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WHAT THE FEST!? Returns to NYC

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NYC’s What the Fest!?, a relative newcomer to the list of film festivals in the area, goes into its second inning March 20-24 at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Avenue). The event has firmly established itself as the city’s go-to madcap movie party with its eclectic international genre programming, entertaining pre-shows, intoxicating after-parties, and exciting guests.

Dread Central got the scoop on what to expect from What the Fest!?’s Volume 2 Creative Director Maria Reinup.

Dread Central: What did you want to do differently with your second edition?

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Maria Reinup

Maria Reinup: With the second edition of What the Fest!?, I wanted to secure the concept, keep steady at that course and actually very specifically not do a lot differently. We have such an amazing team that there was not much to learn from what we could do better when it comes to the actual production of the festival. If anything, we are a day longer for even more on-and off-screen madness! But when it comes to the heart of What the Fest!?, working as a Festival Director for [Estonia’s] Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival for seven years, showed me how much time has to be given for ideas to implement and for the audience to trust you. I value that experience a lot. When we started last year, I was thrilled to work out a festival concept that tries to give a unique launch to every film we play in New York and celebrate cinema as an experience. I also felt that we should do something special for the audience and filmmakers to feel that What the Fest!? is a home to come to for the likeminded seeking thrills and food for thought. But to gain trust, you need a steady course to prove it.

DC: While programming the fest and watching countless movies, did you notice any new trends that filmmakers were exploring?

MR: One thing really stood out and that is how much more sci-fi there is. I remember years back we were looking for sci-fi movies in tears—anything would work, just to showcase the genre. The last two years especially have brought a lot of big and small pictures to the “table” (getting to play them is unfortunately another matter). It is easier to make movies in general due to the developing technology, the effects easier to make and filmmakers dare to explore more in this genre.

Also, I really love that folklore-driven horror is starting to stand out. Going back to the roots and finding what is horrifying in the land, tales, people in where you or your ancestors came from, is the well of good scares.

DC: How did the “Satan is My Friend” sidebar come together?

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Satanis

MR: I saw Penny Lane’s Sundance favorite Hail Satan? and was mind-blown. I definitely fall into the category of people who do not know much about Satan and Satanism. Coming from one of the most unreligious countries in the world, my picture of Satanism was as plain as “something to do with devil worshipping” and influenced by the stereotypical understanding of what could be driven from the Satanic Panic in the ’80s. So, when I found myself screaming “Hail Satan” completely transfixed after the film, believing I am a Satanist, I set out to make things right. About the same time, my programming partner Matthew Kiernan had started to look into collaborating with [author]Grady Hendrix. I looked for more Satan and realized for giving a small picture about the contemporary Satanism, we need to start with the Church of Satan (subject of the 1970 documentary Satanis: The Devil’s Mass, playing at WTF!?). It all came together as a small “focus” that starts in the ’70s with Anton Szandor LaVey founding the Church of Satan, then Hendrix touches base with the Satanic Panic in the ’80s and then we come to recent years with the mission of The Satanic Temple (which is not tied to the Church of Satan). I really hope people get to see and hear these acts. Just for the idea of what it does to your mind when you realize that you have thought one thing about something and then it turns out to be completely other. Does it not make you keen on knowing more about everything? The films and the talk also have a really fun side to them.

DC: Another femme-centric lineup. Will there come a time where festivals don’t even have to point out the number of female directors they are presenting?

MR: Currently, I think it is necessary. It highlights the will and acting for the means of change. It builds a mindset, it welcomes filmmakers to participate, it reminds us what the reality is. But yes, there will be a time when it is a norm, where no one needs to point out anything.

TT: Opening Night’s Depraved is quite the coup. What made director Larry Fessenden choose WTF!? to have his World Premiere over other better-known festivals?

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Depraved

MR: Larry, first of all, for the little bit I know him, is a beautifully mad man who keeps his filmmaking family and true love for genre close to him. He sensed something last year when [his production] The Ranger was our Closing Night Film. There was a special atmosphere in the air, the audience loved the film, we had a punk band from the film crash the Q and A and we ended up smashing a piñata on the stage… Some form of trust was made then, which is definitely tied into his long-lasting relationship with the IFC Center. He sees What the Fest!? as a place that brings the filmmaker family and love for genre together and wanted to, if one can say so, invest into that. I have an odd feeling he might enjoy giving a middle finger to the system of “premiere at a prestigious festival to be validated as an author.” Plus, we love the film.

TT: Which selection this year are you most proud of?

MR: I am not sure where to begin. I am really proud of the whole program. My personal favorite, if we leave out Greener Grass, which is such a perfect WTF!? picture and has the cult-film-in-the-making taste to it, would be The Dead Center [Featured Image]. This, a little bit under-the-radar film, is so good. I am a big fan of filmmaking that combines a hyper-realistic world with otherworldly elements. That film is so well made, nothing in it feels like it is put there without a thought, you believe everything and get sucked into the absolutely horrifying mystery, led by such an amazing talent like Shane Carruth. Plus, it is preceded by a talk on the creepy, cryptic and stunning world of pathology by Brian D. Robinson, M.D. Chief of Surgical Pathology at Weill Cornell Medicine!

TT: Which film do you consider this year’s discovery?

MR: One of the things I can personally bring to the programming table is genre films from regions our audience might not have seen so many films from. Having the North American premiere of the Russian film Why Don’t You Just Die! is definitely a small undiscovered gem. This tale of crime, corruption, greed, dysfunctional families, unrequited love and lots and lots of blood has somehow captured the madness of the Russian soul. The director Kirill Sokolov will also be present to explain how on earth they shot this madness in one apartment. It is a blast to watch with an audience. Plus, it is paired with stand-up comedy. Everyone is in for a treat for the Closing Night!

TT: Does just as much effort go into putting together the pre-show fun as selecting the films?

MR: For selecting the films, I create a mental mind map where I place my favorites, looking out for different aspects that genre films offer. Watching a lot of them can be really hard at times, you lose track of time and have no life at some periods of time throughout the year. Selecting the films when you have seen a ton and have that mind map is actually lovely! But selecting the films is easier than getting them…

The hard part with the pre-show fun is that it has to be something the film features or almost like “offers itself.” Not every film does it, neither can it ruin the viewing experience for the audience, so it takes a lot of time to puzzle it out. But normally by that point you have run out of time… Definitely a lot of effort goes to putting together the pre-shows, they almost become like another layer of programming.

TT: What does the future hold for the festival?

MR: Opportunities. We are on to something special that we need to nurture for it to grow strong and show its true nature!

Check out the full What the Fest!? lineup here www.whatthefestnyc.com

Written by Tony Timpone

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