Every year there is one event that I cannot miss and that I highly recommend to anyone who listens. The Chattanooga Film Festival is hands down one of the best celebrations of film, and the horror genre shines bright there from the annual presentation by Joe Bob Briggs to the amazing screenings and panels that Chris Dortch and his team put together. I had the chance to chat with Chris recently about his love of horror, the evolution of the Chattanooga Film Festival and so much more. Read on for the interview and make sure you put this festival on your list of must attend events.
Terror Time: Hi Chris, to start off, what was it when you were growing up that created the love of the horror genre that you’ve celebrated with the Chattanooga film Festival?
Chris Dortch: I remember being a kid and when I was very, very young everything terrified me. I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies so when a trailer for a movie came on TV my mom would have me cover my eyes but not my ears so I could hear everything and it ended up being that the things I imagined were much worse than anything I could’ve seen. So, it all started from a fear of the unknown and getting drawn into it. Also, our local library had all these great big orange storybooks about all the monsters so that’s how I got into the universal monsters especially werewolves and that took me down a lifelong rabbit hole that I’m still in.
TT: That’s awesome. When you decided to start the Chattanooga film Festival how important was it to you to make sure horror was represented equally and with as much respect as the other genre’s and films?
CD: It was one of my first commandments as a festival director because I had worked with a few festivals in my day and I lived in Nashville for a while and the festival there was not very genre friendly they had maybe one or two films each year and I was excited to see those but not much else. When I started the Chattanooga Film Festival it was so important to me that horror was woven into the fabric of everything that our first year I put together a panel and it had everyone from Jeff Burr (Leatherface), Kristen Bell from Fantastic Fest and even AJ Bowen (The Signal) and the panel was called, why genre is important. For me it was about contextualizing the fact that our festival out of the gate was not going to treat horror with any less respect than any of the big arthouse films that we play. It’s my favorite genre and it always will be and to me it would’ve been a terrible thing to not have it included and represented the way it is at this festival. For a few years, I was the director of programming in Nashville for the Documentary Channel and I would meet all these incredible filmmakers but I only got the chance to work with documentarians and it absolutely killed me so now I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to work with genre filmmakers and it’s my favorite part of the film festival.
TT: I’ve got to say I’ve been coming to the festival for the past few years and every year my favorite event of the festival is the yearly presentation given by Joe Bob Briggs. How big of a part did he play for you during your childhood?
CD: I’m lucky enough to have grown up in the era of Joe Bob and USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear and Gilbert Gottfried. They were bringing movies into my life that even the tiny little mom-and-pop video stores around my house didn’t have. Furthermore, Joe Bob was always treating even the most gut bucket low budget of these films with so much respect and love and reverence. I love that even though he speaks like a scholar about anything that if you read a book of his like ‘Profoundly Disturbing’ and you have a guy giving movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre these loving essays. It just felt like thank God here’s a film critic for me who loves movies and he treats the good bad and art house with the same respect. When I started the Chattanooga film Festival I wanted to create a place that feels inclusive and loving and with no pretension. There’s very few film festivals to me that pull it off well. I’m very fond of Fantastic Fest and I’ll always bring them up. I think they do it so right that you just feel like your part of a family while you’re there and that’s something that we strive for. To be able to have Joe Bob, literally one of my childhood heroes as a member of the Chattanooga film Festival family is an absurd honor. I can’t believe I get to introduce him again this year.
TT: Another aspect that of the festival that I love is that you support the truly independent horror filmmakers. How hard is it for you to find the gems of independent horror out of the countless submissions that you receive every year?
CD: You’ve got to have a lot of patience. I get so many great tips from people about you got check this out or you got to watch this and I end up with a nice little hit list to watch. The other thing is we’re not a celebrity or premiere driven festival so I have the benefit of coming after Sundance and after SXSW and since I don’t care about premieres as much as the other big festivals I have the ability to treat this festival as a greatest hits or mix tape type of festival as opposed to treating it as a big piece of business or commerce. That model might bite me in the ass in a year or two but right now it seems to be working because it’s drawing in the exact type of people that we want who are cinephiles with an open mind who will watch anything. Scouting these guys, it becomes easier and easier over the years because you start to realize what a lattice is formed among the independent filmmakers. There’s just so many great people who are all working together now. Funny enough one of my dear friends when I lived in Nashville was Roxanne Benjamin who’s gone on to work on everything from Southbound to XX. It’s a great forum to stay in touch with these people. We’ve kicked up so many friendships that for example when Graham Skipper had a new film coming out this year Josh Ethier said to me “Hey Chris have you seen Graham’s new movie yet?” So, we reached out to Graham and we’re hosting the premiere of it. To me knowing a bunch of guys who are going to go out into their backyard or into their hometown and raise money to make a horror movie that’s the coolest thing ever. Take Tim Reis for example. Tim went out on the weekends with his own money and made Bad Blood which is a movie about werefrog and that’s something to be celebrated and that’s why the festival exists.
