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We talk to International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival Program Director Monte Yazzie about the popular fest, now in its 15th year.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Monte Yazzie, the director of this year’s 15th Annual International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about this extremely popular event. It’s going to be one exciting, educational film festival.

Monte is entering his 5th year as the Festival Director for the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival (IHSFF). He has spent most of his life watching, re-watching, analyzing, and examining film of all genres, though his movie fondness remains loyally with horror, science fiction, and film classics. When he isn’t keeping up with his first passion, his lovely wife and children, you can find him working on film projects or being actively involved in the Arizona film community, offering support to independent venues, local filmmakers, and arts festivals.


INTERVIEW WITH MONTE YAZZIE

1. How did the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival originate? What was the reason for its conception, and how did it originally get started?

The festival started 15 years ago. It came about as an event to promote filmmakers locally, but also to share that love of horror and sci-fi during October. It was one of those events that started off as a small little thing and continued to grow and grow and grow. We’ve cultivated a really good group of filmmakers in the valley, as well as connections nationwide, to bring people in to submit their movies to our festival and to bring some great movies that people haven’t seen, to our audiences here in Arizona.

Nationwide, people don’t think of Arizona as a film fan location. But I’ve been in the community my entire life, and I’ve only encountered really passionate film fans. I became a horror and science fiction fan at a very young age. Growing up in Arizona, I always found someone to talk to about horror and sci-fi. I actually started at this festival as an attendee; someone who just sat in the audience and was watching these great films that were being put on screen. I’m so blessed to be where I’m at today, where I get to help program these things and get to share these visions of young wonderful filmmakers with the world.

It’s been a labor of love, and we’re really happy we’ve been able to grow as much as we have.

2. How did you become the curator of IHSFFF and what’s it like to host an event of such high stature?

I think I just stuck around with the festival for a long time. I sat in the audience, like I said earlier, and really was just there as a film fan. I’d spend countless hours and days. Like my day started at 9am and wouldn’t end until 12 at night. I tried to get as many movies and as many films and meet as many directors and new filmmakers as I could throughout the day. I think over time I volunteered to help out, and I became a liaison with some of the filmmakers, where I’d show them around the festival and help out with their needs. Then I was asked to help be a program manager and find movies that were being produced nationwide to bring in and show at the festival.

Andrea Canales was the former festival director. She stepped down and ushered my way into me taking over as the festival director. That was five years ago, and it’s crazy the amount of things we’ve done in those five years. I’m a really small piece of a really really big complicated machine. I always tell people that — the crew that we have, the volunteers, the people who are helping us program the movies, and the people who are out there really helping out to try to make this event come true every year — it’s all volunteer based. Without them, this wouldn’t be what it is today. I’m so grateful for the team we have and the people that we have helping out. They’ve been able to guide me. Because I am kind of the new guy on the block, working in this high capacity, big functioning machine that we have. But it’s been fantastic, and it’s been a great experience.

Of course, with every opportunity like this, there’s going to be some low moments. When you’re a little discouraged about not being able to get some big films or about not being able to reach the amount of people you want to reach. At the end of the day, when I sit in the audience and I get to watch these movies with people, it’s such a joyous experience to meet these folks that want to come to these movies and people who have been coming as long as I’ve been going. And to just meet these passionate people.

What makes me happiest about working with the festival is being able to engage this community; this wonderful horror movie and science fiction community. Maybe show them something they haven’t seen and help those people in finding their next favorite movie. I still hear people talk about movies that we programmed in year one, and movies that I programmed within the 5 years that I’ve been here. People will tell me, “that’s still my favorite movie I’ve ever seen.” That’s always a great feeling to have. It’s all about the film fans, and I hope that we’re servicing them as best as we can.

