Kool Kat of the Week: Space Is the Place: Balogun Ojetade’s Journey from Sword and Soul to Co-Founding The State of Black Science Fiction Convention Which Lands in Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2016 By:

Official Logo 1The Mothership lands in Atlanta this weekend. No, it’s not a Funkadelic concert, but the first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention (SOSBFC) at the Southwest Arts Center Saturday June 11 and Sunday June 12. For all the talk about accepting the diversity of the alien, science fiction’s early history is peopled by white super-men protagonists, and some today seem to want to keep it that way if recent controversies in fandom  are any indication. But black writers, artists and filmmakers have been emerging to create some of the most dynamic and innovative speculative fiction today, pushing boundaries and re-imaging earth’s future and space as diverse, complex, uncomfortable, beautiful and inspiring.

SOSBFC aims to bring together the most comprehensive celebration of black creators of science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics to date. Just a glance at the programming schedule is sure to cause sensory overload with the mix of panels, speakers, workshops, presentations and kids’ activities to nurture the next generation of creators and fans–something most cons neglect. There’s also a dealers room and art show, cosplay is encouraged, and there’s even going to be onsite food that’s more than pizza or burgers, we hear – something most cons neglect! Whether you’re into Afrofuturism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, or just what the find out what the funk is happening, SOSBFC is the place.

Needless to say, our choice of Kool Kat this week was easy. ATLRetro caught up with Atlanta-based writer Balogun Ojetade, co-founder with writer/editor/publisher Milton Davis, to find out more about how Atlanta’s newest spec-lit convention got launched, what’s planned and what’s next.

OctaviaEButler_KindredATLRetro: To many, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler lit the fuse on an African-American SF perspective, yet W.E.B. DuBois published an SF story back in 1908. Which SF/spec-lit authors were early favorites/inspirations for you?

Balogun Ojetade: My early inspirations were Charles R. Saunders, the Father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro series of novels and the brilliant master storyteller and poet, Henry Dumas, whose short stories “Fon,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Ark of Bones” were the greatest influences on my horror and fantasy writing style as a young man.

Atlanta’s been characterized as a center for Afrofuturism. Can you talk a little about the local community of black writers and publishers? Do you feel like you were part of a movement?

Atlanta is where the now worldwide State of Black Science Fiction author, publisher, artist, filmmaker, game designer and cosplayers collective was founded. As one of the founders of this collective and one of its most active members, I am certainly part of a movement, which is still very much alive. I am also one of the people who founded the Steamfunk Movement, along with author and publisher Milton Davis, who also resides in Atlanta.

Official Flyer 4What’s the specific origin story of SOBSFC?

The origin of the State of Black Science Fiction Convention, or SOBSF Con, began about four years ago. In the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group we had a lively discussion about the need for a convention that would not only showcase comic books by creators of African descent, but would also showcase novels, films, artwork, fashion design, cosplay, African martial arts and much more. We wanted to give con goers a full and enriching experience.

It was originally decided that each region would host a convention – one would be in Atlanta, one in the DC / Maryland / Baltimore area, one in New York City, one in Chicago and so on – on the same days and times. We would call this mega event Diaspora Con. Well, certain things happened that let Milton Davis and I know that Diaspora Con was not to be, so we scrapped the idea, but the desire to give the world a convention that showcased black speculative works continued to burn.

In early 2015, Milton and I decided we would host a con that would draw fans and creators of black speculative fiction, film, fashion and fabrication from around the country. We agreed on the name State of Black Science Fiction Convention and then started making plans. By mid-2015, we made our plans public and received positive feedback from hundreds of people who said they would attend such a con in Atlanta and here we are.

imaro_cush_nightshadeDo you think SOBSFC and a greater push for diversity in SF publishing is especially needed right now in light of the Sad and Rabid Puppies Hugo Awards controversy and Internet outrage about a black lead in the recent Star Wars movie?

These controversies and the outrage is nothing new. You have always had and will always have ignorant and fearful people in all walks of life. The science fiction and fantasy community is not exempt from this. There has always been a need for a SOBSF Con and for a constant push for diversity in SFF publishing. The more we push, the more people know we are here. The more people know we are here, the more that know there are alternatives to the racist, sexist rubbish they have had to endure for so long.

SOBSFC is billed as the “most comprehensive presentation of black speculative fiction ever.” There’s a lot going on for just $25 for both days (a bargain compared to DragonCon, most cons).  I know this is a hard question but what 3-5 pieces of programming should con attendees be sure not to miss and why?  

Yes, it is a hard question because the programming is so Blacktastic, but I will share a few that I know people will absolutely be blown away by.

