the joy of experiencing a film in a cinema, only on steroids. At a festival you’re watching a brand new film, usually at least a local premiere screening, in the dark, uninterrupted, and surrounded by other cinephiles. Often the filmmaker will be present, whom you can speak to in person after the screening: either by asking questions during a live Q&A, or even better, having the chance to chat to them in the cinema’s foyer or at a bar or after party following the screening. You can’t approach that type of immediate and unique experience by watching a film online.
BC: It appears you enjoy the horror genre – why?
DB: Horror is a great escapist genre. It might deal with social issues, or bigger metaphysical questions at times, but it always does so through an allegorical and entertaining – if blood splattered – lens. In many ways it’s the darker and bloodier twin of sci-fi. But that type of intellectual posturing aside, it’s also just great fun to be scared in the dark for an hour or two; to marvel at the work of a special make-up effects artist; to jump or cringe the way the filmmaker intended.
BC: Most people have a favorite Horror Film; however what film hooked you on the genre?
DB: The first horror film I watched was John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. I was about 10 years old when I saw it on a family vacation. We were staying at an island resort and while the parents all got drunk in the bar, an event’s organizer would supervise the kids and screen movies for them through an old (then state of the art) VHS machine. HALLOWEEN probably wasn’t the most kid friendly choice. I remember being terrified when trying to go to sleep later that night. And yes, I was hooked. I guess I’ve always wanted to recapture the first terrified buzz that I got from Carpenter’s classic film. It remains one of my favorite films to this day.
BC: How do people find out about your festival?
DB: For A Night of Horror International Film Festival / Fantastic Planet: Sydney Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival they can visit: www.anightofhorror.com
For MidWest WeirdFest: www.midwestweirdfest.com
In addition, we’re still programming, but these three have been confirmed, it’s the first announcement so far, we’ll be making full program announcement soon:
VORE KING, dir: Dan S. (Synopsis: Vore King is a detailed portrait of R.P. Whalen, world famous horror host, trash movie guru, carnival sideshow barker, and America’s premier purveyor of vorarephilia pornography. Vorarephilia, popularly known as “vore,” is a sexual fetish where arousal is brought about by the act of one creature consuming another creature, often manifested by monsters eating women. This film follows Whalen’s process of conceiving and constructing an array of vore creatures while he rekindles a bond with his elderly father and battles the demons of suburban Milwaukee. Vore King features interactions with R.P. Whalen’s actresses (affectionately known as “La Vore Girls”) and family, as well as a rare glimpse into the production of vore film and the mind of a magical (and volatile) super genius. A monument to the artifice of deviation.)
BOGGY CREEK MONSTER, dir: Seth Breedlove (Synopsis: The true story behind one of the most infamous American legends ever recorded. Boggy Creek Monster centers on the true stories that inspired the famed Charles B Pierce-directed, 1972 horror film, The Legend of Boggy Creek. The subject has been re-visited by multiple, campy horror films a however; the reality behind the Fouke Monster sightings has never been documented. With author and television personality, Lyle Blackburn, as the guide, the Boggy Creek legend is brought to vivid life in this feature-length documentary film.)
INDIANA, dir Toni Comas (Synopsis: Michael has been removing unwanted spirits from people’s homes for far longer than he’d care to remember. Reaching a point of total disillusionment, he decides he no longer wants to partake in the business he and his partner Josh started together. But Josh convinces him to take on one last case, far more troubling than anything they’d worked on before and possibly the one that changes Michael’s life forever.)