For a certain kind of film fan in Los Angeles, the last month or so has been difficult. As Twitter timelines and Internet headlines have been full of premieres and events at the Midnight Madness section in Toronto and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, a local genre buff could begin to feel left out.
Beyond Fest is here to take care of that. Starting Friday and running through Oct. 11 at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, the festival is full of many of those same new movies fans have been hearing about, including 23 West Coast premieres, alongside a program of older titles too.
Among the highlights of this year's Beyond Fest are the local premieres of Ana Lily Amirpour's tripped-out dystopian "The Bad Batch," Julia Ducournau's visceral coming-of-age cannibal story "Raw," Ti West's rough-and-tumble western "In a Valley of Violence" and Paul Schrader's outrageous crime tale "Dog Eat Dog."
Retrospective movies include a 35 mm screening of John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China," a 35 mm screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky's "Holy Mountain," a 70 mm showing of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and a 40th anniversary screening of Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver."
The festival has a basis in including live musical performances as part of its lineup, and this year is no exception. The Wu-Tang Clan's RZA will perform a new live score for the martial arts classic "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," and Fabio Frizzi will perform with a seven-piece group during a screening of Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond."
This is only the fourth year of Beyond Fest, and organizers are already trumpeting attendance as the highest of any genre festival in the country.
"Beyond Fest is very much fan-focused," said festival co-founder Christian Parkes. "It's really just, 'We are fans, and we just want to share films with as many people as possible.' "
Beyond Fest began when Parkes approached the American Cinematheque about putting on a festival. Parkes had already put up his own money to bring the Italian band Goblin, famous for its music for horror films, for the act's first-ever live appearances in Los Angeles. Parkes said he still vividly remembers the moment when he hesitated, finger hovering over mouse, before clicking send on the wire transfer that booked the band.
"To be truthful, the first year, we kind of made it up and we didn't have much of a plan," added Parkes. "The basic premise was to really just screen films that we loved."
Parkes, with a background in international brand marketing, has for the last few years also been formally involved with Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and its parent company, Alamo Drafthouse. But when he first walked into the Cinematheque looking to start what would become Beyond Fest, he was just a fan with an idea.
"He was just a guy," Grant Moninger, a programmer at the American Cinematheque and Beyond Fest, said of when Parkes first approached them. Moninger added that it is not unusual for people to approach the organization with ideas, but that something about this was different.
"Well, it might happen often, but it never happens," Moninger said of turning ideas into actual events. "The impetus was Christian came in and he had Goblin for three days and I was like, 'Well, I want that.' And he had a lot of energy and a lot of good ideas. We took a risk and mapped out three weeks on a calendar. Which is unheard of. And we ended up with some great guests that first year, even though we had to convince people we were even a thing. And then we had a festival that didn't exist before."
This year also includes a program of 13 free screenings in the Cinematheque's smaller Spielberg Theatre. Titles showing for free include André Øvredal's "The Autopsy of Jane Doe," Bhin Banloerit's "The Dwarves Must Be Crazy," Bryan Bertino's "Monster," Morgan Spurlock's "Rats" and Koji Shiraishi's "Sadako vs. Kayako." Retrospective screenings of George Romero's "Martin" and "The Crazies" will also be among the titles playing for free.
With its mix of genre's newest cutting edge alongside a healthy respect and playful sense of reverence for the past, Beyond Fest captures much of what inspires such dedication from genre film fans around the globe. That feeling of letting audiences in on a collective secret while also creating a sense of community, continuity and evolution makes for an exciting alchemy.
"To place the old and the new in a similar context and to take a film like 'Raw,' this incredible debut from a female French director, to have that on the same slate as a Kubrick and a Scorsese, there is a really healthy relationship there," said Parkes.
"Every year it gets harder and easier," added Parkes. "We want to be bigger and bigger and really give the audience something they haven't seen."
A few Beyond Fest highlights
"Dog Eat Dog" / "Taxi Driver"
Few filmmakers have carried out the sustained exploration of the dark side of masculinity as screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, involved with such films as "Taxi Driver," "America Gigolo" and the wild new "Dog Eat Dog." The film stars Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook as bumbling criminals who botch a kidnapping scheme. The film is a scathing depiction of the idiocy of violence.
Schrader will be one hand for the event, along with the recently added guest of Cage. There will also be a 40th anniversary screening of "Taxi Driver." The Cinematheque will also be holding its own retrospective series on Schrader at the Aero Theatre.
"Big Trouble In Little China"
In another of the marquee events of this year's Beyond Fest, star Kurt Russell will appear after a 35 mm screening of 1986's "Big Trouble in Little China," which will be moderated by "Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn. "Big Trouble," in which Russell plays a truck driver caught up in a world of sorcery and ancient curses, has become one of the most beloved titles from director John Carpenter
"The Bad Batch"
Ana Lily Amirpour has fast emerged as one of the most original voices in contemporary genre filmmaking, with her impish attitude toward storytelling. Following up her debut, the vampire western "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," Amirpour has doubled-down on the weirdness with "The Bad Batch." In a society where undesirables are ejected to a desert wasteland, a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) finds herself struggling to survive, caught between a clan of cannibals lead by the brawny Miami Man (Jason Momoa) and a utopian sex cult overseen by the skeevy the Dream (Keanu Reeves.) Amirpour is scheduled to appear in person
"In a Valley of Violence"
Filmmaker Ti West became known for his horror excursions with "The House of the Devil" and "The Innkeepers," and now turns to a traditional western with his new "In a Valley of Violence." In the film, a drifter (Ethan Hawke) traveling with his dog runs afoul of a small town lawman (John Travolta). West is scheduled to appear along with cast members Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga, Toby Huss and James Ransone.
After first premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier in the year, "Raw" really turned heads when it played the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival. And turned a few stomachs too, with reports of multiple audience members passing out. The debut from French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, the film is a cannibal-themed female coming-of-age story that Variety referred to as " 'Suspiria' meets 'Ginger Snaps,' " a pair of comparisons to whet the appetite of any genre film fan.
RZA live from 'The 36th Chamber of Shaolin'
It is well known that RZA, founder of the influential hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, is a rabid fan and deep student of martial arts movies, and this event finds him rescoring the 1979 classic "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" live. Whether you have seen the movie 36 times or are coming to it fresh, this is a unique treat for local hip-hip heads and martial arts cinema fans alike.