An Interview with Jim Haggerty – By Brian Morton

Last month I got to watch a DVD called Vaulted, which is filled with the winning entries from Jim Haggerty’s Yellow Ape Film Festival. Now, I love Film Festivals, and really don’t go to as many as I’d like to (damned day job!), but I LOVE the idea behind Jim’s fest. The Yellow Ape Film Festival runs at the end of July every year in New York, and is one of the few indie film festivals that run all the movies in one venue in one evening…so you don’t have to pack your walking shoes and your organizer, just get a ticket and enjoy! I love the idea and the DVD so much, I really wanted to sit down with Jim and find out more!

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BM – I know you’ve probably been asked this a thousand times, why is the company called ‘Yellow Ape’?

JH – Well, my favorite color is actually green, so I had thought of Green something or other, and I liked the idea of a gorilla or an ape as a mascot. But as the environmental folks have really taken ownership of the color green it was hard to find something not already in use. Then I remembered back when I was a kid when my friends and I would ride the bus to the mall there was this yellow strip that you pressed to get the bus to stop and the sign would say ‘Press yellow tape for stop’. Eventually, vandals would scrape letters off and it would end up saying ‘Press yellow ape for stop’ or just ‘ yell ape for stop’ (which we did). It was a fond memory of an old in-joke and I thought it sounded cool for a company name. Then my cousin James Haggerty – who is a great artist – designed an awesome logo for us and we were off and running!

 BM – What exactly is the Yellow Ape Film Festival?

JH – It’s an event in Long Island, New York that I’ve put together that showcases all sorts of ‘Movies for the Midnight Hour’ by both us and a roster of very talented new filmmakers plus really cool live acts. I don’t believe there’s anything quite like it.

BM – What made you decide to start your own film festival?

JH – Well I felt like I had found some success as a filmmaker – not that I’m rich or famous, but I managed to get my films shown in theaters, distributed on DVD, and seen by people, which to me was success. And I know how that was a hard road because there was really no festivals or outlets aimed at the type of oddball b-movie stuff I was doing. It certainly has gotten better and there are more outlets and festivals out there now, but still not enough. I thought in terms of giving something back and trying to help other younger filmmakers get their work seen and find opportunities.

BM – How do you decide who will judge the festival?

JH – Well, when I came up with this crazy idea of putting together a film festival, I thought it would be exciting to have a panel of celebrity judges on hand. I wanted to have a cool bunch of people who I respected (and who are well-respected by most folks in the genre). I had a dream list in mind, and had a second string, figuring at least some of my first choices would tell me to get lost. Luckily, I never had to go to the second choices; I got everyone I asked for – the legendary Beverly Bonner from BASKET CASE, local iconic filmmakers Keith Crocker and Glenn Andreiev, and my good friend Suzi Lorraine. I was really honored to get them all to do this for me. And this year we have another amazing panel – who were, again, my first choices – comedian Paul Bond, scream queen Debbie D, the great Baron Misuraca and Suzi Lorraine again. The judges see the films at the festival for the first time with the audience and cast their votes on a secret ballot. I think that makes it more exciting that way.

BM – Do you put together a new film for the festival, or do you find something that hasn’t been given the attention you thought it deserved and show it off a little?

JH – Well, I haven’t done much in way of shorts – my debut film THE SLASHER was a feature, and I have always made features – so since the festival was a festival of shorts I had to make short films specifically for the festival. I was very happy with last year’s film COLD DEAD HAND, I think in many ways it is a perfect representation of my films, it’s everything I set out to do – it’s scary, it’s sexy, it’s funny, and all in about twenty minutes! And it features a really terrific performance by Natalie Brooks, an amazing actress I discovered and who I hope to work with again soon. We also premiered a ‘lost’ film called HAUNTING DAY that we unearthed which we don’t know that much about but it is a very cool absurdist piece from who knows when or who knows where. Those two are also on the VAULTED DVD alongside the festival’s winning films (my films aren’t part of the competition).

BM – Can you tell us what you’ll be contributing to this year’s festival?

