Wednesday 5 April 2017

IHSFFF 2017 - Interview with Monte Yazzie

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I got bitten by the film festival bug long ago. I attend a bunch, I screen for some and I judge for some. I even run my own film festival now. And it all started in 2007 when I took my better half to the Harkins Centerpoint in Tempe for the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival or IHSFFF.

Even though we were simple attendees who had no idea how the event worked, we were made immediately welcome by Brian Pulido, the festival's co-founder with Chris Lamont. We see Brian a lot at events nowadays, usually at his Lady Death booth, but conversation always tends to come back to IHSFFF, because it's still as close to his heart as it is to ours. We have grown with IHSFFF and it's still our favourite film festival to attend.

Another former simple attendee is Monte Yazzie, who has attended the full festival a year longer than me. I asked him what he remembered about 2006 and he replied: 'The happiness I felt being around people who loved what I loved. It's exhilarating to have that feeling.' Since then, Monte has worked his way up the ladder to his current position as IHSFFF Festival Director.

With the 2017 event beginning on Friday, I threw some questions over to Monte to determine what we can look forward to this year and some of what goes on behind the scenes. I thought I'd start out with some basic ones, to get anyone without a background in this festival up to speed.

HCFA: Who are the people making decisions at IHSFFF nowadays?

MY: We have an exceptional group of experts, and that is the best way to describe them, programming within IHSFF. Danny Marianino is the Horror Shorts Programmer and he has coordinated another exceptional group of films that will play in two programs during the festival this year. Brandon Kinchen is the Horror Features Programmer; Brandon always finds something that completely catches me off guard. Michael Stackpole is the Sci-Fi Programmer; he does both the feature and short programs. Michael is a talented guy who has a keen eye for good science fiction stories. These three guys have been programing for a long time with the festival; we are lucky to have their expertise guiding and influencing the festival every year.

HCFA: Are there any guests expected?

MY: We like to tell people that PFF and IHSFFF strives to be a “director friendly” festival. We want these filmmakers here, showcasing their unique and creative visions with us. With that said, we typically have someone present from all our competition films. This is a great opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” perspective from the people making these movies.

HCFA: Is there one film that we shouldn't miss?

MY: I always advise people to take a look at our competition program; you can always find something in the shorts program or competition features program that will surprise you. On the showcase side, we try to program a little something for every genre taste. You are bond to find something within our 11-program showcase.
Then I thought I'd dig a little deeper for some Monte Yazzie insight.

HCFA: With two years programming showcase features and one as the festival director, what's the biggest lesson that you've learned thus far?

MY: The way people consume cinema has changed drastically in the past few years. You can access anything off your smart phone now. Trying to find ways to compete with streaming services, video-on-demand and new methods of distribution from film companies is difficult. However, this has also been a blessing because advancements in technology mean there are more films being made. The structure of our festival accommodates these changes; with the assistance of PFF we are able to offer a world-class festival where local and independent filmmakers can have a stage to showcase their films.

HCFA:What's your proudest moment as the man in charge?

MY: The community. It’s all about the community for me. When someone comes up and tells me how much fun they have talking to other people at the festival or how they made new friends by coming to the festival, that's what really makes me happy. The added plus is that they find a new favorite film or they see something that they won’t soon forget.
HCFA: While your showcase features have always been agreeably varied, the average quality really leapt up in 2016 when you went solo on that. Is finding these films your superpower?

MY: I am a small piece of a very big puzzle. I am lucky to have such a supportive group of people within IHSFFF and PFF who offer suggestions or point me in directions of new and interesting films. I assume it helps that I am constantly watching films as well. It’s like that old saying, you got to know where you’ve been before you can know where you are going.

HCFA: Are there countries you've always wanted to have a stronger presence at IHSFFF?

MY: I love Asian and Spanish cinema; while we have had strong representation from those areas in the past, I always want more. This year we are lucky to have some quality films from Australia and the UK. The aspect of fear and the nature of science fiction is defined so uniquely in other cultures; that’s why international films are so interesting to me.
HCFA: Is there a way out in left field movie this year, to follow on from The Greasy Strangler in 2016? And are people asking for one?

MY: Haha. I have had no requests for another “Greasy Strangler”. However, that screening would probably be one of my favorite moments of recent years; seeing how that movie affected people in so many different ways was really interesting to me. The fact that a year has passed since we’ve showed that film and people still come up to me and ask about it is awesome. Good films should make you feel something; that’s one that will definitely make you feel something, whether you like it or not.

HCFA: I should add here that those affected by The Greasy Strangler may or may not be happy to know that its two stars, Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar, will be guests at Mad Monster Party in early May.

HCFA: Talking of scheduling, last year marked the very first time that an attendee could see every IHSFFF film (feature and short) during the festival. This year's event follows suit and even gives us options. That's much appreciated! How much work does that take?

MY: We are scheduling so many films and trying to accommodate as many options as possible so that everyone can see everything that we program. It’s difficult finding the spaces but we do our best to accommodate. Jason Carney is integral in this process; he has been programming this festival film puzzle for so long, it’s probably second nature to him now.
HCFA: As you know, I see the the IHSFFF's history in three year blocks: the Early Years when it was glad to be alive; the Indie Years when it went on the road; the Transition Years when it was eaten by the PFF; and the Pre-Teen Years, when it thought about growing up. This year is the beginning of a new three year block. So, beyond the Monte Years, what do you hope that IHSFFF will be known for from 2017-2019?

MY: This festival means so much to me. I started as a fan, sitting in the audience next to like-minded film festival fans. Being in the position that I am in comes with a huge responsibility to continue to grow this festival into an event that brings a community of genre film fans together to experience the power of films together. But also to nurture an environment that provides filmmakers a place to showcase their visions to a group of eager, enthusiastic cinephiles.

Thanks, Monte! The International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival is part of the Phoenix Film Festival nowadays.

The latter opens on Thursday this week (6th April) and the horror/sci-fi side kicks in on Friday. It runs through the weekend with three full days, then continues on with a couple of showcase features each evening until Thursday 14th until the Phoenix Film Festival wraps things up with a closing night film.

Monte will be there. I'll be there. I hope you will too!

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