Festival Beat: Beyond Fest Founders On Building A Genre Festival From Goblin to Cronenberg

Among their many eccentric counterparts over the years, insect politicians, Haddonfield historians and bitchin’ scary German guys are three of a wide variety of demographics celebrated at the sixth annual Beyond Fest.

A weird assembly, no doubt. But weird is what Beyond Fest is all about, and hosting the likes of Brundle-flies and Meyer’s family reunions is common practice for festival founders Grant Moninger and Christian Parkes.

Beyond Fest is cemented as one of the most beloved genre festivals in the world, assembling an impressive slate of films new and old at the service of their fandom. With a hard dedication to programming some of the most influential and relevant genre films in history it’s no surprise Beyond Fest has grown to be the massive tent pole it is today. A keen retrospective eye and dedication to showcasing new talent started it all. That continues this year with plenty of promise for some time to come.

MovieMaker caught up with Moninger and Parkes in the midst of their Los Angeles-based festival to touch on the success of their mad creation.  Read below for an annotated history of deceitful Goblin origins to a curated body of genre transformations courtesy of David Cronenberg, and all the chainsaws in between.

Grant Vance, MovieMaker Magazine: What are the origins and early history of Beyond Fest? How did it evolve into what it is in its sixth year?

Grant Moninger: I program at the American Cinematheque and I got a call from a guy, Christian, who wanted to do a genre fest in LA. I was still on the fence, but what he said sounded good. Christian mentioned he had Goblin on board; Goblin was doing their first tour of the United States, ever. Of course I wanted that to happen. So he was going to bring Goblin, and I was going to show films like Suspiria and Tenebrae at the Cinematheque. It was going to be amazing. I was pumped to make that happen.

Christian Parkes: I had been living away from LA for about six years, and had the question of if there were any good theaters for programming. I had friends at the Frightfest in the UK, I had been to Fantastic Fest a bunch of times and Fantasia. But there weren’t any genre festivals in LA. I walked into the theater and met this guy, Grant, and told him I have Goblin. But the reality was, I didn’t have Goblin… I just knew that they were potentially planning on coming to the US, and there was a booking agent who didn’t know anything about the band.

I told Grant we had Goblin, I then told Goblin we had the American Cinematheque. The reality was we didn’t have that either. It was that bluff that basically started Beyond Fest. We started with Goblin and then we basically threw anything up on the screen that we could get.

GM: In that first year we called in some favors. Richard Donner—who we’re forever grateful—came down for The Omen. Joe Dante came as well. And then we had some independent stuff that we put in to fill out the rest of the fest. But by adding their names to the fest the first year and having Goblin come [that brought filmmakers like] Eli Roth and Edgar Wright to see Goblin. So Beyond Fest came from this thing we would say. It’s Beyond Fest! But it really didn’t mean anything because it didn’t exist. The audience made Beyond Fest. We built it each year until it was no longer just a word, it was a place.

MM: It must be cool to show the Suspiria remake this year with Goblin ingrained in the origins of the fest.

CP: That was a process that started last year with Amazon. Last year we brought out Dario for Suspiria’s 40th anniversary restoration on that original print. We did three shows with Dario that were amazing. And then we brought out the Amazon team who were working on Suspiria (2018). Those conversations really started a year ago. We’re fortunate enough they’re letting us screen at the Cineramadome which is a mythic, epic venue much like The Egyptian.

GM: We’re also doing the new Halloween which is great for us to do, because several years ago we had John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis come down for the original Halloween, which was amazing.

CP: When we had them four years ago we didn’t realize at the time that this was the first time these two were back together publically. We’re actually the only place in the world that is showing the original and the new Halloween back-to-back. It’s pretty cool how these things come around. Over the years these things string together.

MM: What’s the curatorial process like for your programming? For instance, organizing the segmented groupings for the Cronenberg retrospective.