TT: What I love about that is at the festival screening of Bad Blood last year you could not find a seat in that theater. It was jam packed and showed the love that truly independent horror has.
CD: Yeah and it couldn’t happen to a better guy. Tim Reis is honestly a top-five human. I love celebrating filmmakers like that and getting to do that with the festival is like Christmas for me personally and our entire team and I hope it’s palpable when you’re here on the ground. I’ve been to a lot of festivals and I know that they’re all labors of love but I’ve been to very few where it’s as electric as it is here. I hope it’s something that were doing right.
TT: You and your team are totally doing it right. I tell anyone and everyone that will listen that if they come to the Chattanooga Film Festival it will be one of the best weekends of your life.
CD: We really appreciate that.
TT: Another event that you have this year at the festival that I am eagerly anticipating is Uwe Boll’s retirement party. How in the world did this event come about?
CD: Like a lot of things that came about very organically. Last year we had Clint Howard at the festival and when Clint came he said to me you know a good friend of mine would love this festival and you should invite them out sometime he would get a kick out of it. It turned out to be Uwe Boll. I emailed him last year and we traded emails and I earmarked to bring him here and do a salute to him. This festival is also about celebrating people who may be wouldn’t be the first name that you think of but in their own way have forged these incredible bizarre cinematic paths. That’s something that deserves to be celebrated. I don’t think people realize what a strange icon or hero that he is. When I heard, he was retiring I was like man that sucks that means he won’t come to the festival. Then I thought we can’t let him go with at least offering to do something so I wrote him and I said what would you think about us throwing your retirement party and showing you some love? And he said yes. He’s going to do a screening of Postal and a panel with Joe Bob that spans his entire career. He’s been a genuine blast to work with and a total sweetheart of a guy. We have an editor who’s a talented guy from Nashville named Zack Hall who’s quietly become one of the best editors that I know and I had Zack put together a Dr. Boll salute that we’re going to show at the screening and damn if this thing won’t bring a tear to your eye. It is legitimately moving and you get to see these insane things that this man put into the world and geez that to me as a hero.
TT: Oh, absolutely. I’ve interviewed him numerous times over the years and he just continues to blow my mind every time I talk to him. Chris, if you could program any film for a screening what would be that dream film?
CD: I think everyone wants to be the person who finds the London After Midnight print. That’s the holy grail. This one sounds simple but I would love as a Tennessee boy to have good ole Bruce Campbell down here with a film presentation of Evil Dead. That is in fact our state film.
TT: If someone came up to you who wanted to start a film festival what piece of advice would you give them to keep them from tripping up?
CD: Gosh that’s a tough question. The big thing is not letting the fear of not having enough budget prevent you from trying to do something. People who genuinely love film will sit on a paint can to watch a screening of something incredible. For us we started all of this as a pop-up movie theater and we would get there early and iron the bedsheets that we used for screens. If you have a dream to share movies with other people, the best thing you can do is just start figuring it out. Movie licenses aren’t that hard to get a hold of you can find email addresses and contact people. Don’t let the fear of how many moving parts there are be a thing that causes you to never start. To be honest if I had looked at all the things that this journey entailed when I first started it I might not have started it but now I’m like a snowball going down a mountain and I’m glad to be part of the avalanche.
TT: Chris where can people go to buy tickets to the festival and support what you and your team are doing for the genre and film?
CD: Our website is chattfilmfest.org/. We are a nonprofit and we do take donations as well. That’s honestly how the festival happens. We do mostly grant writing. We’re lucky enough to have a few sponsors but it’s almost entirely grants and elbow grease from whatever we can pull.
TT: Thank you for the time and discussion tonight Chris. I can’t wait to be in Chattanooga in a few weeks to experience what is sure to be a trip to remember.
CD: Thank you so much Brad it’s been great to talk to you and make sure to say hello.
There’s so much horror movie goodness to celebrate in Chattanooga this year including The Monster Squad, Hatchet 10 year anniversary with Adam Green introduction, Wrong Turn 2 and Mayhem screenings with Joe Lynch in attendance, a Movie Crypt podcast recording and countless other genre screenings and events. This is going to be an event that you’ll never forget. I’ll be there representing Tom Holland’s Terror Time so say hi and talk some horror.
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