The sprawling schedule of the second annual PollyGrind film festival at Theatre 7 was a little daunting, leaving some screenings with minimal attendance. It’s great that organizer Chad Clinton Freeman wants to include as many worthwhile movies as possible, but paring things down a little could help fans and filmmakers choose which events to attend. Thursday night’s program was a perfect example of how to give each program a unique identity: Dubbed “Zombiepalooza,” it showcased five short films and two features dealing with the ever-popular zombie theme, and was hosted by the folks from New York City’s Zombie Radio Show podcast. Their banter kept things lively and smoothed over the down time between films, and the audience (a good 20-plus people, impressive for a Thursday night) stayed engaged and interested throughout the night. The various movies stretched the definition of “zombie,” but they still fit together pretty well.
The features on the zombie bill, Elias Matar’s Ashes and Fred Vogel’s Sella Turcica, took their zombification pretty seriously, both featuring ponderous takes on one man’s very slooooooooow transformation into a member of the undead. Matar’s slick, professional film, featuring a handful of recognizable C-list actors, is more effective, essentially stretching the first few minutes of a typical outbreak movie (in which one person first comes into contact with the deadly virus) into its entire running time. Vogel, on the other hand, working with a much smaller budget, seems to mistake boredom for seriousness, filling his movie with terrible actors volleying banal dialogue back and forth for what feels like an eternity. The zombie shorts that took the subject less seriously, including an amusing effort from local filmmakers Jake Sprague and Jim Scampoli (No Food), were more successful.
Friday brought two more misfires in the features department, most notably Aramis Sartorio’s The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol, easily the worst feature I saw at the festival. A disjointed, disgusting, poorly acted and just plain ugly mess, Tommy Pistol strings together a number of dream sequences with no connections and seemingly no point other than to make the audience retch. Writer/director/star Sartorio spoke emotionally afterward about how Tommy Pistol was a difficult and very personal film for him to make—maybe he should have just kept it all to himself.
Edward E. Romero’s Butterfly, like Ashes (which Romero co-wrote), suffered from being a little too self-serious, although its story of a young woman getting revenge on her mother’s tormenters features a strong lead performance from Mandi Kreisher. Two shorts on Friday did better at blending serious artistry with the grotesque: All Flowers in Time, an experimental film from Tarnation director Jonathan Caouette, is full of haunting images and disturbing ideas, and local filmmaker Ron Rierson’s Acro-Love takes a seemingly ridiculous subject (a man who yearns to be an amputee) and makes it unsettling and tragic.
After missing the packed weekend because of other commitments, I returned on Monday for the festival’s closing-night film, The Atonement of Janis Drake. Starring and produced by local actress Beverly Lynne and directed by her husband Glen Meadows, Atonement tries to move Lynne beyond the late-night premium-cable softcore fare for which she’s known and into something a little more substantial. She’s a decent actress for someone who’s known mainly for taking her clothes off, but the movie is stilted and clumsily plotted, and the supporting cast isn’t quite up to Lynne’s talent level. Only a handful of people beyond the cast and crew came out for what was billed as the movie’s world premiere, and given Lynne’s online notoriety, the turnout certainly could have been better. As part of a more compact festival bill, Atonement could have been hyped up more as an event on its own. PollyGrind is full of interesting discoveries that deserve an audience, and with more events like Zombiepalooza and fewer draining all-day marathons, next year’s festival could find the right balance to reach that audience.