GM: David really kicked off the festival this year. We’ve been working on getting him involved with Beyond Fest for all six years. He embodies Beyond Fest. We would send a letter every year but the timing was just never right. This year it was. I literally had to re-read it when I got the email back this year . Christian had the idea for the “Shape of Rage” block—doing the four early Cronenbergs as a marathon. I’m a big fan of eXistenZ so I wanted to make sure that got in there with a Videodrome double bill. It really worked. So we bounced around with the best double features and the best guests that we could bring in to join David. Which was easy to do since he’s such a great guy.

CP: I think we went through 75 different versions of what the Cronenberg program would look like. It was entirely dictated by whatever we could get access to. Over the course of the six months of compiling the Cronenberg retrospective there would be talent that would say yes, talent that would fall out because there would be films that they would shoot. And that schedule is always changing. We knew there were films we wanted to do. What was key for David was that we wanted to show a large body of work that spoke to his depth and not just do one or two fan favorites. We wanted it to be really special.   

MM: What about the inclusion of landmark genre films like Monster Squad and The Wicker Man?

CP: The inclusion of Monster Squad was to accompany the documentary Wolman’s Got Nards. That’s a local, LA homecoming for all the cast and crew. It’s such an LA story. We wanted to play these films back-to-back if we could fit it in. Last year was the 30th anniversary of The Predator and The Running Man. We’re obviously Arnold Schwarzenegger fans.

Every year we track 500 to 600 films, and every year there are films we absolutely must get. This year obviously is Suspiria, Halloween, Dragged Across Concrete. Films that are important to the world of genre filmmaking. We want to show the big films that the fans want to see, but we also have a secondary theater to show films that sit outside of those big titles. That’s where we get to play films like The Wind and Standoff at Sparrow Creek. These are films that are not massive today, but represent the future, in particular from a filmmaker’s standpoint.

GM: Sometimes we find a rare format, like last year a 70mm print of Howard the Duck showed up from London that’s been in a vault for years. That’s so bizarre. I can’t believe that a 70mm print of Howard the Duck exists. And then Lea Thompson comes down and has such a good time with the fans, despite the movie’s crucifixion over all these years. Then she says she’s going to Marvel to work on a Howard the Duck sequel that she would like to direct. So there’s magic that happens there. This year we found a rare IBM print of The Wicker Man that no one knew existed.

MM: What’s the origins of the Beyond Fest Beach Balls?

CP: We did a sneak peak of Ash Vs. The Evil Dead—they wouldn’t let us show it, but we did show the first Evil Dead. It was the first time Sam Raimi talked about those films in forever and it was amazing. When the first episode of series was about to premiere they gave us 400 foam chainsaws. We were worried about how we were going to hand them out. We decided to say fuck it and throw them off the balcony. Cause anarchy and chaos down below. That was inspiration to start throwing things off the balcony. Beach Balls are one of the things you can throw without hurting people. It’s also completely ridiculous—who doesn’t love hitting a beach ball?

GM: We take the festival very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. Christian has dressed up like the tall man from Phantasm and I was dressed up like one of the spheres from it. We’ve dressed up in pink tutus and as Elvis for Buba Ho-Tep this year. There’s always something crazy going on.

MM: Any favorite anecdotes or particularly fond memories?

GM: One of my favorite memories was Sam Raimi. It was fantastic to see fans go crazy. The time Arnold Schwarzenegger brought a five-year-old kid on stage and arm wrestled him was amazing.

CP: There are so many great ones. This year just having David Cronenberg show up and trend on Twitter three nights in a row is just crazy. Plus being able to host these films that their creators attest as their best reception in the world—Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog, S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 and Bone Tomahawk, Julia Ducournau’s Raw—is just incredible. Some of these films play Venice, Toronoto, Fantastic Fest and more. To have filmmakers say to us that this is the best their film has ever played or been received by an audience is the greatest compliment. MM

Beyond Fest kicked off September 26, 2018 and continues tonight at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre. For more information, visit their website here.

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