  1. The YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest: Imagine hordes of black cosplayers of all ages and body types presenting mainstream, independent AND original characters from film, comic books, anime, manga, or of their own design. TOO cool!
  2. The Future is Stupid Art Show: Dozens of Afrofuturistic pieces of artwork by Atlanta’s favorite artists will be found all over the exterior and interior of the convention facility.
  3. The Big, Beautiful, Black Roundtable: At this “Town Meeting” we will present, discuss, listen to and put into effect strategies and collaborations to take black speculative fiction/film/fashion/fabrication to the next level!
  4. The Charles R. Saunders Tribute: We will share stories about how this great man has influenced our writing, his history and great contribution to the advancement of speculative fiction and we will read excerpts from his works, all before presenting Charles with a much deserved award.

 Official Flyer 3Can you talk a little about the writer guests and how they reflect the variety and scope of black spec-lit today?

We have some great guests at SOBSF Con and the authors represent the entire spectrum of speculative fiction. Here are a few:

  1. Valjeanne Jeffers: Writes horror, Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
  2. Zig Zag Claybourne: Writes action and adventure, Rococoa and Cyberfunk.
  3. Derrick Ferguson: New pulp icon. Creator of black pulp heroes Dillon and Fortune McCall.
  4. Cerece Rennie Murphy: Writes urban fantasy for adult, young adult and middle grade readers.
  5. Brandon Massey: Master of horror and suspense.
  6. Hannibal Tabu: Comic book writer and critic.

We also have authors of Cyberfunk, Dieselfunk, Dark Universe (Space Opera) Afrofuturistic fusions of hip-hop, jazz, blues, time travel, magic realism and urban fantasy and much more. Black speculative fiction is very broad and very deep. Con-goers are in for a powerful experience.

This is a really exciting time for black filmmakers in SF and horror. Can you talk a little about that and how that will be reflected in SOBSFC’s programming?

As a lifelong fan and creator of science fiction and fantasy with strong horror elements and straight up horror, too, I am very excited. The digital age has allowed filmmakers who would have otherwise been unable to tell their stories – stories in which the Black character doesn’t die within the first 10 minutes or die sacrificing himself or herself so the white hero can live on to save the day – to now tell stories in which Black people are the heroes, sheroes and even mastermind villains.

Saturday 20th June 2009. Old Devils Peak Quarry, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. STILLS FROM WANURI KAHIU'S FILM 'PUMZI'! A 20 min Sci-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III, ‘The Water War’!   A series of stills photographs taken during the production of Wanuri Kahiu's short film, 'Pumzi'. Wanuri Kahiu, an award winning Kenyan Filmmaker, wrote and directed the film that was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa. These stills specifically were taken on various locations in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa during June 2009. The film is a futuristic work based on a devastated world without water and other precious commodities. The film, set in the Kenyan countryside, questions the price of fresh water, fresh air, fresh food and other commodities and revolves mainly around its central character, 'Asha'. The film also focuses on how to harvest moisture, energy and food in all their varied forms in order to supply the human food chain that depends on these life precious things for their ultimate survival. In the film Asha is a curator at a virtual natural history museum in the Maitu Community located in the Eastern African territory. Outside of the community, all nature is extinct. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she decides to plant a seed in it. The seed starts to germinate instantly. Despite repeated instructions from her superior to throw out the soil sample, she appeals to the Council to grant her an exit visa to leave the community and plant the seed. Her visa is denied and she is evacuated from the Museum. Asha decides to break out of the inside community to plant the seed in the ‘dead’ outside. She battles with her own fear and apprehension of the dead and derelict outside world to save the growing plant. Essentially Asha embarks on a personal quest that becomes her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening that causes h

Many great independent films and web series have been developed, screened and gained massive followings and Hollywood has been paying attention, so now you have the Black Panther stealing the show in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and even getting his own movie. You have Idris Elba playing Roland in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Will Smith and Viola Davis starring in SUICIDE SQUAD as Killer Croc, Deadshot and Amanda Waller, respectively.

And television is even more progressive, giving starring roles to black people in several Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror-themed series and having very diverse casts on these shows.

But again, this all began with black indie filmmakers. To reflect this, SOBSF Con is featuring our Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival, which showcases short and feature films by independent creators. Many of the films creators will also be on hand to share their creative process and answer questions from the audience. Just a few of the films screening at the film festival are: PUMZI (award-winning science fiction short from Africa),  DAYBLACK (horror), BLACK PANTHER: STORMS OF CARNAGE Parts 1 & 2 (superhero / fantasy), REIGN OF DEATH (dieselfunk), DANGER WORD (horror; written and produced by master horror author Tananarive Due and science fiction icon Steven Barnes), RITE OF PASSAGE: INITIATION (steamfunk), and a special screening of the science fiction film RETURNED.

13335708_10204767521866576_1909339829978449592_nWhat about comics at SOBSFC? 

