Sunday, February 23, 2020

Review: Chattanooga Film Fesitval 2019

With CFF 2020 on the horizon and some of the first announcements being made, we wanted to share this article written by our own Dan Wilson on the 2019 event.

This was originally written for the now defunct website for Dan's movie review column "Rev-Elations".

I had the chance to visit my first ever Chattanooga Film Fest this past April 11th through the 14th. This was an event I’ve been aware of for a few years, even before I started trying to learn the art of filmmaking. I’d been dying to go since I heard of it, but it always seemed to conflict with my wrestling gigs or family vacations. This fact was embarrassing in and of itself because nobody has complained more about the lack of quality arts and entertainment in our fair city than me over the years. To my delight, however, Chattanooga is starting to get a reputation as a cool place to visit and over the last decade or so we’ve started actually getting some legit touring entertainment options visiting the town. Here was something right up my alley that had a heavy focus on horror, featuring relevant genre filmmakers, authors and podcasters in my own town and I hadn’t even patronized it. For shame.  Now that I’d retired from wrestling and had actually started trying to learn how to make films, I made it a point that 2019 would be the year I finally basked in the glory of the CFF and the stars finally aligned so I could do so... for the most part. (More on that to come.)

The first night I attended the Joe Bob Briggs live show, “How The Rednecks Save Hollywood.” This was a one man show that was part film history lesson, part stand up comedy, and 100% entertaining from start to finish.  It featured a variety of movie clips telling the origin story of Rednecks and their evolution in cinema. JBB (Real name John Bloom), if you are unfamiliar, is a legendary film critic, writer, actor and TV host of the shows Joe Bob’s Drive In Theater (1987-1996) on the Movie Channel, Monstervision (1996 to 2000) on TNT and now The Last Drive In (2018 - Present) on Shudder.  We also got to meet JBB prior to the event and get a picture with him. He told us a story about cutting the Ned Beatty rape scene out of his show because it deflated the room and he was as genuine and hilarious as one would expect. He’s also very tall. Insert cliche about Texas. I’ve spent countless hours over the years staying up past my bedtime to watch movies I wasn’t supposed to be watching with this dude and I admire him a lot so had the weekend ended here I’d have been fine with it but there was more to come. His show is currently touring and you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t go check it out if comes anywhere near you. You can also watch his weekly series “The Last Drive In” on Shudder Friday nights at 9pm through the end of May.

On Friday I caught a fantastic presentation and book signing by author and filmmaker Mallory O’Meara about her book “Lady From The Black Lagoon”. Her book tells the story of the lost legacy of Millicent Patrick, the original designer of the monster from Creature From The Black Lagoon (In addition to being a Disney animator, actor and more). O’Meara told an inspiring story of throwing caution to the wind in her own life to go west and personally research the life of this fascinating figure. She also saw it through to the end and made sure Patrick received the credit she was wrongfully denied over the years via a best selling book. The importance of her research to the history of horror and films in general can’t be overstated here. I got a chance to chat with Mallory for a brief moment afterwards and she was a delight. She also later hosted a live showing of Creature From The Black Lagoon at Miller Park on Saturday night (which I missed.) As a dad with a young daughter, I also recognize the importance of this story for young women. While it speaks to me as someone who loves film history and someone who has had to fight for credit on his own creative works it must speak to young women ten fold. Since my little one also happens to be a fan of the Universal Monsters, you can be sure I’ll be passing this book down to her when she hits the appropriate age. You can check out Mallory’s website for more info about her book and filmmaking endeavors at Her latest film Yamasong (a wildly imaginative looking puppet film with an all star cast including Abigail Breslin, Whoopie Goldberg, Ed Asner, Nathan Fillion and more) is out now.

