Event Report: The 16th Annual Tromadance Film Festival!Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
It’s a hot, humid Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, NY, with a surprising amount of available street parking as this writer made his way towards the 16th Annual Tromadance Film Festival. The free event, celebrating its second year at The Paper Box in the heart of Brooklyn’s industrial district, has gone from schlock-centric self-promotion to a legitimate film festival in its own right, especially considering the top notch line-up of features this year. And despite lacking the glitz and glamour of other film festivals, Tromadance thrives on the independent spirit, gracious venues and enthusiastic fans that showed up in force.
Surprisingly enough, the small, hot room which held less than 150 people was more than 2/3rd full by the time the festival started, with plenty of Troma fans making their way throughout the theater and bar area as the night went on. In any case, the first set of shorts began with something that certainly hand-picked for the Troma crowd, entitled ARTICHOKES: PIRANHA FROM THE PREHISTORIC ABYSS. The dialogue-free short from Javier Sanchez contained the ooey, gooey micro-budget sensibilities of Troma while also sporting a hefty helping of cartoonish humor and irreverence, and really charmed the pants off the audience as a whole. It was a near perfect way to kick off Troma’s festival, but also acted as an appetizer for the variety of shorts to come afterwards.
Next up included Leah Johnston’s SOME THINGS WON’T SLEEP, which was much more psychological and heavy offering than its predecessor but nonetheless really effective and frightening. However, the Troma-esque aesthetics came back in full force with Rene Schweitzer and Sebastian Utech’s MACK BLASTER, a seedy, sleazy German western-exploitation hybrid that felt incredibly reminiscent of early Troma films. And the first block rounded out with Venetia Taylor’s short-but-funny COUNSELLORS, Rafael De Leon Jr’s charming horror homage TEASERS and Vaiginta Perkauskaite’s gross-yet-comedic commentary ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA. All-in-All, the first round of shorts was a near unanimous success, each with a different voice and tone from one another, and none were much afraid to break the expectations of the Tromadance audience.
After a brief intermission (in which the crowd found itself near capacity), the second round of shorts began, kicking off with the extremely short but super bloody GRIMACE from Levi Caleb Smith. Next up was WRITING ON THE WALL, PART 1; essentially a Grindhouse tale ripped from the pages of a larger story, the short had some extremely effective fight choreography as well as blood effects, and really put the audience in a fun groove. Unfortunately, the good will from WRITING ON THE WALL, PART 1 would be all but lost from the next short, CANNIBALS OF CLINTON ROAD; while this writer is soured by the myths of Clinton Road, NJ (living a mere 15 minutes from the infamous and overrated location), the short also appeared to suck the energy out of the room as well.
However, once things were at their lowest, a new surprise hit the Tromadance audience in ELECTRIC INDIGO, the fantastic short from Jean-Julien Colette that actually provoked one of the strongest emotional responses from the festival. The short, which was not quite a genre piece, told the story of a young girl raised by two fathers in a platonic, non-homosexual marriage after the girl’s mentally unstable mother is out of the picture. It’s a touching, honest tale with superb performances, shocking twists and some stunning cinematography, and it might be the single best short film this writer has seen all year. ELECTRIC INDIGO set a bar for Tromadance that no one was truly expecting to be raised, but the audience cheered louder than for anything before it.
Cleverly enough, however, was the programming of the last short in the second block: Brandon Bassham’s GRINDHOUSE SHOWCASE. With great, authentic grindhouse cinematography and a conceptually brilliant three-part framework, Bassham’s short was likely the funniest of the bunch, poking fun at horror movie tropes with the self-aware STARTLED, moving on to the blaxploitation spoof BLACK MANIAC, and ending with the sexploitation trailer THE EROTIC DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. Laughs were to be had from the short, and it served as an excellent palate cleanser for the main event: a workprint cut of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOLUME 2, which was presented to a packed house of Troma fans as well as many of the films stars.
