A Conversation with the 2018 International Horror & Sci-fi Film Festival Director, Monte Yazzie

Phoenix Film Festival (April 5-15, 2018) has announced the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival lineup, which will feature competition films, short films, filmmaking panels, and more. Now in it’s 14th year, International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival will take place April 6-15 at Harkins Theatres Scottsdale 101, 700 E Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix.

Recently, I had the opportunity of talking with the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival managing director, Monte Yazzie to discuss not only this year’s festival and what you can expect to see, but also his thoughts on the horror and sci-fi genres, including what he’s looking for in a horror or sci-fi film. 

Plus, scroll to the bottom of the page for links that will take you directly to the schedules for both Phoenix Film Festival and International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival.

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This is the 14th year of International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. Today, it’s part of Phoenix Film Festival, but if I remember, it used to run later in the year, isn’t that right?

Correct. It used to be it’s own entity for quite a few years, from year one to almost year nine, or year ten. It was in October of every year. But the partnership we have with Phoenix Film Festival was something necessary in order to keep us thriving, and it’s also great for our growth. It’s allowed us to reach a greater audience, and it’s given us a home with Harkins Cinemas. And the festival’s executive director, Jason Carney has been fantastic with allowing us to grow.

Were you with it from the beginning, or did you join later?

I joined later, but I had been to both Phoenix Film Festival and International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival since the start as a fan.

How did you get involved?

I was a fan for many, many years until finally, I think, because of me being around from the start of the day until the end of the night, Jason Carney probably said, this guy ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s bring him on. So, I started as a VIP, a liaison for the guests, and then slowly moved my way into judging for some of the short films and the feature films. Then I moved my way into management, and I’ve been the festival manager now for four years.

Do you personally see every film?

I don’t see every film submitted, but I do see… hmm, I would say, seventy-five percent of the movies that are in our showcase.

How many is that in actual numbers?

If we’re talking about the films admitted for submission, it’s anywhere between thirty or forty films for submission. And then for the competition films, I usually just see the winners that our programmers pick.

When it comes to the horror genre, I can usually tell within the first ten minutes, often earlier, whether this is going to work. Is that the same for you?

I usually give it the ten to fifteen minutes test, too, but there are some horror movies I saw all the way through that I might have quit, then look back and say, wow, if didn’t stick around until the very end I would have missed something really special. I often think about this 1999 movie called Audition. Now, Audition has the most awful… almost sixty to seventy-five minutes of some of the most awful filmmaking you’ve ever seen. It’s a terrible love story. Just crummy characters. And then all of a sudden it turns into some of the most depraved horror you’ve ever seen. It becomes such a shock. The last fifteen minutes of that movie really came to life. So, I often think of that one as one you wouldn’t have been able to judge in the first fifteen minutes. But for the majority of these films, you pretty much get the foundation for what you’re going to see early on.

Are there specific qualities in a horror or sci-fi that you’re looking for, something that makes them stand out among the others?

Well, for horror and sci-fi, the genre is so versatile, it almost changes year to year, especially for the horror side. A few years ago, the short film and the features had everything to do with zombies. And then when The Conjuring and Insidious came out, we started getting these ghost stories. But because there are so many sub-genres, we do see a lot of, you know, waves of what’s popular from year to year, so I often talk to the programmers about quality within the genre, maybe something we haven’t seen before, or something that approaches it from a perspective that’s unique. That’s what’s going to make the most impact. But I do have to say, when you’ve seen so many zombie films, it’s difficult to see something that’s going to entice you in a different way.

Now, this year, your opening night film on April 6 is ‘Downrange.’ What can you tell us about that?

Downrange has the most basic premise you’re going to get. It has to do with a group of college kids whose car breaks down. Their tire blows. And in the process of changing their tire they realize it wasn’t debris on the road, or, you know, a malfunction with the tire, but it was, in fact, a bullet. The rest of the movie is about a sniper in a tree. From there the kids are taken out, one by one. A simple premise but done with exceptional style from a really good director, Ryuhei Kitamura. He made a movie back in early 2000 called Versus, a zombie possession film with a Samurai lead character. And he made a movie a few years ago called The Midnight Meat Train. He’s an innovative horror master and just a phenomenal director. He makes a simple premise in Downrange really come to life. And it’s super gory.

You also have a world premiere later that evening, with special guests in attendance. I know the film is called ‘Cynthia,’ but that’s all I know.

Cynthia is a kind of cross-between The Unborn and Basket Case, movies from the eighties. It’s about a woman who tries to get pregnant with her husband. She ends up giving birth to something that is truly… er, atrocious. That little creature comes to life, and starts to torment people around this young girl. But there’s an aspect of humor that’s on every frame of this film, and it’s done with some very recognizable actors. There’s Sid Haig and Bill Mosley who are often featured in Rod Zombie movies. There’s a lead performance from Scout Taylor-Compton who was in the remakes of Halloween, parts one and two. She’s sowed her seed in horror and has become quite the scream queen in recent years. She’ll actually be in attendance at this world premiere, as well as the director and the producer.

Another of the films showing this year is a documentary called ‘To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story.’ Who is Kane Hodder, and why does he have a documentary?

Kane Hodder is the… I would say he’s the most iconic version of Jason you’re going to get. That’s Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films. He’s been entrenched in horror for years, since the late seventies. He was a stunt man for many, many years. He was Jason, then Victor Crowley and The Hatchet films. He’s a go-to guy for being a monster in the movies. But I’ve often expressed this sentiment to many people that, you know, these guys who bring these grotesque images alive are often the most gentle and really kind people. And Kane Hodder is one of those guys. He may play this terrible killer – I think he has has the record for the most kills on screen – but underneath all that he’s a most interesting, introspective character. He cares deeply about the people he works with. To Hell and Back documents his life, but it also documents a tragedy he went through. He was severely burned, and there’s the torment he went through life as a child being bullied. The film shows how all of that brought him to where he is today, and it’s filled with a ton of cameos,

Aside from the films we’ve already mentioned, is there a particular movie you saw when previewing that took you by complete surprise?

There’s a science-fiction film we have called Imitation Girl, and it’s a very interesting film. It has a duel lead performance from a very interesting actress. Lauren Ashley Carter plays an alien and an actress. The premise of the movie is where an alien materializes in the middle of a desert, and she interacts with the world by taking the form of an actress she sees on a billboard. It has so many layers to it with themes about sexuality, identity, about human interaction, and the disconnection we have with ourselves and the world. There’s this quality about the movie that took me by surprise. The lead is so good, and the premise is so competently executed by the director. And it’s directed by a female, too, Natasha Kermani. We have about four or five films directed by female directors, and that’s something that I think is important because having that female perspective for the genre is only going to make things more interesting. It brings a whole new depth to the films.

When the festival is over, how soon do you start working on next year’s schedule?

Almost immediately. It’s something you have to keep up on. A lot of these filmmakers are already starting work on their next projects, or they’re near completion of their next project. These films will take time to come out for their audiences. Sometimes a filmmaker may have finished his or her film in 2016, so a lot of them are getting ready to put their new film on display, and I’m out there, getting ready to put their films on my list and keeping movies on the radar that I may want to program later. And we do a showcase in October, too, where we have the opportunity to screen three films over three nights, so we start planning for that immediately.

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For times, dates, and tickets CLICK HERE for International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, and CLICK HERE for Phoenix Film Festival

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