Highlights from “What The Fest!?” NYC Film Festival and Events.
Hello from NYC, BAS readers! Last week I had the pleasure of checking out one of the best film festivals around for its second year. “What The Fest!?” took place at the IFC Center in Manhattans West Village neighborhood for 4 fantastic days filled with horror, indie and documentary films along with specialized events to go side by side with the films being presented. I can’t recommend the fest enough next year and I’m already looking forward to the next one. But that’s next year! What did you miss out on this year? Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you about!
The Films: I didn’t get to see all the films presented but I did get to see a solid handful of them that you absolutely should check out as soon as you can. Time to break them down!
The Biggest Festival Surprise: Depraved
“Depraved” is indie horror done right. Larry Fessenden has taken a virtually nonexistent budget and used it to bring the classic “Frankenstein” story into the 21st century. Filmed almost entirely in a warehouse in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, Fessenden ended up taking disappointment and turning it into a masterwork. His original vision wasn’t the bare bones film we see on screen but it became his masterwork after a lack of large studio interest. What he created was a film that deals with mental illness, the horrors of war, corporate greed and ultimately a tragic story of love. Don’t let the lack of money fool you though, this is a Frankenstein tale for the ages.
The Best Of The Fest: Freaks
I’m not going to tell you a lot about “Freaks” because you need to go into this one as blind as possible. Emile Hirsch stars as a father holed up in a dilapidated house with his daughter, whom he is protecting from the outside world. She betrays him and ventures outside, only to see exactly what he was trying to protect her from the whole time. This film is a lower budget indie gem that doesn’t look like an indie at all. This film screams big budget, has the excitement of any Marvel film, blends genre lines and has an INCREDIBLE performance from Lexy Kolker playing the part of the daughter, Chloe. See this film as soon as you can if you’re a fan of sci-fi & horror. Director Adam Stein deserves a big budget for his next film.
The Rest Of The Fest (Films): The Wind & Body At Brighton Rock
“The Wind” is a unique horror film that takes the slow burn formula and does it very well. Not unlike “The Witch”, this film uses slow and atmospheric tones & visuals to build a sense of dread throughout. It’s a western horror based in the 1800’s that utilizes visuals over dialogue. The lack of a script made the world the characters were stuck in jump out more. It also made the dialogue that WAS there more meaningful. It’s an old west story about a woman’s slow descent into madness…or is it?
“Body At Brighton Rock” is a nice 80’s throwback that takes the “lost in the woods” story and twists it around. It’s got a lot of the fun horror mechanics you know and love but almost none of them are what they seem, which ends up making them even more fun. In my opinion, this was the weakest of the films I screened but it’s still a solid 7 out of 10, so don’t be dissuaded from seeing it. The acting was very solid for an indie film, the practical effects were very good and there was a goddamn bear. A real bear!
There were a handful of films I wasn’t able to see but I’ve heard nothing but good things coming from audience members so I can only assume that they were all kick ass. What I loved about this festival over the other ones I have been to is the love that went into these films. Indie filmmaking is a labor of love and you could see that pouring out of the screen on every film. But this is only part of “What The Fest”. There’s a whole other side of the fest that isn’t even on the screen.
The Events: One of the coolest parts of “What The Fest” is that you never know what’s going to happen along with the films. It’s never JUST about the films. Some of the events were constant, such as live Q&A sessions with program director Maria Reinup & people involved with the film being shown. These happened with pretty much every film on the fest and each one of them added another layer to the film we’d just watched. It’s one of those added things that us film nerds really love. But there was so much more than that!
Some of those examples include actors “blessing” the crowds before the showing of “The Wind” or an ice cream social prior to the showing of “Freaks” and giveaways of various bear themed items after the showing of “Body At Brighton Rock”. That’s just a couple things they did to go above & beyond to make the crowds get a little something extra and it showed because people loved those little extras. On top of all that, they had after parties each night at a Belgian beer bar near the theater where crowds were able to mingle with the filmmakers and stars on site for the fest. It’s those little extras that mean a lot.
Satanic Sunday: During this years fest, there was an event that screamed blissful bloody murder to my black heart, and that was “Satanic Sunday”. This was an all-Sunday, all Satan event that showcased films, book signings, one man shows and a little Satanic education for us all. One of the events was a one man show & book signing from author Grady Hendrix. Grady is an author based out of NYC that’s had his hands in the satanic bowl for years and I was lucky enough to speak with him prior to the show and get his thoughts on everything from modern Satanism to his own childhood connection to the lord of darkness. You’d be surprised to find out that Grady doesn’t consider himself a Satanist but he was raised on the metal scene and has been connected to it since childhood. He’s been a student for years and he’s studied the “Satanic Panic” that took over the US, which shaped a lot of his writing and an upcoming film based off exactly that. His book & one man show called “We Sold Our Soul” focused on the connection of metal music & Satanism and I can’t recommend it enough. Equal parts funny and informative, it’s a book I guarantee you’ll enjoy if you’re a fan of either metal or Satanism. Go get the book as soon as you can. Along with Grady, we were also witness to a remastered version of the documentary “Satanis: The Devil’s Mass” and the jet black crown on the night, a screening of “Hail Satan?”. “Hail Satan?” is a documentary that was shown at Sundance this year, focusing on the rise of The Satanic Temple and the life of their leader, Lucien Greaves. This is a “can’t miss” documentary if you’re even the least bit interested in The Satanic Temple. This was a hell of a documentary and I can say that Greaves is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever witnessed live. His talk with Maria after the documentary opened a lot of eyes in the cinema.
My take away from this is simply this: What The Fest is a festival I’ll be seeing every year from here on out. They went above & beyond to make this an immersive, fun, informative and special celebration of indie cinema.