You cannot have a science fiction and fantasy convention without comic books! While comic books are not the focus at SOBSF Con – our focus is on all aspects of black speculative creation – most of the creators and fans at SOBSF Con were heavily influenced and inspired to “do” Science Fiction and Fantasy from our love of comic books, manga, animation and anime. Thus, there will be comic book vendors at SOBSF Con and some giants in the industry are distinguished guests, including Dawud Anyabwile, the co-creator and artist of the iconic blockbuster comic book series BROTHERMAN; Marvel Comics artist Afua Richardson, best known for her work in the award-winning and politically potent Image / Top Cow miniseries GENIUS; Tony Cade, comic book publisher and owner of comic book company, Terminus Media; and TUSKEGEE HEIRS creators Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham, just to name a few. The creators and publishers will share their knowledge and experience with con-goers on the Create Your Own Comic Book and Black Craft and Consciousness in Comic Books panels.

Atlanta is known for its cosplay community. Are you encouraging costuming and will there be activities for cosplayers?

We highly encourage cosplay and invite all the cosplayers in Atlanta to come out and join us! We are very excited about our YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest I mentioned above, and we also have the Cosplay in Non-Canon Bodies panel, facilitated by popular cosplayers, TaLynn Kel, who will be joined by popular cosplayers, JaBarr Lasley and Dru Phillips.

Balogun Ojetade.

Balogun Ojetade.

What else would you like people to know about SOBSFC?

While SOBSF Con offers all the great things you expect from a great fan convention – awesome panels, cosplayers, genre films, a dealers’ room with all kinds of cool stuff for sale – we also have offerings you probably have never seen at any con before, such as Tiny Yogis, a yoga class for children; 5P1N0K10 (SPINOKIO), an Afrofuturistic, hip-hop puppet show by a master puppeteer named Jeghetto; Traditional Arms, Armor and Martial Arts of Afrika; Afrikan Martial Arts for Youth Workshop; traditional African artifacts and soaps, oils and fabrics sold in the dealers’ room; your questions answered through traditional Afrikan casting of lots by the Amazing Identical Ojetade Twins (one is a 13-year-old boy; the other a 6-year-old girl); gourmet pot pies; and, most importantly, a place where you can be yourself without judgment, without rude comments, but with love and appreciation. This is a fun event for the entire family you do NOT want to miss!

Beneath the Shining Jewel CoverFinally, would you like to take a moment to talk about your own writing? What’s your latest work and what are you up to next? Feel free to add where we can find you at SOBSFC!

I am always happy to talk about my writing. For those who don’t know me, I write fiction, nonfiction and screenplays. I also direct films and choreograph stunts and fights for films. As a fiction writer, I am most known for my Steamfunk novels, MOSES: THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN and THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN: FREEDONIA; my Sword and Soul novel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA; and for the STEAMFUNK anthology, which I co-edited with author Milton Davis. However, my novels cover the spectrum of black speculative fiction: Dieselfunk, Rococoa, Afrofuturism; urban fantasy; action-adventure and horror.

My latest work is BENEATH THE SHINING JEWEL, a horror novel set in Ki Khanga, a Sword and Soul world created by Milton Davis and me for our upcoming tabletop role-playing game, KI KHANGA. I am finishing up a Dark Universe (space opera) novel and have a horror short film I wrote slated to begin production in the fall. Finally, in August, comic book artist Chris Miller (Chris Crazyhouse) and I begin work on a graphic novel that is going to blow away fans of manga, comic books and black speculative fiction!

Thanks, so much, for this opportunity and I look forward to seeing everyone at the State of Black Science Fiction Convention June 11 and 12!

SOBSFCON FultonCty

 

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ATLFF Review: Standing By: THE WITNESS Confronts the Controversial Circumstances of Kitty Genovese’s Murder

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2016 By:
KItty Genovese.

KItty Genovese.

THE WITNESS (2016); DIR. James D. Solomon; Documentary; Atlanta Film Festival; Website here. ATLRetro’s Festival Guide here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

If you saw a person in need of emergency help, what would you do? Most of us would probably say we’d call 911, but would we really? Those trained in first aid know that the best strategy in an emergency is not to scream for somebody to call for an ambulance, but to choose a specific person and tell them to make the call. Otherwise, maybe nobody calls at all.

You may or may not know the name Kitty Genovese, but you’re certainly familiar with the cultural impact caused by her 1964 death in New York City. Genovese, a 28-year-old bar manager, was murdered on the street, half a block from her home, randomly chosen by a man in the midst of a crime spree. Two weeks after her murder, the New York Times published an article detailing the unsettling circumstances of her death. It’s quite possible that Genovese’s life could have been saved, the story goes, if only the 38 witnesses who watched the attack had bothered to call the police. Although her screams ripped through the neighborhood, although she begged for aid, no help came because no help was called. The tragedy became an example of the ways that New York City—and perhaps even America itself—had lost touch with its values of community and compassion. How could Kitty Genovese bleed to death while her neighbors watched? How could so many witnesses produce no action? The case was a major impetus in the creation and marketing of 911 as a national emergency number, and became a centerpiece of a sociological theory of the “bystander effect,” in which the larger the group of people, the less likely any individual is to act in an emergency, due in part to the belief that surely somebody else will be the one.