While it would be unfair to review RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOLUME 2 in its rough cut stages, the film feels much more indicative of modern day Troma aesthetics than VOLUME 1. That’s not a slam against the film, which is as funny, gross and irreverent as its predecessor; in Troma terms, if VOLUME 1 is closer to the likes of THE TOXIC AVENGER and CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOLUME 2 is closer to the likes of TROMEO AND JULIET and POULTRYGEIST. In that sense, VOLUME 2 acts as a terrific climax to Troma’s most epic endeavor today, and whether it be Lloyd Kaufman mimicking a certain infamous fictional serial killer, or myriad cameos from Troma veterans, or even the return of Troma’s most tried-and-true stunt sequences, the film sent the crowd into cheers from start to finish, and once it’s trimmed and perfected, the flick will proudly hold its ground against VOLUME 1.
With a raffle to bring it all to an end, day one of Tromadance came to a close. However, due to circumstances out of this writer’s control, my Tromadance experience started later than expected as I was unable to make it back to the Paper Box in time for the first two short programs of day two. Luckily this writer was able to make it for the majority of Michael Steves’ horror comedy CLINGER, which definitely felt like the most Troma-esque feature to play during that day’s features. The humor of the film struck a chord with the audience in a big way, and the applause for Troma favorite Debbie Rochon in CLINGER was fitting for one of today’s hardest working scream queens.
Following CLINGER was a block of animated short films, kicked off by easily the most crazy and depraved short of Tromadance, Emily Youcis’ ALFRED ALFER. An excerpt from a feature-length movie mostly made by Youcis on her own, this animated short about a depressed dog and his psychotic cartoon alter-ego was jaw-droppingly perverse and unrestrained by even Troma standards, and this writer for one couldn’t get enough of it. It was pure DIY psychosexual insanity, and fans of twisted animation or musical madness would be wise to keep their eye on Youcis and her further ventures with ALFRED ALFER.
The following animated shorts definitely jumped between cerebral weirdness, such as Olga Guse’s DECADENCE NATURE or Steven Lapcevic’s LOWBROW UTENSILS; imaginative cartoons, such as Paulo Mosca and Abel Sanchez’s MONKEY’S LOVE or John Walter Lustig’s EYE IN TUNA CARE; or simplistic oddities, such as Martin Smatana’s ROSSO PAPAVERO or Skinner’s THIS HORROR MOST UNREAL. In any case, these shorts all carried the spirit of Troma with them, and felt much more like expressive, less grounded works of art than many of their animated contemporaries.
After a brief intermission and another raffle, the anticipated Troma Branding Panel arrived, featuring SiriusXM’s Sam Roberts, Frightpix’s Vera Salm, VHX’s Casey Pugh and yours truly (representing FANGORIA, of course), with Lloyd and Patricia Kaufman themselves moderating. Following a pair of announcements, including Troma’s acquisition of Brandon Bassham’s THE SLASHENING and VHX’s partnership with Troma for a subscription service, the panel came alive, with all guests fielding questions about branding, the evolving digital marketplace, crowdfunding, publicity and more. From the perspective of a participant, the panel went great, and the audience (many of whom are eager independent filmmakers themselves) seemed to value and appreciate the advice that we all had to offer.
Following the panel, the house was packed to the brim for Tromadance’s free screening of Rodney Ascher’s incredible documentary THE NIGHTMARE. The crowd seemed enamored with the film; while Tromadance has often shown films of high stature, rarely has the free, independent festival carried a title as prolific as THE NIGHTMARE. The film was met with rousing applause, which set the stage for a trio of extreme shorts before the night’s closing film, the rather excellent and seriously bloody X MOOR (starring AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. actor Nick Blood).
Despite having to miss out on a reportedly excellent after party, this year’s Tromadance was among the finest- if not the finest- festivals in its 16 years, and one that shows just how strong the Troma brand can be among independent genre fans. Strong films, strong drinks and a strong sense of irreverence made for one of the most memorable two-night events of the year. And based on the mood in the room, everyone in attendance might as well have been counting down the days ‘til their next chance to be Tromatized.