When it comes to truly independent moviemaking, few studios have been doing it longer—or better—than New York City-based Troma Entertainment. Founded by Lloyd Kaufman in 1974, Troma is the world’s oldest continually operating fully independent studio—and the company responsible for such cult classics as The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and Tromeo & Juliet. So it’s not surprising that the folks at Troma have been bringing more movies to the people in the form of the TromaDance Film Festival, an eight-day celebration of the wicked, weird and hysterically funny, happening in Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah this January 18 – 25th. MM spoke with Jonathan Lees, TromaDance’s co-director and program director, to find out more about this year’s event.
Jennifer Wood (MM): For almost a decade, TromaDance has allowed moviemakers to submit their films without an entry fee and made all its screenings and panels free to the public. Why is it so important to you guys to give “art back to the people?”
Jonathan Lees (JL): As we reach our ninth year presenting the TromaDance Film Festival as a truly independent, no entry fee/no admission fee festival, giving art back to the people has always been our motto. While the Internet has expanded opportunities for filmmakers to get their work seen, nothing really beats the camaraderie of a film festival. It’s important for filmmakers to receive response from public screenings in order to help them grow as artists through the critique and commentaries of their peers and why should they, or the audience, be charged for that? We are here as a community to support the art of expression through cinema and no swag-swiping, celebrity-obsessed, studio-sanctioned entity will stop us.
MM: Given Troma’s focus on cult movies—from The Toxic Avenger to Poultrygeist—are there specific genres/budget levels TromaDance is most interested in screening?
JL: I have never programmed films based on the genre expectations of the Troma audience. Founder Lloyd Kaufman has always made it clear that while Troma’s name is used to promote the festival, he will always give me free reign to introduce our audiences to a cornucopia of cinema they may not be used to seeing, ranging from experimental or avant-garde work to the many wonders of world cinema.
MM: What’s the one thing you look for in programming the fest? The one thing that could give a film an edge over other entries?
JL: If there’s one thing I can’t tell filmmakers enough it’s that I have to feel a movie, not just see it. I look for films that bleed passion from behind the camera and in their storytelling. Regardless of budget and professional technique, a movie can affect the viewer purely on an emotional level as displayed in Karen Black’s unique, one take, humanitarian tale, Help!, or through the cerebral experimentation of image and sound in Antonios Papantoniou’s Vessel. All of our filmmakers this year, no matter what genre or level of artistry they display, have a common goal in being enthusiastic and passionate about their work rather than conforming to fill a need for what they think “the marketplace” needs or to create what is known as a “calling card” film.
MM: This year’s event will kick off with an entire day of “Best Of” movies from the fest’s nine-year history. What are some of those highlights? What are some of the screenings and/or events you’re most looking forward to in 2008?
JL: The Salt Lake City Library, in their gracious donation of their amply sized auditorium, has given TromaDance a chance to branch out this year. We will be showcasing a selection of previous years’ shorts to introduce new audience members to some of the great works presented in the past; but more importantly, we were able to create a whole day of new programming suitable for the venue. This year we will begin the “Ackk!-ademic” series of documentaries and fiction features that focus on independent artists such as rebel Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler in the excellent movie, Blood, Boobs & Beast, plus explorations on underground comic artists, sideshow performers, iconic figure Vampira and a little scholarly film called A-Bo The Humonkey, which is the heartwarming story of a deformed half-breed trying his damndest to get an education.
MM: Because it is a free event, the fest relies on donations to keep it going. How can regular old moviemakers and film fans help keep TromaDance alive?
JL: TromaDance is a completely nonprofit festival, so we do rely on donations, sponsors and the hard work of our dedicated volunteers, filmmakers, musicians, performers and venues. This year, I have to thank everyone who personally donated to making TromaDance happen. It gets harder each year to exist in an increasingly bourgeois atmosphere as Park City, so if you want to help out, go on to www.tromadance.com and keep us alive as the only festival that is truly “for the people and by the people!”