The story is so well known, in fact, that one might be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, remains to be explored. THE WITNESS, a new documentary that screened Wednesday at the Atlanta Film Festival, spends its first section failing to make this case for itself. The film introduces Bill Genovese (younger brother to Kitty, and an executive producer on the film) who, after struggling with five decades of emotional trauma, finally decides to track down the 38 witnesses and ask them why they let his sister die. There’s a hint of redundancy around his quest. The news show 20/20 tried the same in the 1970s with poor results, and many of the witnesses, elderly even at the time, have long since passed. If this was all the film had up its sleeve, there would seem to be little reason for it to exist at all. But, as it turns out, THE WITNESS has many, many cards to play.

Bill Genovese

Bill Genovese in THE WITNESS. Used with permission.

Very soon after Bill Genovese begins his quixotic quest, inconsistencies appear. With the sight lines from the apartment building, it wouldn’t be possible for all 38 people to watch Kitty die. Some would have only heard her scream and seen nothing. Only five witnesses were called at trial, so who are the other 33? And what of the woman who raced to Kitty’s side and held her as she died? Why was she absent from the official news story? As the discrepancies pile up, Bill Genovese begins to question the canon, which is no small transition. Genovese, you see, enlisted in Vietnam in the years following his sister’s death, and suffered catastrophic injury, primarily because he refused to be like those people who ignored Kitty, the “silent witnesses” who let tragedy unfold without acting. Was it possible that his choice, and the trajectory of his life, had been based on a lie?

THE WITNESS is an engrossing exploration of the repercussions of trauma. Bill Genovese suffered not only the loss of his sister, but of his own future, and he’s not the only one. Through the careful reveal of information, the film probes how the official story shook the Genovese family, the supposed witnesses, and even the family the murderer, Winston Moseley (who coincidentally died this week in prison, putting the case back into the news), left behind on his way into prison. An astonishing meeting late in the film reveals the fear that the Moseleys have lived with for five decades and reminds us that murders often have more victims than we expect.

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nThe center of the film, however, remains Bill Genovese, who narrates and drives the action as he pieces together the truth, which is not so simple a thing as the ‘facts.’ He doesn’t only want to know what happened, but why, and even how. Confined to a wheelchair due to his war injuries, Genovese is a nonetheless imposing figure as he confronts reporters, lawyers, and even the aging witnesses in an attempt to set the record straight in his mind. (He has a journalist’s tenacity, often asking witnesses if they ever spoke to the police, and then regardless of their answer, revealing that he has their police statement right in front of him.) He is the witness of the film’s title, not present at the event itself, but willing to stand for his sister, to shine light on her vibrant and rich existence (and, in a particularly moving section of the film, her secrets) to reclaim her from the cold register of history and return her, in some way, to life.

If there is a complaint to be found, it’s in the final minutes, in which the filmmakers execute a macabre event that fails to do much more than provide a punchy ending for their film. But this is ultimately a minor complaint in what remains a compelling and complex exploration of the ramifications of “facts.” The Genovese family cannot bring Kitty back, but perhaps it is enough to remind the world that we are not so alone as we thought.

THE WITNESS opens in theaters in New York later this year before rolling out to additional cities. Further information can be found at http://www.thewitness-film.com/ and the filmmakers’ twitter account is @thewitnessfilm.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Transfuses Fresh Blood in a 20th Century Southern Gothic Cinematic Retelling of CARMILLA at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 27th, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival kicks off this Friday with 10 days of screenings and events and, as usual, plenty of local talent will have their work on display. Among the screenings is the new Southern Gothic horror film, THE UNWANTED, written and directed by local badass Bret Wood, and playing on Monday, March 31 at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Wood has had a long career in and among the movies, finding time to direct darkly erotic features like PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2006) and THE LITTLE DEATH (2010) when he’s not knee deep in the business of film restoration and distribution as vice president of special projects at Kino Lorber. Wood also devotes time to researching and writing about cinema history. Among his credits as a writer and editor is an edition of the QUEEN KELLY (1929) screenplay by the legendary Erich von Stroheim; HELL’S HIGHWAY, a documentary about those infamous highway safety films; and a book on exploitation cinema appropriately titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

With THE UNWANTED, Wood returns to a world of repressed erotic desire. The story, inspired by a famous Sheridan Le Fanu vampire novella, concerns a young woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) who drifts into a small Southern town on the hunt for a missing loved one. What she finds instead is a sheltered girl named Laura (V/H/S’s Hannah Fierman) held close by her disapproving father (William Katt, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO). As Carmilla and Laura become drawn to one another, their passion uncovers a nest of dark family secrets that lead to a bloody, deadly confrontation.