3. The IHSFFF plays in conjunction with the Phoenix Film Festival. Can you elaborate on why that is?

The Phoenix Film Festival has been a sponsor of the IHSFF from the very beginning. The Phoenix Film Festival is Arizona’s largest film festival. Trying to compete in October, with everything else that’s going on, became a little bit of a struggle. Trying to get the reach out there and to find places that could do the festival, and trying to to find filmmakers who would travel to Arizona or submit their film in October, was beginning to become a little stressful. We talked with the Phoenix Film Festival to join forces. That was a few years ago and it’s been great ever since.

Having the PFF and their connections with theaters in the valley, and just having their support in helping us put this whole thing together, has been a wonderful experience. Yeah, we’re conjoined with the PFF, but we have two theaters that we operate on our own during the festival, two designated theaters that are just for horror and sci-fi — and we’re able to use the PFF to get to some bigger distributors to get some movies out here.

Would we want to have a film festival in October? Of course. But there’s so much stuff to do in October nowadays that’s it’s hard to designate three days just for the horror and sci-fi film festival during that time, so…we’re happy to do it in April. It’s been nice. It’s been a nice relationship that we’ve had with them. Jason Carney is the Executive Director for the Phoenix Film Festival, and he is such a great support with everything we want to do with the IHSFFF. Big kudos to him and his team because they do a knockout job with what they’re doing with PFF and with helping us grow as a brand and as a film festival.

We’re 15 years in, and that’s an accomplishment because there aren’t very many film festivals that have had that kind of tenure. 

4. What type of films do you focus on on playing at the festival? Are they geared more towards Horror, or Sci-fi, or is there a pretty solid mixture of both? And what can fans expect with regards to genre diversity at the fest?

We tried really hard to get a good mixture of horror and sci-fi. Science Fiction films are always difficult. That seems to be the case across the board with festivals. Trying to find quality Science Fiction films and voices that are making sci-fi in very unique ways. It’s a budget constraint. You know, in the filmmaking world right now, it is definitely easier to make a horror film than it is to make a sci-fi epic. But we do try hard to get a nice blend of those films. We do have a science fiction competition section and a horror competition section. We’re able to blend those, and we  have some great competition films this year.

Our Showcase program is the curated program where we reach out to bigger distributors and bring in some bigger films to play at the festival. We try really hard to find a nice blend of films that may appeal to people who are 80s horror fans, versus people who like movies that have been categorized as art house horror. That’s a term I don’t like, but that seems to be the categorization that people have put on those movies. We’re trying to find unique voices and visions. We’re so lucky to have such the nice variety of films that we have.

In Fabric

On the horror side, we work really closely with some great distributors. A24 has been wonderful with giving us two films this year. We have a movie called In Fabric, which is directed by Peter Strickland. He did a wonderful movie called Berberian Sound Studio a few years ago. In Fabric is movie about a haunted dress. In simplistic terms, it sounds like it might not be a lot, but there’s some really good stuff going on in this movie. If you’ve seen any of Peter Strickland’s movies in the past, you’ll kind of get this idea of how unique a voice he has as a filmmaker. He puts a nice spin on this haunted dress story.

The Hole in the Ground

We also have another movie called The Hole In the Ground, which is by first time director Lee Cronin. He does an exceptional  job of making a mom and son movie. It’s this really great maternal bond that a mom has with her son and he kind of takes that and turns it on its head. There’s a nice little element that plays out. I won’t give away too much of the plot. But there’s a hole in the ground, and that plays a big role in the evil that comes into this family’s life.

Assassinaut

We have a wonderful Science Fiction movie called Assassinaut, which is probably my favorite title of any movie that we have this year in the festival. It’s a story about a group of young astronauts, who are traveling to a distant planet and they end up crash landing, and they’re stopped by an astronaut. It’s a throwback to some of the quirkiness from the 80s and 90s. But it also has this nice youthful voice in it. It’s just a great all around film. Real quirky, but real campy, bloody fun. It does a good job of blending the sci-fi and horror realms together.

Another movie we have is an anthology. This is the 4th year in a row we’ve had an anthology in our festival.