JH – This year there are two very exciting films that I’m very proud of – both are a bit of a departure for me. The first is REUNION, which I’ve actually been working very slowly on since 2011! It’s finally done and I cannot be more proud of how it’s turned out. It’s a very cerebral film, very unlike the usual ‘tits and blood’ kind of B-movies Yellow Ape is known for. Not that I’m not proud of my other films, but I think we all want to try different things and this is unlike anything I’ve ever done. And the film stars two really amazing actors – Risa Cohen and Rob Moretti. It took awhile to cast them because this film really is all about the performances and the chemistry and I really got what I wanted. It might be the best film I’ve ever made.
The other film is a bit more outlandish, it’s called THE ANNOUNCER. It stars a wonderful actress I met in January named Chrissy Laboy (who is actually our current Yellow Ape Girl of the Month at our website). She gives a great performance and she’s absolutely a terrific artist. I admire how she threw herself into this film which is extremely strange and a lot of people may not get. It certainly makes a statement, but I think people are going to love it or hate it. Very interested in seeing the reaction it gets.
And besides the films this year, we’re featuring comedy, burlesque dancers, an opera singer, a drag act, and Elvis impersonator, and more. I think this year is going to actually outshine last year’s festival, which is so exciting.

BM – Why did you decide to have it on the same date every year?

JH – Well, it happened to fall on July 31 when we started it. The venue is the Cinema Arts Centre, which is like an institution in New York for film; they used to have these Wild Wednesday programs which catered to cult movie type stuff, so our festival seemed perfect for that. And when I was thinking of dates, I thought we should go for the end of July as it’s the middle of summer, so I threw out July 31 and that ended up being a Wednesday – so it seemed like fate. And I just thought it was a good idea to keep that date every year so people can expect it, like an anniversary or the 4th of July or something. When you move stuff around people sometimes can’t plan for it. This way people know there’s something they like to do on July 31st, so they can plan the vacation or the wedding or the sex change for the week after.

BM – What is the goal of the Yellow Ape Film Festival?

JH – It’s two-fold – first to provide exposure to the filmmakers, which we do by showing everything on a big movie screen and keeping everything to one room and one screen. There’s no competition, no other films running and no advance schedules distributed. Everyone sees everything, so everyone’s film gets the proper attention. When you have several screening rooms it’s unfair to the filmmakers – many people end up with their film only being watched by the people in the film, if anyone. Everyone’s work is seen and the winning films are distributed by Yellow Ape on DVD, which gives them even greater exposure. The other goal is to entertain. It’s really less of a film festival and more of an event. It’s kind of vaudevillian, in a way. We feature live entertainment between the films so it doesn’t become monotonous and it’s a lot of fun. Last year we had a barbershop quartet, a comedian, burlesque dancers, a rock band and even a vampire lounge singer. The place was packed and everyone loved it.

BM – I know that submissions are probably closed at this late date, but when and how can filmmakers submit for next year’s festival?

JH – We post the info at www.yellowape.net. We put up the rules and details and submission form usually right after New Year’s.

BM – Will there be a DVD release after every year’s festival?

JH – Most likely yes, as this is sort of the prize to get your film on the DVD. We just released VAULTED: FILMS FROM THE YELLOW APE VAULT and it’s gotten a very good response. Lady MacDeath who hosts the show does a sort of horror movie hostess thing and introduces the winning film or films from the fest (last year the two top winners happened to be short enough that we could feature two of the winners on the DVD – it’s a festival of shorts so everything is 30 minutes or less) plus whatever original Yellow Ape Films we’ve created for the fest.

BM- What have you found to be the hardest part of running your own film festival?

JH – It is tough getting the word out – especially when we first started up. I was very fortunate to have Lady MacDeath who has a talent for getting attention to these types of things. I’ve actually been very fortunate in a lot of ways – both doing the festival and as a filmmaker. I’m so happy that Dylan Skolnick and the great folks at the Cinema Arts Centre have taken the chance on us and allowed us to do this, it’s very humbling. It’s also humbling to have so many amazing people be a part of this – the great filmmakers who submitted their films, the talented performers, and the amazing celebrity judges. I am one lucky son of a bitch to be able to do this, and I don’t take any of it for granted. And I hope all these people – as well as the actors and crew who work on my films – are as happy with and as proud of the end results as I am.

BM – Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule and good luck with the Yellow Ape Film Festival!

JH – No problem, thank you.

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So, there you go. If you happen to be in the New York area on July 31st, why not head over and enjoy the show…I know I’m going to try! Jim and his crew do some really fun movies, now he’s moved on to this amazing, fun event. Who knows what might be next?! Well, we’ll keep our eye on the Yellow Ape gang and make sure that when that bus stops, you’ll know where!