Bruce Fletcher, Dead Channels and the Living

Dennis Harvey August 6, 2007

After 6 years as Director of Programming for SF Indie Fest and co-founder of its offshoot Another Hole in the Head, Bruce Fletcher decided that well, maybe San Francisco does need yet another film festival — despite the tongue-in-cheek ixnay on that issue he embedded in Hole Head’s name.

Launching what will hopefully be an annual event (with additional events scattered throughout the year) this week, Dead Channels departs from AHITH’s primary focus on horror and sci-fi to encompass all kinds of worldwide cult-skewing fun. We checked in with Fletcher to get some kind of grasp on this.

There’s Brothers Quay/David Lynch-like surrealism (Belgian “Nuit Noire”), Japanese futurist mayhem (“Freesia: Icy Tears,” “The World Sinks Except Japan”), Hungarian “hard-R” animation (“The District!”), “Jackass”-y narrative slapstick (New Zealand’s “The Devil Dared Me To”), psychological suspense (from the disturbingly low-key “Disquiet” to the brilliantly manic “Living and the Dead”). Plus ghost stories, slashers, genre spoofs, shorts, and a genius roster of seldom-seen Golden Oldies.

An opening night triple-bill at the Castro (later shows are at the Roxie and Hypnodrome) alone is enough to bend your mind: First up is a very rare screening of 1971’s black comedy “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” with Rod Steiger and Susannah York, offered as tribute to recently deceased novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Then the ever-unclassifiable Japanese maverick Miike Takashi’s homoerotic prison tale “Big Bang Love, Juvenile A.” Finally, the U.S. “director’s cut” premiere of bad-taste farce “Postal,” with somewhat infamous auteur Uwe Boll in person. Here’s what Fletcher has to say.

SF360: Dead Channels is billed as ‘the San Francisco festival of fantastic film.’ That seems to encompass a very broad range, from straight-ahead genre flicks to more experimental work. Can you give us a general idea of your programming aesthetic?

Bruce Fletcher: Dead Channels is a showcase for entertaining, provocative, intelligent, offbeat cinema with a fantastic and otherworldly nature. Our crew shares a deep, abiding, life-long love of old and new, independent and international fantasy, horror, science-fiction, cult, and extreme arthouse cinema, so we play movies that we would be happy to pay to see in a movie theatre. We’re always looking for films that show us things we’ve never seen before.

Fantastic filmmaking is an extremely important commercial resource in the increasingly homogenous global cultural mythology. What’s more, these movies allow confrontational, controversial religious and political philosophies to be put forth to mainstream audiences, even in times of social conservatism.

SF360: Two words: Uwe Boll! Please explain.

Fletcher: We are proud to announce that notorious director of ‘House of the Dead,’ ‘Alone in the Dark’ and ‘Bloodrayne’ (and undefeated internet-critic boxing champion) is coming to present the US premiere of the unrated director’s cut of ‘Postal.’ This is his 13th film and it will defy everyone’s expectations. It’s brilliant, subversive, offensive comedy classic based on Vince Des’ video game. A cult following is virtually guaranteed for this one.

SF360: You’ve got a great mix of rare revival titles.

Fletcher: We’re committed to re-discovering obscure, semi-lost films like Michael (The Mack) Campus’ 1972 debut Z.P.G. (Zero Population Growth), with Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin stuck in a dystopian babyless future. Director Jamaa (‘Penitentiary’) Fanaka will introduce his nearly forogotten 1975 grindhouse jaw-dropper ‘Welcome Home Brother Charles.’ [Note: May we whet your appetite for this one? Teaser: GIANT STRANGLING KILLER PENIS.)

We feel we it’s important to play old 16mm and 35mm film prints before they dissolve into vinegar and disappear forever. Nobody is rushing to strike a new print of ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.’ We’re presenting a beautiful 16mm print of that legendary television movie. It scared the hell out of a generation of latch-key kids when first broadcast on ABC in 1973.

SF360: You’re also doing a tribute to Jack Hill, one of the all-time great U.S. exploitation directors.

Fletcher: Yep, ‘A Sleazy Sunday Afternoon with Jack Hill’ is an afternoon double-bill hosted by the American indie director/ screenwriter responsible for ‘Coffy,’ ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘Switchblade Sisters.’ He’s bringing 35mm prints of his classic ‘Spider Baby’ and the practically unknown ‘Pit Stop,’ a racing picture with Sid Haig. [It co-stars a young woman named Ellen MacRae, later known as Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn.]

SF360: Another highlighted program is ‘Lost Skeleton of Cadavra’ director Larry Blamire’s very funny new ‘Body Snatchers’-type sci-fi spoof. I was surprised to see it’s produced by Ray Harryhausen. He’s still alive and active?