Wood recently spoke to ATLRetro about his new film and his career exploring in the darker corners of cinema.

ATLRetro: THE UNWANTED transplants Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novella CARMILLA into a Southern Gothic setting. What does moving the location to the South add to the story?

Bret Wood: The change of setting didn’t greatly alter the tone of the story. Rural 19th-century Ireland is not SO different from modern-day rural Georgia. The key thing is that, in both versions, events unfold in an isolated setting in which the people are somewhat disconnected from the world around them.  That sort of geographic space tends to mirror itself in the psychology of those who live there – isolated, insulated, and not in touch with the world beyond the community. It can be very comfortable to live in a place like that – surrounded by people who share your values – but a certain closed-mindedness is almost inevitable. A suspicion of outsiders, a distrust of those who are guided by a different moral compass, a setting in which a visitor would be immediately viewed with suspicion.

And the ingredients of the Gothic work just as well in the 21st Century as the 19th: themes of a family curse, a poisoned bloodline, dreams haunted by spirits, the sublime beauty of nature, the decaying family estate, the menacing lord of the manor. We just did it without corsets, carriages and candelabras.

Engraving from a 19th century edition of CARMILLA.

Your film takes a very naturalist approach to CARMILLA’s horror elements. Can you talk about the process of adapting the story away from the supernatural while retaining its core?

I love Le Fanu’s story, but I don’t believe in the supernatural – and I didn’t want to make a movie about something that I don’t believe in. So I had to find a plausible variation on conventional vampirism. There’s no such thing as vampires in the sense of a person becoming immortal or being capable of transforming into an animal, but there ARE people who engage in recreational bloodletting. My 2006 movie, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, dramatizes two real-life examples from the Victorian era in which the exchange of blood was a sort of sex substitute.

So the challenge was to create a form of emotionally-charged bloodletting that two people might engage in – and this bloodplay could, from an outsider’s perspective, appear to be vampirism. In my version of vampirism, the blood isn’t for drinking. I’ll leave it at that. People will just have to see the movie.

Your film grapples with gender and gay/lesbian themes in the midst of a horror tale. How does the horror genre help you to tackle these types of important contemporary issues?

Even though it does have lesbian/bisexual characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call THE UNWANTED an LGBT film. It deals with a more universal experience:  the choice between staying in one place and following the traditions and values of one’s family, versus cutting the emotional cord and following one’s own path. Conformity versus individuality.

You might say that THE UNWANTED is about the painful process of “coming out” – whether from an emotional cocoon or the closet. On second thought, maybe it’s more of an LGBT film than I thought.

As far as horror goes, I had to tread a narrow line. In CARMILLA, the horror lies in the lesbianism of the two central characters -Le Fanu only suggests that they are lovers. And in my retelling, the father still needed to perceive the lesbian relationship as monstrous, but it was crucial that the audience view the relationship as loving and harmonious, even when there’s blood flowing between them.

For a while, I thought about calling the film WATER AND BLOOD to contrast the difference between friendships vs. family relationships, but I figured that was stretching the blood symbolism too far.

THE UNWANTED stars William Katt in a fairly dark and menacing role. How did he come to be involved in the project and what did he bring to the character?

I met him through executive producer Eric Wilkinson, who had worked with him a couple of times (THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007), SPARKS (2013)), and who told me Bill enjoys working on indie projects. He was very enthusiastic about the script, and had a significant impact upon the role. Originally, the character of Troy (Laura’s father) was an unequivocal villain, whose purpose it was to thwart Carmilla. Bill cultivated Troy’s human side, asked me to write a scene in which Troy and Laura spend time together, so we see they have a healthy, loving relationship. That was the inspiration for the horseback riding scene.

To Bill, as an actor, it was always important that the audience understand that Troy loves his daughter, and loved his wife, and the acts of violence he commits arise from his genuine desire to protect them. This inner conflict really shines through in his performance. And it’s so effective that we decided to further downplay his villainy by removing at least one really creepy sequence – which will no doubt appear on the DVD. We decided that rather than showing the audience what horrors this guy is capable of, we should let them wonder.

You’ve had a role in restoring and championing classic movies through your work at the Blu-Ray and DVD distributor Kino Lorber. Is there an overlooked title you would recommend, perhaps one that would make a nice pairing with THE UNWANTED?

