Matt Garrett is a local filmmaker and the curator of the VIVISECTIONS series at the PhilaMOCA, the latest installment of which screens at PhilaMOCA this Sunday at 8:00 PM. His first feature, MORRIS COUNTY, comes out on home video this December via UNEARTHED FILMS and if you’ve not acquainted youself yet with his work, you should, especially if you’re a fan of strange and disturbing genre film. Matt Garrett is a true original and an engaging and thought provoking director. Cinedelphia had a chance to chat with Matt and got some insights on what he looks for in the movies that he selects for the now quarterly VIVISECTIONS series as well as some of his thoughts on filmmaking in general.
CINEDELPHIA: Talk to me a little about how VIVISECTIONS came about. How did it start? How long have you been curating it?
MATT GARRETT: My first shorts block at the MOCA was entitled The North American Tour of Terror, which played to a packed house as part of the Mausoleum Art Show of Horrors. Eric Bresler was really into the program and was kind enough to let me try it again. That was back in 2012 and we haven’t stopped since.
VIVISECTIONS, or at least the idea of programming horror shorts, had been on my mind for a while. I had been attending film festivals with my own shorts since 2007 and kept coming across these incredible films, most of which never ended up screening in Philadelphia. As for the program format, I looked to what Mitch Davis of the Fantasia International Film Festival was doing with his Small Gauge Trauma program. They usually start off on the lighter side and then slowly plunge the viewer into absolute hell, allowing for an eclectic mix of content while still retaining a sense of form and structure.
The response to our series has been incredible and this Sunday actually marks the first screening of our new quarterly schedule, which is incredibly exciting.
C: Having attended previous screenings that you’ve curated at the PhilaMOCA in the past, I am perpetually surprised at how profoundly shocking and interesting the movies you screen tend to be. What boundaries do you set when selecting the movies that you choose for VIVISECTIONS (if any at all)? What considerations do you have when watching movies to bring to this series?
MG: I tend to approach programming the same way I approach filmmaking which is to say I can be a bit of a sadist. I love challenging an audience, but my aim is to always do it in the most poignant, non-exploitative way possible. I don’t set boundaries per se, but I do have my tastes and definitely stay away from films that are mean-spirited or simply shock for the sake of it. A good example of this was an early screening I did with Eric of the 1994 NAMBLA documentary, Chickenhawk, an event that is still one of my proudest achievements. We brought the director in, who had not spoken publicly about the film for over a decade, and I programmed a trio of very abrasive and challenging shorts that also dealt with themes of sexual abuse. What could have been a very offensive endeavor was incredibly well-received and helped prove that you can take the audience anywhere as long you do it with the right intentions.
As for what I look for when seeking out shorts in general, I just look for movies to fall in love with that I feel people NEED to see. Given that this is an ongoing series, I have the luxury of being able to hold onto certain films that may not fit the current program, but would be great in the next. This Sunday’s screening is a perfect example of that, with half of the program being hold-overs from our Spring event that didn’t fit with the tone I was going for.
C: Genre film, specifically in the short format, seems to spring from a smaller, insular community. What do you think is the future of short form genre film? Which directors (other than yourself, of course) do you consider to be the ones to watch?
MG: The great thing about shorts in general is there are no rules, no boundaries, and rarely anything other than the filmmaker’s true unfiltered vision. For genre shorts in particular, there is indeed a thriving community at large, but at the same time that community is made up of countless microcosms. Philadelphia alone probably has at least 100 little pockets of filmmakers doing quality work but, even within the genre community, there’s actually less cross-over than you’d expect (at least in my experience).
As for filmmakers to watch, God, there are so many. Off the top of my head I’ll go with Alexander Yan, Lori Bowen, Shannon Lark, Brian Lonano, Maude Michaud, Izzy Lee, Robert Morgan, Matt O’Mahoney, Carey Burtt, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, Izabel Grondin, Can Evrenol, Dennison Ramalho…so many more.
C: Philadelphia does not boast a very prolific film community in terms of movies being filmed here, local active directors, etc. As a filmmaker and a person attuned to the film community at large, what would you like to see happen regarding film making in Philadelphia? Who do you think is doing a good job fostering the development of Philadelphia film now? Is there anyone in Philadelphia now that you’d be interested in working with?
MG: I can’t speak as to who’s fostering development as my films, and those of most of the people I associate with, are very much independent endeavors. I know my productions involved the Philadelphia Film Office in one way or another, but my producer was the one to handle that end of it.
Though prolific filmmakers are few and far between in our area, they are out there (with varying degrees of success). Two companies that come to mind are Backseat Conceptions and Expressway Productions. Though they do more television/web oriented content, I can’t think of a more prolific group than Woodshop films, who pump out great stuff every day. I’ve worked with members of all 3 of those companies and will surely be working with them again in the future. In addition, I’ve gotten to know so many great working professionals in the city that listing those I hope to work with would take forever.
As far as the future goes, I just look forward to seeing more great films being made locally. There’s a lot of talent in Philadelphia and countless resources, so I think it’s only a matter of time before we see more quality work getting the exposure it deserves.
VIVISECTIONS: International Horror Shorts is happening at PhilaMOCA (531 N. 12th Street) this Sunday.