Nightmare Cinema

We have a movie called Nightmare Cinema that features some pretty big name directors. Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ray Kidamaras. It stars Mickey Rourke as a projectionist. A theater owner who owns a haunted theater, and he’s going to show these young people some visions. There’s some fantastic set-ups in there and coming from such recognizable filmmakers. It’s always nice to kind of see them be given the freedom to do what they do best. When you got names like Mick Garris and Joe Dante and other people like that, it’s such a nice blend of talent that’s going on there, with really identifiable voices.

We have so much that we could talk about. I could keep going with all these movies that we have, but our whole goal with the festival is to try to accommodate every taste that we can get.

One Cut of the Dead

And with the saturation that we have in our world today with zombie films. Like I’ve seen so many zombie movies over the years that sometimes I’m like all zombied out. I don’t want anymore zombie movies. But this year, we have a zombie movie. A movie called One Cut of the Dead. And it is a fantastic spin on the zombie genre. It’s quite hilarious. It looks at the filmmaking process. It’s just a really wonderful film, and I had the pleasure of watching this film last year at the Asian Film Festival in San Deigo, California. I just happened across this film festival by accident. But I just sat in this theater at 11pm at night, and laughed and laughed and just had such a great time with this movie. I’m really happy we were able to get it for the festival this year.

5. What can we expect to see heading in? Is there anything special you have lined up this year that you’re really excited to be bringing your fans?

One Cut of the Dead is one that I’m really excited about. I really liked Assassinaut quite a bit. There’s a movie called I Trapped the Devil. I’m a huge Twilight Zone fan, and one of my favorite episodes is “The Howling Man”. This movie lines up with that. It’s Christmas time, and this guy believes that he’s caught the devil himself in his basement. When you go to those throwback, Twilight Zone-esque kind of shows, that’s my bread and butter. I love movies that do that.

I Trapped the Devil

Thinking of a movie like Jordan Peele’s Us, which is in theaters now, what I like most about that movie is that it feels very much like a Twilight Zone episode. There is a Twilight Zone episode that stars Vera Mills that plays with doppelgängers as well too, and I’ve heard it’s been an inspiration to Jordan Peele as well. We have a movie called Darlin, which is a direct sequel to Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Pollyanna Mcintosh is the director. She also played the lead character in that film. So, having a female voice tackle really really complicated subject matter, I think is always interesting.

Darlin

Last year we had a movie called Revenge, which was also directed by a woman. I think it’s so interesting when we have these women who are tackling subjects that have been predominantly tackled by men for such a long time. When a woman gets their hands on it and they’re able to put their spin on it, I tell people that’s when the magic happens. Women are thinking on a completely different plane than men. Women are thinking on a greater emotional plane. They are thinking at times, vastly different than the way men think. When they tackle the subject matter, I think there’s some magic that can happen.

6. What sets the IHSFFF apart from other film festivals? What’s makes it so special and a favorite among genre fans as well as filmmakers?

You know, we try hard to try to cater to our directors, to our creators. Those people that are putting the movies into our festival and are giving us the opportunity to watch and program their movies. We know that there are many other films festivals out there that you can to submit your film to. But when someone gives us an opportunity to watch their movie and possibly think of it for a submission to our festival, we take that opportunity with a lot of respect. We try really hard to make it a “filmmaker first” festival. And that’s really our goal, to accommodate these filmmakers and to put their visions on the screen in the best way possible, and honor their visions that they put out there.

There are other festivals that do that as well too, but that’s something we’ve really focused in on the last few years. Making a festival that is a director’s festival, a creator’s festival. We’re trying to accommodate their passion, their vision and their voices. Every year we seem to do a great job with that. We have numerous folks who re-submit to us. That’s honestly the biggest compliment, when we get another director who will re-submit a movie to us. When we get distributors who come back and say they had a great experience at our festival and want to play more of their movies here — it’s always a great  compliment. We try really hard to cater it towards our filmmakers.

7. Being this marks the 15th year of the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival in Arizona, are there any new or exciting plans you have to keep things feeling fresh for potential attendees, as well those who are returning?

