Mayhem is one of the cornerstones of Nottingham’s film culture. Hosted by Broadway cinema, each year it brings a fascinating flavour of niche film-making to a wider audience. With 17 films shown in 4 days, there’s bound to be something which grabs your interest. Earlier in the week we interviewed festival organizers Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil. Picking-up from where we left off in Part 1, here’s what they had to say about what audiences can look forward to this year.
Films at Mayhem are often labelled ‘niche’. Do you agree with this term? What is it about these film which appeals so much to you?
Steven Sheil: Well, [Mayhem] is a genre film-festival. As far as we’re concerned, horror is still a massive genre. You can go and see big-budget horror films at your local multiplex any day of the week, there’s been a big resurgence in commercial horror. But I guess, again, it all comes down to our taste, as we’re the ones curating this. We like looking at things that are on the edge of the genre, the edge of cinema, we like things that are a bit more ‘out there’. I think our audience likes that as well. They like that sense of discovery, they like that sense of finding stuff. I think for a lot of the films, this is the only chance to see them on a big screen. A lot of them won’t get a full theatrical release around the country. Some films would normally only be seen in London, some on DVD. Here, you get to experience these films the way they were designed to be seen.
Chris Cooke: Inversely, one of the things about discovery is that people will have the opportunity to discover films that are going to get a major release next year. So they get an opportunity to be part of the word of mouth for that film. The Witch gets a major release, so does Howl, the British werewolf film. Again, that’s something people should be going to. Paul Howett the director is coming up. He worked on the creature effects for The Descent, and worked on the werewolves in Dog Soldiers. Yet this is his first werewolf film as a director, and it’s very funny. Another very funny, quirky, British film. There’s films here that are getting very strong, theatrical releases. It’s similar to Broadway [cinema], which will put on big Hollywood hits, alongside less supported foreign or national cinema.
SS: I mean, we don’t really differentiate that much between forms of cinema. We’re not film snobs at all, in terms of looking-down at commercial or non-commercial cinema. We’re a very, very broad church here at Mayhem. One of the things about appealing to an audience is that you’re going to come and see what you might call ‘niche’ films, but in an environment where people love cinema and love talking about cinema. So you’re going to be able to talk about the films you’ve just seen in a big crowd of people who are also discussing those films. So if you’re into films as a medium, this is a fantastic place to be. You’re going to hear a lot of opinions, form your own, and hear directors and actors discussing the making of those films.
CC: I was going to say as well, working at somewhere like Broadway does allow us to do things, platform things, that are really very different. Over the years we’ve done things like host an orchestra to provide original scores for silent movies – with them live on stage. This year we’ve decided to do something even more radical. It’s the year that Christopher Lee died, and it became very noticeable how much love he was getting over social media, because he meant so much to so many generations. For an older generation, the films he made for Hammer [Film Productions] as Dracula, were really, really important to a lot of audiences. We’re mounting a live reading of a lost Hammer screenplay. Hammer films went bust in the 70s, moving over to TV, before its resurrection with The Woman in Black . But that means that a host of screenplays, which Christopher Lee was supposed to be in, were abandoned. We’ve cast a group of actors both from Nottingham and London, to stand on-stage and read this screenplay, and allow it to come alive. We’re doing it in association with Hammer. Jonathan Rigby is coming up to be a narrator. He co-wrote this with Mark Gatiss. It gives us the opportunity to platform something really different. And it’s not obscure, Hammer’s very current. It’s part of the British Gothic and it’s a core way into horror cinema.
SS: We always try to do something different. In previous years we’ve had someone from fear laboratory measuring people’s response to ‘fear’. So audience members were watching horror films live. We’re always doing something unique at the festival, and this year it’s The Unquenchable thirst of Dracula.
CC: And it’s a great story. Dracula has been pushed out of Europe and has found himself hold up in India, where corruption takes hold very quickly.
How do you select the films selected for screening?
CC: We go out and pick, we go to Cannes festival and pick, we get in touch with distributors and find out what’s there. A good example of the opposite is Future shock! The Story of 200AD. It’s a fantastic fan-made documentary of one of the most important comics in British history. It’s a testament to the comic’s longevity as well, it’s amazing. We’ve got directors coming in, we’ve got producers coming in, we’ve got D’lsraeli, one of the best new writers and artists. He’s going to be here, and he’s a Nottingham resident, which is amazing. And that’s a film where Sean Hogan, the producer, was present at a screening we did a while back, The Devils Business. A brilliant little Gothic British horror film. And then, a couple of years later he said, ‘you know I’m making a documentary of 200AD, would you guys be interested in screening it?’, and we’d been after it. So they presented to it to us, in that case, and this year we finally get the chance to put it in front of an audience.