I love classic film – the older the better – and am lucky that I get to spend much of each day mastering, packaging and writing about great films, whether it’s silent American films or European horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. I was watching a lot of Jean Rollin while working on THE UNWANTED, and would say that traces of his 1975 film LIPS OF BLOOD definitely found their way into my movie. Bill Gunn‘s erotic vampire film GANJA AND HESS (1973) and Jess Franco‘s FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) were big influences as well. All of them were made by indie filmmakers with limited resources, but who attempted to dig deep into complex emotions that don’t get touched by the typical horror film. And, lest you think I was only influenced by vampire films, you don’t have to look to hard to find shades of Michael Haneke‘s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) or Rouben Mamoulian‘s APPLAUSE (1929). Did I mention I love my job?

Bret Wood on the set of THE UNWANTED.

Between THE UNWANTED and your earlier films, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and THE LITTLE DEATH, you’ve explored sex on the fringes. What draws you to the subject?

I’m sure the short answer to that question lies in my conservative, religious upbringing.  But let’s not get into that.

Regardless of how I became the way I am, I will say that, to me, the most fascinating thing about sex – in films – is not the nudity or the act of copulation, but the mystery surrounding the act – sex as a revelatory experience – maybe I’m still channeling the curiosity of my thirteen-year-old self. There’s nothing less erotic than gratuitous nudity. There’s nothing more boring than a sexually active character with no inhibitions, for whom sex is simply a physical act of pleasure.  Where’s the drama in that?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of sexuality, by the fringe-dwelling people for whom sex has mutated into something slightly abnormal. By the person who is emotionally tight-wound, who is struggling against their own repression, or struggling against moral oppression, looking for some means by which they can relieve this overwhelming urge that’s gnawing at them from the inside. THAT’S interesting to me. There’s mystery there. And conflict. And tension.

You co-authored a book on exploitation cinema titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Exploitation films were meant to be cheap and disposable, and yet they linger on in our film culture. What should we learn from that?

One never knows which films will stand the test of time. Look back at all the lousy Oscar-winners in the past 20 years and you’ll know what I mean. The films celebrated by one generation will be dismissed by the next and vice versa.

Exploitation films of the 1930s and ’40s – sensationalized treatments of hot-button topics like venereal disease, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy -were crude and, on the surface, badly made. But they were tackling subjects the major studios wouldn’t touch, and they were made with a sort of reckless creativity that is a welcome change from the restraint and technical perfection of a studio film of the same era. In the same way, people who are into horror films are nowadays attracted to the schlock of the 1960s and ’70s, the grindhouse fodder once casually dismissed as garbage. And the same goes for 16mm classroom films of the 1950s – ’70s. Maybe it’s because today’s DIY filmmakers can relate to the struggles of no-budget production, maybe it’s a reaction against the over-produced, over-budgeted, over-hyped films that are suffocating the multiplex.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Part of me today still thinks that way, I love sifting through film history to see what treasures I can find buried in the mud.

What’s next for you?

I have several scripts I’d love to make – for example, a dark comedy about a womanizing stage magician (IN HER RIGHT MIND), a drama about a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s (THE CONTROL GROUP). And there are others. For me, writing is relatively easy. The difficult thing is raising the funds to actually make something. I usually keep a handful of scripts ready to film, and then choose which project to pursue based on the resources available to me. Right now the front-runner is a grim ghost story/revenge film, based on 19th-century literature, very much in the same vein as THE UNWANTED.

THE UNWANTED screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Tickets for the screening may be purchased here.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.


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Vive la France! Emory Cinematheque: Dousing Atlanta in Art-House Films & Cinema of the French-Persuasion during Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ Series

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Emory Cinematheque offers art-house films to the masses! They’re available to the critics, film-students and all film-lovers alike! Their retro-tastic line-up of critically-acclaimed films, all screened in 35mm, is available free to the public every Wednesday night during each semester’s series.  Their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series runs through April 23 with all films being screened in room 208 of Emory’s White Hall at 7:30 pm, almost every Wednesday.  ATLRetro caught up with Dr. Matthew Bernstein, Chair of Emory’s Film and Media Department as well as Dr. Charlie Michael, Professor in the French and Italian Language Department at Emory and curator of the series, to discuss their love of French cinema and its profound international influence on filmmakers worldwide throughout the history of cinema.  Let Emory Cinematheque quench your thirst for all things retro, French and cinema-tastic!  

“The reach of (Jean) Renoir’s films was enormous,” Bernstein explains and was one of the reasons why Jean Renoir’s LA GRANDE ILLUSION/GRAND ILLUSION (1937) was the screening that kicked off the series. Given that the focus is French films in a global setting, it made absolute sense. Bernstein further went on to share a tidbit of film trivia: “Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to remake it with John Ford directing. Ford rightly demurred, saying it could not be replicated.” And rightly so! Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece, dubbed by Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels as “Cinematic Public Enemy No.1” was released on the eve of World War II, not only showcasing Renoir’s humanity but also touching on the harsh realities of nationalism, classism and anti-Semitism. The epic was one of the first prison escape movies, leading the way for a plethora of replicas attempting to reach the same peak, visually and emotionally.  The film proved so inspirational that even Orson Welles said that it would be one of two he would take with him, “on the ark” (Dick Cavett interviews Orson Welles, July 27, 1970).  American film lovers and critics alike agreed with the enormity and significance of Renoir’s work of art, when it became the first foreign-language film nominated for Best Film at the 1938 Academy Awards. 

