Ahead of this year’s Monster Fest (which runs from 20-30 November), Felix Hubble caught up with festival director Neil Foley to talk Australian horror, film distribution, and Canada’s booming independent horror scene.
What led to the festival’s creation?
We’re a film distribution company and we had a lot of films that we were trying to get a bit of profile for, a lot of films that wouldn’t traditionally get accepted into the Melbourne International Film Festival and other similar entities, so we got in contact with Cinema Nova and struck up a partnership to run an event called the Fantastic Asia Film Festival. The festival went really well, so the next year we thought that rather than restricting ourselves to just Asian content we’d include some of our other films. We’re called Monster Pictures so we came up with the name Monster Fest, and yeah, it’s just sort of grown from there. This will be our fourth year.
Fantastic! Have you found it difficult to distinguish yourself from something like the Night Shift program of the Melbourne International Film Festival?
Not really, I think MIFF is MIFF and we’re our own kind of beast. People know who we are because we’re constantly releasing films. Sometimes there’s been a little bit of a crossover – we’ve got one or two films this year that have played at MIFF – but basically it’s separate.
I’ve noticed a lot of Australian films are playing that don’t look like they’ve had any Screen Australia funding. Do you think it’s important to maintain some alternatives to government funded film projects?
Yeah, absolutely! There’s a real glut of people making films without the support of the government because it’s cheaper than ever before – these days they’re not even bothering to go to the government and we really try to encourage that.
I feel like the government have a very specific set of things they want out of a film before they’ll throw any financial backing behind it.
Yeah, I guess so. I mean they have an agenda, it’s government money so it’s always going to come with an agenda attached to it. I guess people who get money from the government to make films have to go through the whole process of applying for that funding, so people who are making the sort of films that come to Monster Fest or Melbourne Underground Film Festival probably bypass that because it’s often a long process and they just want to get out there and make something. We’ve positioned ourselves to release some of that stuff and we’ve also screened it at Monster Fest previously.
Actually, I recently saw Beckoning the Butcher (a film made outside of Australia’s traditionally government funded system and released by Monster Pictures), and thought that was one of the best Australian films to come out this year.
Yeah, it’s a pretty cool film isn’t it; it’s been screening around the world. It’s a really cheap film but also really effective – it had a great screening at Monster Fest last year, people loved it!
There seems to be a nice balance between underground Australian cinema, international festival favourites, and even a few other international horror films that have been bubbling under the radar playing at Monster Fest this year. Is it important to maintain this sort of diversity at a festival like Monster Fest and do you think Monster Fest plays an important role in presenting this sort of independent genre cinema to an Australian audience?
Yeah, definitely. Without festivals like Monster Fest, A Night of Horror in Sydney and similar festivals overseas, a lot of these films would never see the light of day beyond the small screen. When those filmmakers make a film they’re making it with some ambition for the film to be seen on the big screen and we’re playing a fairly significant role in that. By blending the international festival favourites with the local Aussie stuff, people are able to see them in the same kind of context – and they are coming from the same sort of context – a lot of those films that might have a bigger profile are coming from a similar place to those local films with a smaller budget; they’re driven by the same sorts of things, but you still get a really diverse mixture of stuff, and crazy and interesting stuff as well which makes this a place where you’ll come across a lot of cinematic gems, because people really like to get in there and play with genres – there’s a lot of freedom. There are some really great films floating around just looking for an audience.
I’ve heard you’re going to be distributing a few of the films that are playing the festival.
Yeah, we’re going to be distributing Starry Eyes, Honeymoon, Julia, Savaged, Summer of Blood, Lost Soul, The Search for Weng Weng…
…we’re big fans of The Search for Weng Weng – we caught it at MIFF.
Yeah, it’s a great little film. We’ve got the ABCs of Death 2 as well and there’s probably a few more we’re closing in on deals for. The festival started off with just our titles, but now we’re screening a lot of stuff from other distributors as well and some stuff direct from the filmmakers. This year we’ve opened the festival up to international submissions for the first time, so we’ve actually got people from around the world submitting films directly to us, we’ve also got awards this year, which is something we never had in the past.