“We don’t really differentiate that much between forms of cinema. We’re not film snobs at all…We’re a very, very broad church here at Mayhem”
SS: So it’s a weird mix. Every year, our contacts and our reputation in the industry helps, because we can contact producers and ask about their stuff. But at the same time, it’s never that straightforward, it’s still a lot of work. The past couple of years we’ve been to Cannes together and watched 25 films, then had to chase them up. Out of 25 there’s maybe 10 that you want, 5 might be available, and then you might get 3. So there’s a lot of work that goes into it. The programming is just myself and Chris, but for the shorts we have Melissa [Gueneau] whose curator of that. But Broadway give us a lot of support in terms of marketing the material, so there’s a lot of support there as well.
CC: David Flint helps us select the films on the final panel.
SS: And the shorts as well. If you’re interested in film-making at all and you’re in the city, you should be engaging with Nottingham’s short-film community. There are groups like short-stack, and on Saturday the 17th we’re screening scary shorts, which has been the entire point of Mayhem since it started. We’ve got short films at the heart of things. We’ve got a terrific local film called Lab Rats, that’s going to get its world premiere. Camp Madness, a film made using shadow puppets, gets its world premiere at Mayhem too. So there’s an interesting selection of horror and sci-fi shorts that we’ve got going on.
Which horror directors do you think have been particularly influential? If you had to recommend two to students, who would they be and why?
CC: It’s impossible for me to not sound like I’m being willfully obscure, but in terms of European horror, Mario Bava is a great filmmaker. He’s also a much more diverse filmmaker then just horror. He does a lot of science fiction. He also did a fantastic super villain film called Diabolic. There’s Black Sabbath, the film that gave the band its name. In fact, we’re screening a film that’s a remake of one of his masterpieces, called Rabid Dogs. I’d recommend it to any horror fans that haven’t seen Mario Bava films yet.
SS: I think, Ana Lily Amirpour who did A Girl walks home alone at night, which was brilliant. She’s just finishing her new film –
CC: – A cannibal film –
SS: Yeah, so that’ll be interesting. I thought A Girl walks home alone at night was fantastic. Another is Jeremy Saulnier, who directed Green room. It’s not full-on horror, but we’d show it. Jeremy Saulnier is the guy who did Blue Ruin, a revenge movie that came out last year. Green room is a siege film about a punk band who get booked to play a gig for a bunch of neo-Nazi skin-heads. They play the gig, and on the way out one of them witnesses a murder, and they get basically barricaded in the green room of the place where they’re playing. There they get assaulted by a gang of very bloodthirsty neo-Nazi’s thugs, led by Patrick Stewart.
CC: He’s very good in it, it is an amazing film.
Finally, how can students get involved with the wider Nottingham film culture?
SS: I think Nottingham is quite an open film culture. We’ve just had Scalarama, where you’ve had a month full of film nights. There’s us, there’s Kneel Before Zod, there’s Kino Club, there’s Cinema-tech –
CC: – There’s Short-stack –
SS: Yeah, there’s Short-stack too. There’s a bunch of independent clubs, groups, organizations, which are putting on screenings all the time in Nottingham. So I think there’s a very vibrant film culture at the moment. If you go to any one of those events, you’ll find that there are other filmmakers there, there will be people interested in film-making. There will be other cineastes.
CC: Its diverse as well. Kino-club will be present amazing cult cinema, and Kneel Before Zod used to focus on what I suppose would be called ‘trash-cinema’, or ‘bad-cinema’. But [they’re] fantastically tasteful people, with some of the best mixes. Things like, watching 80s VHS tapes down in the café bar, whilst getting drunk at midnight. Absolutely brilliant. Cinema-tech will show the best American indi’s, there really is a lot of variety.
That’s it for our interview with Chris and Steve. Mayhem runs from the 15th to the 18th of October, at Broadway cinema. For more information and full-festival passes, click here. This is great to get involved with Nottingham’s vibrant film culture, and we hope to see many of you there. We’ll bring you more coverage as it happens.