Friday Night we went to the Chattanooga Brewing Company for Shock Waves “Dead Right” Horror Trivia. Shock Waves is a popular horror podcast on the Blumhouse network and their hosts are all involved in the film industry at some level but the appeal of the show is that they are also horror super fans.  I’ve been a die hard horror fan for over 30 years and these guys make me feel like a total novice. Their show is a constant stream of great recommendations of stuff I’ve never heard of. Anni (whom I’m married to, and whom you’re familiar with if you listen to the Seeking Human Victims podcast) joined me for dinner, drinks and some friendly competition. This was supposed to be a team outing for said SHV podcast team but one by one the rest of the gang bailed (hey, life happens) leaving just us. And as loud and bold as we are, believe it or not, we both have pretty severe social anxiety and we hadn’t had enough drinks to overcome that, so we’re minding our business over on a couch in the corner when the Shockwaves crew arrives and sets up right beside us. On this night it consisted of Dr Rebekah McKendry, Rob Galuzzo and Elric Kane who were all very friendly but it was Bekah who struck up a conversation and helped us find some teammates to play with and we ended up bonding with these new team members about the festival, our favorite movies etc. Our team “The Abe Snakes” got clobbered by a room full of amazing horror peeps, but we had a kick ass time while it happened. I’m still laughing about “Which One Of These Is Not A Real Giallo Title?” They did a live show on Saturday with Poltergeist III, Dead & Buried, etc director Gary Sherman which I was also really bummed out to have to miss.

I was unable to attend the Saturday events because I found out just a few weeks prior I was being inducted into the Landmark Arena Hall Of Fame. This was the place I’d given the majority of my body of work to in pro wrestling, it was the place where I meant the most, so of course I agreed to do it and was honored to be there. I’ll go into more detail about the HOF in a future edition but it meant a lot to me to get inducted with Jeff G. Bailey, Iceberg, Tank and Bill Behrens (with surprise appearance by AJ Styles) as all 5 men were instrumental in my career and life for that matter..

I only saw a total of 3 films at the festival, first up was  “Sadistic Intentions” on Friday afternoon with a live Q&A with director Eric Pennycoff. I thought it had a really creative premise, great tension and told a really interesting and contained story. I also saw “Girl On The Third Floor” with a Q&A with director Travis Stevens and “I Trapped The Devil” with a Q&A with director Josh Lobo on Sunday. “GOTTF” was a haunted house movie that starred CM Punk (who delivers an excellent performance) of all people and may have been my favorite of the three films I saw. Go out of your way to see this, I thought it was one of the best “spookhouse” movies in years.  “I Trapped The Devil” was also just excellent. It gave me more of a Twilight Zone/Hitchock vibe and was all built around the payoff which delivered the goods. A wonderfully fucked up Christmas family reunion. I have a notoriously rotten history with running afoul of bad audiences at public movie viewings so this being my first festival I immediately embraced what a great experience it is to see a good movie with a quality audience. These people were horror fans, some were other filmmakers, writers, podcasters, etc. They were fully invested and it raised the energy level a good bit. All of the films I saw were presented by Shudder so I assume they will eventually make their way to the streaming service. I know some are getting limited theatrical releases also.

So that concludes my trip to the Chattanooga Film Festival. Had I not had travel commitments on Saturday I’d have attended much more of it but it was an awe inspiring experience regardless. Just being around so many creative people, many of whom’s work I admire, was motivating as hell if not a little intimidating. This year I just wanted to attend as a fan. I didn’t try to get anything submitted, I wasn’t trying to “network”(I think I’ve stated my distaste for that term previously.) I was just trying to soak in the experience and hopefully chat with some cool, creative people who like the same stuff I do.  I’m nobody in the film world. To put it in wrestling terms, I’m the green kid who just started here coming from another sport. I’ve made one short film that was released on Youtube. I’m a hobbyist. I look over at the table across from me and there’s C Robert Cargill who wrote Sinister and Dr Strange! Oh there’s famous director Gary Sherman. There’s Joe Bob Briggs. There’s Crispin Glover. Here are a dozen indie directors and producers from LA who are all making mind blowing shit right now. What could I say to them? I figured my best bet would be to keep my mouth shut, my ears open, make friends where I could and just have fun. Next year, I’ll be back for the whole weekend. Thanks to Chris Dortch, the head of the fest who brings this incredible event to our town. I can’t imagine the work that goes into pulling something like that off. Hat’s off to you and your amazing crew and congratulations on another successful CFF.

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