Now I know this isn’t strictly festival related, but I’m wondering what the curation process is like at Monster Pictures. What aspects motivate your decisions to pick up and distribute a film?
You always try to find something that’s interesting, and creative and well made, but you always have to balance it out against price because we’re only a small company so we can’t go out and spend a fortune on films. You try to find something good that’s also within your price range. We release in the UK as well and we’re often releasing four or more titles a month so you’ve just got to try to make your money stretch and pick up as much quality content as you can afford.
You’ve picked up some great stuff in the past; Excision is one of my all time favourites, and you have the Australian rights to American Mary as well. Have you found that the launch of your VOD service (which I think may have been the first of its kind in Australia) has made it easier to secure rights for films?
At the end of the day, securing a film’s rights really comes down to paying. If you’ve got money, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got – people are blind-sided by the money. Everybody tries to give their film to a good home, but even if it’s a bad home, if they have the money people will let it go to them generally. The VOD service does help a bit, it enhances our reputation because people see that you’re doing interesting stuff…
…and that you’re not just going to hold onto a film and never release it.
Well we’re not really in a position to be that sort of company because we don’t have the money to buy something that we won’t make money from. We desperately have to make money off it otherwise it’s just dead money for us. I mean you do hear stories of companies that buy films and just don’t release them. I have people say “You’ve got to release this film,” and I’m like, “Look man, if we’re buying it, we’re releasing it,” (laughs), we just can’t afford to not release it.
Now I’ve noticed there’s a lot of festival guests from Canada this year – are you excited about the current direction of modern Canadian genre cinema?
Yeah, absolutely. This year we really want to celebrate that and expose local filmmakers to that. There’s a real wave of young, independent genre filmmakers coming out Canada and they’re probably putting us to shame just a little bit, because there’s a lot of really great stuff coming out of there and there’s no real reason that Australia couldn’t be competing with them in that area. We’ve got lots of cheap access to professional equipment, we’ve really got every advantage to make it, we’re just not producing anything like the volume of content that they are. This year we’ve got this masterclass series for the first time, so we’re hoping that filmmakers will come out and get influenced and inspired by all the different guests we’ve got. And we’ve got some amazing guests – all the guys who are here are really active and talented and making really great stuff.
It must be a bit of a trip getting a genre great like Lloyd Kaufman to come out as well.
Yeah, that’s pretty cool – he’s so easy to deal with as well. Quite often guests can be a bit difficult but he’s been so easy and compliant and enthusiastic.
It’s so great that he’s still giving back to the scene and the industry – funding new films like Father’s Day.
He’s massively into it, it’s excellent. Those Father’s Day guys (Astron-6) are here as well – they’re very talented!
Do you have any specific recommendations from this years program? Any particular films that we should go and see?
Yeah, I think some of the Aussie films in there, like Charlie’s Farm – that’s been getting a lot of publicity, it’s a fairly big film – but there’s also films in there like Inner Demon, Ursula Dabrowski’s film, that’s a really accomplished low-budget film. In terms of Aussie films there’s also Plague and Under A Kaleidoscope, and then there’s stuff like Honeymoon, Starry Eyes – Starry Eyes is probably my favourite film in the festival. It’s been playing at film festivals all over the world since it premiered at SXSW earlier in the year; since then it’s just been gaining this massive reputation. It’s one of those films that kind of came out of nowhere – it started off as a crowd funding thing, and they made something unique and entertaining and frightening and sickening, I’d say it’s by far my favourite film of the festival. Julia is also a really cool film, so is Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. There’s great stuff all over!
Excellent! Finally, is there anything you highly recommend from any previous festivals?
My brain’s so full of this year’s program (laughs), I’m having a mental blank but from 2012 I’d definitely recommend checking out American Mary if you haven’t already.
Good luck with the festival and thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.
No problems, good talking to you.
Monster Fest kicks off tonight with the Melbourne premiere of CHARLIE’S FARM, which will be followed by a Q&A with director Chris Sun and actors Bill Mosely and Nathan Jones.