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Interview: Chicago International Film Festival After Dark Programmer Alex Vazquez

Read about the darker films screening at the festival later this week

Each year, the Chicago International Film Festival brings a wide array of films from all over the world to Chicago turning the AMC River East into a paradise for film fans over the course of two weeks. This year’s festival is coming up right around the corner. The festival isn’t afraid to spotlight the darker corners of cinema, giving an entire section over to our beloved genre.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chicago International Film Festival programmer Alex Vazquez who’s focus is the After Dark section of this year’s festival. Horror fans will find plenty to dig their claws into this festival which runs from October 12th-26th. We had a quick chat about this year’s section of After Darks and here’s what he had to say.

What is the definition of After Dark to you?
I consider an “After Dark” film anything that goes into uncharted or uncomfortable territory, regardless of genre. My goal is to make it a homing beacon for adventurous and open-minded audiences of all stripes. They can be funny, gross, disturbing, experimental, thought-provoking, or even all of the above!

What do you look for specifically in this category when combing through submissions?
In each of my chosen films, some unexpected element of it sent an electric current through me on first watch. The feeling itself would range wildly, from a sequence or scene that would plaster a big, dumb grin on my face, or a scenario that would get me so intensely invested in a character’s fate. But the concluding thought I would have was always the same: people have GOT to see this.

How hard was it to narrow down to 8 films this year?
So difficult! I watch hundreds of features from all over the world, and by the end I always feel like I could fill an entire festival with worthy entries. In the end, I try to curate a wide variety of genres and tones so audiences can see something different in every movie.

Any one in particular die hard horror fans need to keep on their radar this fest?
There are couple of features in here that horror fans likely already had on their radars on name recognition alone: THE ENDLESS, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s latest, and Patrick Brice’s hilarious CREEP 2, for example. But the one I’d encourage horror buffs to not sleep on is MAUS, a Euro-horror film that tackles the aftermath of the Bosnian War in a way that really got under my skin. It’s a pretty visceral and brutal horror film on its own, but I also think it has a lot of interesting things to say about cycles of violence and extremism that are likely to start some passionate conversations among audience members after the film is over.

Did you receive any influx of entries from any particular country this year?
I feel like East Asia usually has an embarrassment of riches for horror fans, but this year seemed almost too good to be true. Japan showed up with Miike’s newest, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, and we’ve also got TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL, an absolutely nutty feature from one of my favorite directors, Sion Sono. I also scooped up MON MON MON MONSTERS from Taiwan, a pitch-black comedy with man-eating beasts that’s a perfect fit for anyone whose gag reflex gets activated when the see a trailer for the latest treacly Young Adult drama/romance.

Miike’s 100th film is on the list year. Will Blade of the Immortal quench the blood lust for fans of his work?
I think it’s his best work in years, personally. It feels much like his samurai-action throwbacks 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI, but with a clever supernatural twist: its main character can’t die. This opens the door for a lot of great, funny scenes where our hero walks away from fights, grumpily carrying his own lopped-off limbs. The opening and closing sequences alone are worth the price of admission, where Miike sets up massive and insanely-choreographed action sequences with hundreds of actors.

Will there be any filmmakers coming to town for any Q&A’s this year?
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (SPRING, RESOLUTION) will be in to present THE ENDLESS, where they not only direct, but star as the two main characters as well. Patrick Brice (CREEP, THE OVERNIGHT) will be in for both screenings of CREEP 2, as well. From France, graphic novelist Run will be on hand to present the animated adaptation of his comic MUTAFUKAZ. And from Germany, we’ll have the director, producer and star of FOUR HANDS.

What do you think of the modern state of the genre after watching a bunch of films this year?
I think regardless of the global market, genre films from all over will always thrive. The amount of fresh talent presenting their first or second features in our After Dark program this year proves that horror films, and all its related genres, will always be the prime place to find new filmmakers making surprising and exciting work. The best feeling in the world is getting to introduce an excited audience to a filmmaker or country from which they’ve never seen a film before. Horror will always be a universal global language.

I know you love them all, but there’s got to be a favorite. Which film of the eight speaks to you most this year?
I’m most excited to present MUTAFUKAZ, an animated film based on a best-selling French graphic novel that American audiences may not be familiar with. It takes place in a fictional Los Angeles, where a pizza delivery boy begins to see shape-shifting aliens lurking in the alleyways, and soon learns he’s an unwitting piece of a cosmic conspiracy. Imagine a multicultural anime adaptation of John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, set to a thumping hip-hop and EDM soundtrack…and featuring superhero luchadors! I want the whole world to know about this movie.

Part of the fun of the Chicago International Film Festival is that you get to see films you may not get to ever see again outside of their home country. Is there anything this year that fans of international films should be aware of in your lineup?
FOUR HANDS, a roller-coaster thriller about a piano prodigy struggling with multiple identities, has to be one of the most exciting out-of-nowhere discoveries I’ve had this year. We’re screening it for the first time outside of its home country in Germany, with three of the filmmakers in attendance, and right now there’s no US distribution in sight, which is a shame, and something we hope to remedy at this year’s Fest. This one had me cackling in delight all the way through, and I’m sure the Q&A will be a blast.

You can take a look at the full lineup and time for the After Dark section of the Chicago International Film Festival here. The fest runs from October 12th through the 26th.

Matt Storc

(Chicago Events Coordinator) Matt Storc is a screenwriter and director from the great city of Chicago. He enjoys sharing movies with people almost as much as he enjoys making them. He also does a killer rendition of the other guy's part in Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me" at karaoke."

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