Millie De Chirico, co-creator and exclusive Programmer for Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) weekly late-night cult movie showcase, “TCM Underground,” returns to Buried Alive Film Festival’s (BAFF) bloody ranks as a hand-picked and well-sought after juror for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, a horrorific and spooktacular extra added to this year’s festival! Competitors’ films for the 13-day filmmaking competition will screen Nov. 16 at 7 Stages (7 p.m./ 9 p.m.), kicking off the 11th Annual Buried Alive Film Festival (Thursday, November 17, 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Friday, November 18, 6:00 p.m. – 2:05 a.m.; Saturday, November 19, 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.; Sunday, November 20, 12:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.; 7 Stages; Tickets $12 per screening block / $120 all access pass [includes film blocks and special events]; Schedule for each screening block here; Tickets here)!
De Chirico, a Georgia State University (GSU) film major and cult-classic connoisseur has been a member of TCM’s Programming Department for over a decade. While TCM Underground is her cult-film love-child, she’s also spearheaded several successful TCM initiatives, including TCM’s Summer of Darkness featuring films of the noir persuasion; Condemned, “A festival of films Condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency”; and the TCM Imports Showcase. De Chirico is no fledgling when it comes to independent film, as she’s sat on juries for Austin’s Fantastic Fest and Buried Alive. Recently, she held a week-long programming residency at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. And in 2016, De Chirico was given an enviable opportunity to be involved with programming content for TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FilmStruck!
ATLRetro caught up with Millie De Chirico for a quick interview about her cult cinema obsession, especially obscure films showcasing girl gangs and basically ladies who kick ass; being a part of the Buried Alive Film Festival family; and exposing rare and bizarre films to the masses via “TCM Underground”!
ATLRetro: “Queen of the TCM Underground”! What a killer title! Can you tell our readers how you earned such a moniker and how you helped create TCM’s late-night cult movie franchise, “TCM Underground” in 2006, originally hosted by Rob Zombie?
Millie De Chirico: Well, becoming the “Queen” was incredibly easy because I’m the only person who works on it! There was another person involved in the very first year, a guy named Eric Weber who no longer works at TCM. We worked on it together at first. After he moved to another department at Turner, I was the only one left to do it, and that’s how it’s been for the past 10 years.
Stanley Kubrick was sort of your gateway drug into the land of cult film at the tender age of nine, with his 1971 classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Besides Kubrick, who influenced you the most in your love of cult cinema? And why?
Russ Meyer‘s FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! was probably the biggest influence on me. It totally blew my mind when I first saw it. I can’t tell you how amazed I was to see Tura Satana, a half-Asian woman just like me, being such a dynamic badass. I’d never seen anything like that before. After that I really fell into the rabbit hole. John Waters and Herschell Gordon Lewis movies were also my early cult cinema education. They are canon at this point, but will always be influential to me.
Your job is a dream come true for cinephiles the world over. As a kid, did you ever imagine you’d get the opportunity to educate the masses on the wonders of the most obscure films? What’s a day in the life of Millie De Chirico like?
As a kid I had no idea you could even have a job doing something like this. When I was a kid, jobs were like firefighters and whatever you learned in elementary school, and women were always secretaries. Every day I go into work and get to talk about and think about movies, so I’m very fortunate. I see what I do less about educating and more just about sharing movies with people. Anyone that gets paid to share what they love with others is a very lucky person.
Do viewers get to request films to be screened for “TCM Underground”? If so, what is the most bizarre request for programming you’ve received?
I love to hear ideas from viewers. I think everyone in the Programming Department at TCM does. I don’t know if I’ve gotten a single bizarre film request; it’s more that the people making the requests are the interesting thing. For example, I learned recently that TCM Underground has a pretty big following among prisoners. They’ve sent a lot of letters and I have to say, the requests are really interesting and a lot of times actually underground, like DEEP stuff. Also, I sat down with John Carpenter once a few years ago and he mentioned he’d seen Underground, and then rattled off a bunch of movies he wanted to see. My brain pretty much exploded after that.
How exciting to be a part of TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FILMSTRUCK. Can you tell us a little about the service what it means to you to have opportunity to help with the programming and content?
I think I’m most glad I get the opportunity to flex a different programming muscle with FilmStruck. A lot of people assume I just like cult movies and that’s it. I’m actually a fan of lots of different types of films. I still program for the network and love classic Hollywood movies. With FilmStruck I get to program foreign, art house, and indie, which are all genres I greatly enjoy. Plus I get to work really closely with the folks at Criterion Collection, a company that I’ve had a crush on since I was in college when they were only making laserdiscs — it’s basically a dream come true.
You’ve been a juror for several film festivals across the country, including Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and Atlanta’s own home-grown horror film festival, Buried Alive Film Fest (BAFF). I’m going to assume it’s nerve-wracking, but what’s it like getting to judge the creative harvest of filmmakers across the world?
It’s pretty thrilling to get to see really new movies, by people who’ve never made one before a lot of the time. You’re kind of there at the creative gun blast, which is very cool! The year I did Fantastic Fest I was on a jury that got to watch IT FOLLOWS and SPRING and a bunch of other movies that were unknown, but ended up being big hits.
What is your favorite American cult film? Foreign cult film? Favorite cult film genre?
You should know better than to ask film people about a single favorite movie! Admittedly I have about fifty and they change daily. But if I must choose, my favorite American cult film would be the aforementioned FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a very close second); foreign cult film would be THE ROAD WARRIOR. Favorite cult genre would be anything involving girl gangs, like SWITCHBLADE SISTERS or DARKTOWN STRUTTERS. What can I say; I love ladies who kick ass.
Can you tell us how you got involved with Buried Alive Film Festival and the killer Kool Kats running the show?
I went to film school at GSU with Blake, one of the founders, and I’m friends with most of the people who run it. Atlanta’s film community is fairly tight knit and I’m always happy when we get to work together in any way.
As one of the judges for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, how does the competition look? Anything horrific and exciting you can tell us at this time without giving anything important away before the BAFF opening screenings on Nov. 16?
I actually haven’t seen them yet. I have no idea what to expect but I know I’m super excited!
What are you looking forward to most at BAFF 2016? Anything fangtastic we should know about?
I think everyone should see the shorts. They are always a blast and the BAFF folks always put together really great shorts programming. I’m also really looking forward to seeing SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, the documentary about the Process Church of the Final Judgment (I will basically watch any documentary about cults or religion). And they’re doing a screening of CARRIE, an all-time favorite of mine, which I’m sure will be super fun.
I’d really love to do screenings in Atlanta. I’m always jealous when I go to cities like L.A. or Austin that have really cool, interesting cult or repertory film scenes, partially due to the fact that they have so many theaters that will do them. I’ve been talking to folks in town about this for a long time, so maybe something will finally happen…
What obscure piece of cult cinematic history can our readers look forward to in upcoming “TCM Underground” programming?
I’m really excited to be playing TERMINAL ISLAND by the great Stephanie Rothman, one of the only women who directed cult films and worked for Roger Corman for many years. I got the chance to meet and hang out with her last year and she is unbelievably nice with amazing stories to tell.
And last but not least, what question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?
Question: Who my favorite cult actor or actress? My very quick answer is: Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s and 1970s. She made some really bizarre movies during this period and I’m kind of on a quest to get everyone I know to watch them.
Photos courtesy of Millie De Chirico and used with permission.