Fletcher: Not only is the legendary stop-motion wizard (‘Mighty Joe Young,’ ‘Jason and the Argonauts’) active, he’s kicking up a storm. He is presenter and co-producer of Blamire’s ‘Trail of the Screaming Forehead.’ He also executive produced Canadian Marc Lougee’s animation ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ which plays Dead Channels with ‘The Belleville Book of the Dead,’ a Parisian take on Will Self’s ‘North London Book of the Dead.’

SF360: What does the festival have in the way of local work?

Fletcher: This year we’ve got the world premiere of ‘Hot Baby!,’ a pitch-black comedy of terrors from Jeff Roenning. Bay Area shorts include Shad Clark’s ‘Anonymity,’ which was just picked to air on IFC’s Media Lab; David Kellum’s satirical science fiction epic ‘Ambassadors Day;’ and ‘Meter Maid Me Massacre,’ Cecil B. Feeder’s kung fu/zombie/parking czar splatterfest.

SF360: What are some highlights amongst smaller indie features?

Fletcher: ‘Jupiter Love’ is an outrageous Australian war of the sexes road movie, DIY filmmaking at its best, and was completely created by the two leads. Simon Rumley’s multiple-award-winning ‘The Living and the Dead’ is an indie masterpiece. And Matthew Doyle’s debut ‘Disquiet’ heralds the arrival of a literate, semi-experimental U.S. filmmaker with a fearless vision.

SF360: You’ve got several live events that sound pretty exciting. Er…what’s the Hypnodrome?

Fletcher: The Hypnodrome is the permanent South of Market home to Thrillpeddlers, who’ve been performing retro-horror Grand Guignol theatre in San Francisco for over a decade. During the Festival we host two theatrical co-productions with them, Monday August 13’s ‘Spookshow Salute!’ [which in addition to blood-soaked live theatre features a screening of 1967 Boris Karloff vehicle ‘The Sorcerers’] and Wednesday’s ‘Thrillpeddlers Flashback’ [likewise featuring psychedelic screen rarities]. Then Friday after the Festival they’ll host a glam-rock horror-show romp with Brian DePalma’s rock-opera classic ‘The Phantom of the Paradise.’

We’re also extremely pleased to present a rather unique pairing at the Roxie on August 11. David Cronenberg’s practically unseen 1970 second feature ‘Crimes of the Future’ will be presented on 35mm film with a new score performed live by internationally acclaimed avant-gardists Spoonbender 1.1.1. They’re the soundtrack wing of I Am Spoonbender.

SF360: Yours and two other festivals recently announced formation of the North American Fantastic Festival Alliance (NAFFA). What is that?

Fletcher: NAFFA’s expanding list of partners currently comprises Montreal’s FanTasia, the Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, and Dead Channels. It’s a network designed to support the exhibition and distribution of excellent international fantastic filmmaking. We want to assist neophyte filmmakers in navigating an often chaotic and overwhelming film festival submission process, and provide networking opportunities.

SF360: Anything else you’d like to add?

Fletcher: If you buy the Everything Pass, it is actually possible to see all Dead Channels films and the Spookshow.

  • Nov 3, 2011

    Essential SF: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

    With riveting characters, cascading revelations and momentous breakthroughs, Epstein and Friedman’s work paved the way for contemporary documentary practice.

  • Nov 2, 2011

    Essential SF: Susan Gerhard

    Susan Gerhard talks copy, critics and the 'there' we have here.

  • Oct 31, 2011

    Essential SF: Karen Larsen

    Universally warm sentiment is attached to the Bay Area's hardest working indie/art film publicist.

  • Oct 28, 2011

    Joshua Moore, on Location

    Filmmaker and programmer Moore talks process, offers perspective on his debut feature and Cinema by the Bay opener, ‘I Think It’s Raining.’

  • Oct 26, 2011

    Essential SF: Canyon Cinema

    For 50 years, Canyon Cinema has provided crucial support for a fertile avant-garde film scene.

  • Oct 24, 2011

    Signs of the Times

    Director Mina T. Son talks about the creation of ‘Making Noise in Silence,’ screening the United Nations Association Film Festival this week.

  • Oct 20, 2011

    Children’s Film Festival Moves in and out of Shadows

    Without marketing tie-ins, plastic toys or corn-syrup confections, a children’s film festival brings energy to the screen.

  • Oct 19, 2011

    Essential SF: Irving Saraf and Allie Light

    Saraf and Light's work is marked by an unwavering appreciation for underdogs and outsiders.