“I think the 1960s New Wave probably still holds the mantle as the most influential movement in French filmmaking history,” notes Michael. Thus their next choice was an easy one, as Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most prominent members of the movement.  Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU/PIERROT THE MADMAN (1965) was touted as an apex in the French New Wave and considered Godard’s last ‘frolic’ before delving into his more radically political cinema. Godard dubs his protagonists as “the last romantic couple,” their love being the last shard of humanness left among the clouds of chaos that surrounds them. This tactic has been replicated time and time again in many modern films. Renata Adler, of the New York Times, described Godard’s chaotic and drastic hero as one whom, “ultimately wraps his head in dynamite and blows himself to bits,” but added that, “it is in part a delicate, sentimental love story.” (New York Times, January 1969)

Renior, Truffaut and Godard seem to be the usual suspects at most French cinematic events.  Michael notes, “The insertion of the word ‘global’ in front of the word ‘French’ in the title of the series is meant as a gentle push back against the sorts of common assumptions we have about foreign films.”  His goal was to redirect assumptions that French filmmakers only created their art in France. That couldn’t be more true when thinking about Ousmane Sembene’s first feature-length film, LA NOIRE DE/THE BLACK GIRL (1966).  Senbene has been dubbed the “Father of African Film” and this film in particular was the first Sub-Saharan African film made by an African filmmaker to receive international attention.  It’s the tale of a young Senegalese woman who abandons her home in Senegal to work for a wealthy French couple in France.  This film gracefully touches on history at its most repulsive – colonialism, racism and post-colonial identity – through the eyes of its heroine.

“French cinema and American cinema have a long, long, love-hate relationship,” says Michael, with regards to film as art and film as entertainment.  “Ever since the Lumieres and Edison, the two traditions have been inspiring each other and measuring themselves against one another,” he adds.  This dynamic can be seen clearly during their screening of  LA NUIT AMERICAINE (AMERICAN NIGHT)/DAY FOR NIGHT (1973), French New Wave alum Francois Truffaut’s dark comedy about filmmaking and his slight jab at the artificiality of American-style studio films. The film’s title speaks volumes regarding the director’s disregard for the artificial and the manufactured. Truffaut’s film within a film, not only spotlights the personal and chaotic lives of filmmakers over a short period of time and all the mishaps that go along with creating a film, but he also brings into question whether films, the end products, are more important than the lives of those who create them. 

“France’s youngest, flashiest and most visually-inventive of Jean-Luc Godard’s heirs”, Leos Carax,  makes his appearance with his second film, MAUVAIS SANG (“Bad Blood”)/THE NIGHT IS YOUNG (1986). Michael’s post-modern pick for the series, it will take you on the darkly-tinged 1980s journey of a French bad boy who falls for a beautifully tragic and very unavailable American girl. The film aims to “re-incorporates the post-modern slickness of US advertising,” while exposing the cinematic game of ping-pong that has been played between the US and France since the beginning of the art form. Carax’s film screams modern ’80s melodrama and has a film score including music from David Bowie. Still at the same time, the director pulls from his cinematic forefathers’ influence, as Richard Brody of the New Yorker explains, “with an emotional world akin to that of Godard’s early films, a visual vocabulary that pays tribute to his later ones, and a magical sensibility that owes much to Jean Cocteau, Carax allegorizes the burden of young genius in a world of mighty patriarchs who aren’t budging.” (Richard Brody, New Yorker, December 2013)

As much as French filmmakers enjoy taking a cunning jab at their American counterparts, from time-to-time they also enjoy a nice, swift kick to the rear with regards to their own industry. This can be seen in Olivier Assayas’ satire, IRMA VEP (1996) and his pictorial view of the contemporary French film industry.  Assayas’ film-within-a film technique, previously used by Truffaut and his other filmmaking forefathers, lays the framework that unfolds the beautifully tragic life of a filmmaker, well past his prime,, attempting to revive his career in an industry that has blown past him, by remaking and  modernizing Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film, LES VAMPIRES (1915).  Assayas, through his satire of the current French industry, was able to get back to his roots, or as Manohla Dargis of LA Weekly puts it beautifully, “There’s not a false note in IRMA VEP, not one wasted image, nor one superfluous move of the camera. [Assayas discovered] a native cinema as querulous, alive and magical as [French cinema] was, once upon a time.” 

