Kai, can you tell us a bit about what's good about a queer b-movie? What can people expect that's not in a mainstream movie?
What I love about a B-movie is that they are often really silly. They are not trying to be high art, they’re not taking themselves seriously, they are not even really trying to hide the artifice of film making. They play with the ridiculous and revel in the absurd. B-movies are political and playful at the same time just like so much of queer resistance; B-movies are a dedication to the DIY aesthetic, to make a queer B-Movie is to basically put two fingers up to the film establishment and say I give no fucks about your industry. If you think about certain aspects of queer culture like drag, which also subverts through playfulness, the absurd and the grotesque then queer culture and B-movies just seem to go hand in hand. Given our history, our culture and our economic standing in the world, it's not surprising that queers take up their cameras and make B-Movies. Our lives are often spent between the forces of rage and joy; sometimes the only place to put that shit is in the humour of the absurd.
So what's good about a queer B-movie is the humour, the cultural in jokes and the cast being mostly made up of your friends and exes. There is also a real pleasure in watching a film made by a group of people that had the audacity and self belief to tell a story on a tenner.
There's one long film in the programme: LACTASIA by Val Phoenix, can you give us any clues about this?
I love this film, in contains pretty much all the joy that I mentioned above and I’m dead excited that we have managed to premier it at LSFF. Lactasia is a queer, feminist B-Movie. Just think queer punks and drag queen zombies joining forces to kill the patriarchy and you get the picture. So there's Jen, a funeral parlour employee whose job is to make the dead seem less dead by the use of clever make up. Her boss, bargain enthusiast, Michelle, has recently purchased a batch of suspiciously cheap liquid foundation to use. Things get messy when Jen nicks the foundation and hands it out to her drag queen mates thinking these girls can use it more than the dead. Unbeknownst to them, the make up comes from an evil corporate cosmetics company with an agenda against beauty, confidence and...fun. In the end a lovesick, butch lesbian steps in a saves the day and throughout the film, random cats make appearances for no apparent reason other than they are cats and every one knows cats really rule the world and will do what the hell they like. Cinematic references include Lizzie Borden, Vivienne Dick and John Walters. Its exactly what you need to get through the post-election apocalypse.
The films River and Bathroom Troll both sort of centre around gender policing, and trying to escape the cis-gaze of less metropolitan areas; can you tell us a bit more about them?
River is set in a not too distant dystopian future, where gender bending queers and trans people have to meet underground in secret clubs, and spend their days under the scrutiny of 24/7 surveillance by the enforcers of hetero-normitivity ‘The Control’. The film unfolds when River and her gang of criminal queers decide to fight back. The film seems massively relevant in Trump's America. I’m waiting with expectation to see how UK queer film makers will respond to our very own Trump now taking up residence in Downing Street. By contrast Bathroom Troll focuses on the bullies you meet before they get to be Prime Minister. Cassie has to face the mean girls at school every day, who tease and taunt her for not looking enough like a girl. The constant bullying awakens a dangerous rage deep within her. Hell-bent on revenge, Cassie’s mother takes advantage of this anger and, with the help of a Satanic curse, conjures up a vengeance troll from hell. Think DIY queer ‘Carrie.’
You've picked a film by Krissy Mahan, tell people a bit about their work...
Krissy Mahan is a butch lesbian from a working class Irish America family and this experience feeds their work, it’s there in the storytelling, the humour and the politics. Krissy's movies address social issues such as accessibility, gender identity, mental health and immigration. They also use stop frame animation and Fisher Price toys to tell stories lifted directly from their lived experience as a working class butch from a post-industrial town. In this program, The Genesis of Butch and Femme is a re-telling of the creation myth as it should have been, with a cameo appearance from Morgan Freeman. I chose it because it made me and my good friend, and fellow programmer, Tara Brown, belly laugh when we first watched it in our submissions and I felt the programme needed a few more chuckles.
Krissy and Aaron Immediato (the director of Bathroom Troll) funnily enough are from the same small town, and are apparently thrilled that both of them ended up in a queer short film programme in the UK together. What do you think it is about small towns that's so productive?
I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, where it happens, and the environments in which it flourishes, particularly the environments that give way to new movements and what’s happening around that time that creates the conditions in which that particular art form flourishes. Traditionally in the UK, and I think this is also true of America, many artists, a bit like queers, have left their small towns and come to the cities to “make it” and to find their people and participate in their chosen creative expression without fear of ridicule, or of being the local lone freak. Artists need to be where shit is happening and where they can participate and make work. Big cities have benefitted from this migration of artists to them; one of my favourite quotes is by theatre director Peter Brook, who says ‘The Role Of The Artist Is To Heal The City’, I think there is something in that. Artists are a bit like healers and the city without creative culture would be a very sick place.
The countryside doesn’t need art so much, the countryside has great nature and nothing that humans can create can compare with that.
I’ve been wondering about the impact that gentrification is having on that migration of artists to the big cities, especially too big, expensive cities like London. How can an artist from working class or lower middle class background move to London, or the other big cities, and survive and make art? Back in the day we had squats full of skins and punks, rastas, artists, musicians, writers, political activist and freaks. London was a city where you could survive in the cracks. The cracks were where the good shit was happening. I don’t know if that's so true any more. I’m not even sure the cracks are still there, as access to space gets ever harder. Everywhere is cleaned up and re-packaged from the top down and for the benefit of the very rich and the corporate business.
I know many artists who are leaving London because they can’t survive here. They may be going back to the small towns they grew up in, or going to new ones. This migration of artists back to small towns or deciding not to leave them in the first place, must be having a cultural impact. What is London’s loss will be the small towns' gain. I’m also thinking there are many small towns up and down the UK that have had zero investment in them for decades. In a sense these could be prime places for artist to create culture. There is nothing like having fuck all to do that makes creative people get together and do something. So speculatively, from someone who has never lived in a small town, I’m thinking that what makes a small town productive is that they are often overlooked by corporate “investment” and are becoming places artist end up, and because artists abhor a cultural vacuum and have to create, it's inevitable that work will be made.
Do the films in this programme relate to your filmmaking?
I relate personally a lot to the subjects in Krissy Mahan's films, although we use totally different techniques to discuss those subjects. I’ve never been drawn to making horror movies, although the aesthetics of DIY and queerness relate, simply because I am a queer, DIY filmmaker. In my films I think I’m more interested in showing the absurd or the magical within realism. That's kinda of what I'm trying to do, magical realism. To be honest I don’t think I could make a B-Movie if I tried, I don’t have the cultural confidence to be that playful or silly. Imposter syndrome rages too strong in me, and fuck it, there's no honour in poverty; I’m dying to sell out.