Philly native Josh Goldbloom has had a hand in virtually every corner of the Philadelphia film community in 2011 having transitioned from Artistic Director of the Philadelphia Cinema Alliance’s Cinefest to the Founder/Programmer of the Piazza-based Awesome Fest to his current position as Program Director of the Philadelphia Film Society. Over the course of the year I saw him enthusiastically introduce a countless number of films with audiences ranging from a dozen to 300 people, I saw him lead a Human Centipede-like chain of horror nerds down an aisle at the Ritz at the Bourse, and I consistently tortured him with my scathingly sly wit in several Cinedelphia posts. And yet he never treated me as anything other than a friend, even when I didn’t know him personally. Community opinions on Josh may vary, but his accomplishments throughout 2011 were undeniably impressive.
Josh recently sat down with Cinedelphia for a frank, in-depth conversation about his background, his recent accomplishments, and his thoughts on the Philadelphia film community.
CINEDELPHIA: Did you grow up in Philly?
JOSH GOLDBLOOM: Yeah, I was in the far northeast towards the Lower Moreland area.
C: Where did you attend high school?
JG: I didn’t really go to high school. I was a shitty kid growing up, I got into quite a bit of trouble, got kicked out of three high schools. I ended up doing time at this place in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. It was kind of like a rehab/boarding school/juvenile detention center, it got shut down by the state in 2004, it was such a horrible place. So I ran away from there when I was 18 and was on the road for four or five months, homeless, living out of cars. I didn’t have an ID, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a social security number and it was kinda like, “I can have anything I want in the world right now.” I loved movies, I was a movie fan growing up, my dad was the public relations director for West Coast Video, so there were always movies around me. Larry Fine of the Three Stooges is my great uncle so I was always kinda surrounded my entertainment and it just seemed like a good outlet for me at the time.
C: Where were your parents during the post-institution days?
JG: They were supportive the entire way through. The dynamics were so strange at the school that I went to. My parents were involved in a support group at the school and they tell you that if your son or anyone runs away then you can’t talk to him or else the school will never accept him back. The school wanted me to have absolutely nothing and just live this shit life to the point where I’d give up and go back. But I never did that. I was always working when I was homeless and I think my parents saw that I was putting time and effort into my life so eventually they brought me back into the house.
C: So how did you go about entering the entertainment business?
JG: I took a couple classes at Bucks County Community College. I realized early on that being in the industry wasn’t necessarily about schooling, it was about who you know. So I took a bunch of internships, I worked with this guy Lance Weiler who did the films The Last Broadcast and Head Trauma. I was a part of creating this pilot for Fox Sportsnet in Detroit and when he went on to do Head Trauma I decided to pull all of my resources and make my own film. I didn’t really have a solid background, but I just fucking went out there and made a movie. I took a year and got lucky with it, that was 2004 when I made [the documentary] Herointown, I think I shot it the summer of 2003.
JG: Yeah, it played the Philly Film Fest and a couple of smaller festivals. It made its way around, I did a self-distributed theatrical release. It played like 35 cities, the ArcLight Cinemas, the Starz Film Center in Denver.
C: You spent a year living with heroin addicts for Herointown.
JG: I spent over nine months living with heroin addicts in a dilapidated hotel called the Hotel Hooker in Connecticut, like 20 miles northeast of Hartford.
C: What attracted you to that subject?
JG: I think it was from my background and from spending some time in rehabilitation. I wanted to work with stereotypes. The first time I’d seen anything on Willimantic, CT was on a 60 Minutes episode. They said that per capita there’s more heroin use in Willimantic than anywhere else in the world. It was only four and a half hours away so I thought I’d go and check it out. The first thing I saw when I got up there was that everything I was worried about from what I knew about the place was completely untrue. These were just people like you and I, struggling to survive. The building was a big eyesore so I think that that’s why the townspeople looked at its residents as prostitutes and drug users. I mean, some of them were, it’s all about how we present these people. I just wanted to give them a chance to speak beyond what the media had to say.
C: And after Herointown made the rounds you moved down to Austin.
JG: I moved to Austin in 2007. I just wanted to see what that community was all about and just take it all in. I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of and living out there was absolutely fantastic, I met the best people. And I wanted to bring that back home to my community so ever since I moved back from Austin I’ve been wondering why we can’t create that here.
C: Can you describe Austin’s film community?
JG: I think its just that, it’s a supportive community. Beyond the venues they have and the vibe of downtown Austin where everyone is relaxed and supportive of the arts, I think its people that are working together, it’s a giant team and a big support ecosystem, everyone’s supportive of one another. You look at a city like Philadelphia where you have just as many talented artists as Austin does, but you just don’t have that support system. I’m sure everybody knows about the fiasco behind what was going on for a while with the local festivals, but that’s a scary thing to look at. If I’m going to create something I need somebody to support it. There’s a point where it can’t just be friends and family anymore, y’know? There’s gotta be that guy who’s rock starring your talent, putting it on a pedestal. And there are people in Austin, New York, LA who are doing that.
C: So did you take it upon yourself to become that “rock star”?
JG: I don’t wanna say I took it upon myself, I just wanted to become a part of that, to do what I could do.
C: So to just start things up, initiate things.
JG: It was just a challenge, I never thought things were going to go anywhere. I just thought I’d start screening some movies, use a makeshift warehouse, get the Piazza screen, just do some fun events and then it just kind of snowballed.
I didn’t intentionally become a film programmer, I don’t even know what that fucking word is. When I came back from Austin to Philly, I kinda wanted to create my own playground. I saw all the talented people that were here in Philadelphia and no one was really giving them a creative outlet. Whether it was to show their work or support their work, it just didn’t seem to exist. So it was like, “Why don’t I take that on as a challenge and play a role in it?” and it just kind of spiraled out of control.