The series then sends the viewer on a journey to Tunisia with the screening of Abdel Kechiche’s LA GRAINE ET LE MULET/THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (COUS-COUS) (2007).  From the director of 2013’s BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, this film follows an aging and displaced immigrant and his family trying to begin life anew by opening a family-run restaurant.  Kechiche touches on the universal theme of what to do next when life throws you a curve ball.  In this case, Kechiche’s hero takes that curve ball and attempts to turn it into a thriving restaurant and new life for him and his family. 

Directed by Agnes Varda, lifetime filmmaker and French New Wave alum, LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE/THE GLEANERS AND I (2000) was included in this series because it, “speaks out against our global problem with consumption and waste,” Michael says. The documentary is shot completely with her hand-held digital camera in a  total abandonment of the usual high-end equipment. That personal element, she said, took her back to the early short films she shot in 1957 and 1958. She told Melissa Anderson of Cineaste Magazine during a 2001 interview: “I felt free at that time. With the new digital camera, I felt I could film myself, get involved as a filmmaker.” Varda’s documentary follows the lives of various kinds of gleaners throughout the French countryside. (M. Anderson, Cineaste Magazine, 2001)

The series then crosses the Atlantic to Canada and Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play by the same name, INCENDIES (2010). This movie takes the viewer on a nonlinear trek through time, using a dead mother’s flashbacks between present-day Quebec and 1970’s Lebanon as a pair of twins try to untangle the mystery of their mother’s life and the lack of their father in their own.  M. O’Sullivan of the Washington Post describes Villeneuve’s film as, “A horror movie, a love story and a mystery, each thread of which is so expertly interwoven into the larger narrative that it is impossible to separate any one strand from the other.” (M. O’Sullivan Film Review, May 2011)

The French aren’t always so sophisticated, artsy and stuck-up, as proven with the series’ next film. Michel Hazanaviciusparody, OSS 117: CAIRE LE NID D’ESPIONS/OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (2006), represents a layer of French cinema rarely seen when offering up such a series.  Kudos to Michael for throwing this one in! OSS 117 spoofs ’50s and ’60s spy films, following the exploits of a French secret agent in 1955 Cairo. Curt Holman, Creative Loafing noted that, “CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES looks like a perfect artifact from half a century ago, but its political satire smells brand new.” (Curt Holman, Film Review, June 2008)  Hazanavicius is better known for his throwback to the ’20s retro-style film, THE ARTIST (2011), which won five Academy Awards.

Finally, Emory Cinematheque screens Marcel Carne’s celebrated three-hour, two-part epic, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945), set in the 1820s and 1830s Parisian theatre scene and filmed during Germany’s occupation of France during World War II.  Follow the mime, the actor, the criminal and the aristocrat as they pine over the gloriously beautiful courtesan.  During a 1990 interview with Brian Stonehill for Criterion, Carne responded to his question about the New Wave Critics’ aversion to studio films, stating that Francois Truffaut once told him, “I would give up all my films to have directed CHILDREN OF PARADISE.” (Exerpt from 1990 Criterion Audio Interview). In the original American trailer for the film, it was described as, “The French answer to GONE WITH THE WIND.

Both Michael and Bernstein have enjoyed and continue to express gratitude for the opportunity to share their love of cinema and in particular, during this semester’s series, their love of French-language cinema.  “Frankly, it was difficult not to show more films from that period [French New Wave] in this series – but I really think there are other great stories to be told and films to be seen.  French-language filmmaking is so deep, rich and varied,” explains Michael.  Bernstein notes that, “Truffaut and Godard and their cohorts (of the French New Wave movement) reinvented film language and influenced filmmakers the world over, while inspiring the greats [Coppola, Scorsese, Paul Schrader, et al] and continuing to have a hand in the production of modern films.”

See below for a full screening schedule and make sure you make it out to Emory Cinematheque for the remainder of their Spring 2014 ‘Global French Cinema’ series!

Full Screening Schedule:

1/22/14 – ‘La Grande Illusion’ (1937) – Jean Renoir
2/05/14 – ‘Pierrot le fou’ (1965) – Jean-Luc Godard
2/12/14 – ‘La Noire de…’ (1966) – Ousmane Sembene
2/19/14 – ‘La nuit americaine’ (1973) – Francois Truffaut
2/26/14 – ‘Mauvais Sang’ (1986) – Leos Carax
3/19/14 – ‘Irma Vep’ (1996) – Olivier Assayas
3/26/14 – ‘La graine et le mulet’ (2007) – Abdel Kechiche
4/02/14 – ‘Les enfants du paradis’ – (1945) – Marcel Carne
4/09/14 – ‘Les glaneurs et la glaneuse’ (2001) – Agnes Varda
4/16/14 – ‘Incendies’ (2010) – Denis Villeneuve
4/23/14 – ‘OSS 117: Caire, le nid d’espions’ (2006) – Michel Hazanavicius

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