Yes, definitely. Last year we extended our schedule. We used to be a a 7 day festival, now we’re a 10 day festival. We have two weekends with some great parties, some great interactive Q&As and panels that we put together for our fans that are coming to see us. Our second weekend is really themed towards horror and sci-fi. Not only do we have one weekend where you can watch anything you want to watch in the Phoenix Film Festival side, our second weekend is really caters towards our horror and sci-fi.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

There are surprises that we’ll have in place, some special announcements that we’ll have as we get closer to the festival in order to engage our group. This year, we’re really fortunate because our opening night film is the new Ted Bundy movie featuring Zac Effron called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. It’s one of the first years that the Phoenix Film Festival has picked up something that really feels like a horror film. They haven’t said it out loud, but I’m really excited. It feels like it’s crossing over a little bit. It’s a little bit of the horror and sci-fi side as well too.

The Phoenix Film Festival is always looking out for us in that regard as well too. We’re really excited. We try to keep a great variety, diversity of events that we can have and we hope that people get a great experience out of it.

8. How did you fall in love with horror, and what are your thoughts on the current state of the genre? Where do you see it headed in the years to come?

You know, I started off with two parents that were very big into Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and Godzilla movies. So, my early education in horror came from the past. I mean my parents grew up with those movies, and that is what they shared with me. And I’m a totally 80s kid. You know, the Elm Street and the Friday the 13th films, all those movies. Italian horror films, too. I think Fulci is a master. I knew John Carpenter was doing something amazing, even when I wasn’t really sure what he was doing that was amazing. I’ve always been big on educating yourself and increasing your film knowledge.

The state of horror today I think is in a great place.

And I just talked about Jordan Peele — what he is doing with film is amazing. It’s social commentary like George Romero was doing. Like Carpenter was doing. Like Craven has been doing during his entire career.  I think having someone who has a special voice, who is going to push the boundaries of what the definition of what horror is, is what is definitely needed. We’re so lucky, a few years ago, we had Mike Flanagan as an alumni of our film festival. We had a film of his early on. To see the fact that he went on to make what I think is one of the best short form stories, with Haunting of Hill House on Netflix — and just watching him grow as a director — has been incredible.

I think looking forward into what horror is going to be, or what science fiction is going to be in the future, it’s all based on that fact that film is a reflection of the society that we’re living in. We’re living in tumultuous times. We’re a nation divided. I think those things can be redirected into horror and science fiction films. There’s going to be a point in time, 20 years from now, when people look back and say, “What was 2019 like?: And one of the references they’re going to have will be films and film culture.

I think it’s very important that filmmakers continue to push those boundaries of storytelling. The greatest horror that we have is sometimes right outside our front door. I think there’s a great opportunity for filmmakers to look at what’s going on currently in our world and mold stories that are a reflection of that. That, for me, is where the interesting part of horror comes from.

9. Where can potential followers find and stay up to date with the festival? Are there any social media outlets available for fans and filmmakers to follow?

You can find our current schedule as well as ticket information and special event ticketing at PhoenixFilmFestival.com. The whole schedule is up there. There’s a great app that you can add to your phone that will give you your entire schedule on your mobile device as well. You can follow IHSFF on Twitter and Facebook. That’s where where we keep you up to date with all the latest news and scheduled events. You’ll start seeing my face on there probably more in the next few days, as I like to live stream from the event and different places.

10. To wrap up, we always like to ask one last question. If you could pick one and only one, what would you say if your favorite horror film of all time?

My favorite horror film of all time is Evil Dead 2. I think what Sam Raimi was doing with the film at the time,was unheard of. He was a true indie filmmaker, and Evil Dead 2 is the combined passions of a lot of different things that I like. I live and breathe Bruce Campbell. Whenever Bruce Campbell is doing something, I try to make it a point to be there. I think it played such a role in expanding my mind about what horror could be, what it should be, and aspects of what story and performance was. Evil Dead 2 is always the one I go back to.

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