C: What were some of your early events?
JG: The first screening I ever did was In a Dream, the documentary about Isaiah Zagar. That was planned at the Piazza, I did this whole proposal for taking over the screen and doing a film festival on the screen really early on, probably back in 2008. It ended up raining that night and we did the screening at Media Bureau, then we started programming that venue and turning it into a theater.
C: You also did some events at the Prince, right?
JG: I booked shows at the Prince under the Philadelphia Underground Film Festival so I was a part of that…system for a while as I’m sure many other people in the city can say they were.
JG: There had been a bunch of people who, without my knowledge, had vouched for me to lend a hand with programming for the festival so Ray Murray called me in and he told me that he wanted to bring back Cinefest, he was looking for some programming direction, and just somehow, someway, the festival ended up on my back.
C: Were you happy to take on the responsibility of organizing the entire festival?
JG: Yeah, of course. It was a somewhat prestigious festival run by a certain group for many years. That was my baby, man. We only had three months to build that entire fucking festival, I probably programmed it in less than two and a half weeks, it was 24/7 days. Everyone kept telling us there was no way to do it, it was impossible, and we were just like, “Well, if we start something we’ve gotta finish it.”
C: So Ray Murray was one of your supporters.
JG: Ray Murray was always a supporter, absolutely. There were a lot of people telling us we couldn’t do it, we didn’t have enough resources, we didn’t have enough money. We took that festival from $600K down to $100K and we did it with a giant support group of people in the city. The entire city of Philadelphia came together to help us out with the fest. Our goal was to bring something a little edgier with a bit more attitude, I always wanted my city to be represented for what I think the city truly is. For me, Philadelphia is a tough-as-nails, blue collar, hardworking city and we should represent it in that way, it’s something we should embrace. That’s our pride, that’s our city, let’s show everybody. Fuck, the opening night movie before us was (500) Days of Summer, like, really? That’s how you’re rolling in Philadelphia? C’mon. So we did The Catechism Cataclysm. Why? Because it was a movie that I loved and that I felt we should have a hand in promoting, supporting filmmakers that we like. That’s how teamwork begins, you scratch their back, they scratch yours. We took this film that I don’t think anyone had heard of at the time and now the filmmaker is doing a movie with Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt, y’know, I was proud to support that. But I think everyone looked at us like “What the fuck are you doing? This is nuts.”
C: So were you aware of the nonprofit’s recent troubles when you signed on?
JG: I’d heard stories, read a couple articles, but that stuff never really concerned me. The past was past and I wanted to concentrate on how we were going to move forward and look at the future. If I start taking on that baggage then where’s that gonna end up?
C: So once the festival was underway, did you encounter any problems or frustrations?
JG: Wherever you go in this industry there’s always going to be egos and people who have a sense of entitlement. So yeah, I’m used to running into people like that and I’ll always run into people like that. From day one I always try to keep myself out of it, in fact my goal at the time was to bring everyone together. It’s not a competition in my eyes, the more the merrier. Why just have one giant festival when I can have seven? Battles and competition never made sense to me. I’ve always been friends with the people over at the Philly Film Society, there was never any ill-will towards anyone during that.
C: So the whole festival was a smooth experience?
JG: For me it was great, I don’t look back with any ill will towards anyone. Listen, there’s a lot of people working with a lot of money and a lot of high profile films and a lot of high profile talent, you’re bound to encounter obstacles, but you just deal with them as they come along. It always happens.
C: I heard that you may have been assaulted by a fellow employee of the Cinema Alliance?
JG: Yeah, y’know, tempers flare sometimes, and…yeah, that was something.
C: Can you name some of your proudest programming from that event?
JG: We came in and said we’re changing everything from the ground up and we’re confident and excited and looking to push the envelope. We had so many people complain about a fucking ass, a tattoo ass, on the festival guide cover and it’s like, “If you’re gonna come out and bitch and moan about that then maybe you shouldn’t be watching these types of movies.” Catechism Cataclysm is my favorite movie this year, Bellflower, Beauty Day, a film that didn’t get distribution in the US. We had Morgan Spurlock here, Steve Little from Eastbound & Down, we had the East Coast premiere of John Carpenter’s The Ward. I gave John Carpenter a fucking bong as his award, how awesome is that? I talked to him via Skype as he smoked a joint. That was incredible.
C: Also of note was the festival’s amount of local involvement, from the Woodshop guys’ video intros to the local shorts that would appear before the screenings.
JG: It’s always been my understanding that if you’re gonna be a part of Philly film then you’ve gotta support Philly film. Again, there’s a ton of talented artists here in Philadelphia and if we can’t put them on a pedestal then what good are we?
C: So did you feel like you were a permanent part of the Cinema Alliance at the close of the festival?
JG: I thought that we were going in the right direction towards building something big. The festival got great coverage all over the country. Y’know, I take things a day at a time and I knew that it was possible that they weren’t going to do it anymore, but I never really thought about it.
C: Did you immediately get to work on the Awesome Fest?
JG: There were a couple weeks where we sat down in meetings and talked about whether or not we were going to move forward with year-round programming. Listen, I thank those guys from the bottom of my heart for letting me be involved with their company, but I don’t think that they really want to do it anymore. I don’t think they fucking care anymore, or at least don’t have the drive in them to put it together. And let’s be honest here, I think there are a lot of burned bridges, you’ve been around 20 years and these things happen. Could they have done something different? Yeah, everyone needs an attitude adjustment now and then. To me, their time was up and I had to move on. So I moved on.
The interview continues tomorrow as we trace Josh’s path from the summer-held Awesome Fest up to his current position as Program Director for the Philadelphia Film Society.