When PollyGrind film festival founder and director Chad Clinton Freeman told the audience on the first day of this year’s event that the festival would take a hiatus next year and possibly never return, he was greeted with a chorus of boos from nearly everyone in attendance. Granted, that was only around 10-15 people, but the thing about PollyGrind is that while its audience may be small, every member is a dedicated fan. Freeman himself is the entire festival staff, and he projects an unbridled enthusiasm for low-budget, underground artistic expression that’s hard to resist.
This year was both the festival’s most triumphant and its most precarious. A week before, the scheduled venue (the Century South Point) had pulled the plug, reportedly citing objectionable content. But Freeman managed to score three alternative venues for the three-day event, which went on with a reduced schedule. For Thursday, that meant an upgrade, with 10 hours of screenings at the Galaxy Luxury theater in Henderson. By 8 p.m., the place was completely filled, as the crew behind local feature Heidi rallied support for their premiere.
With strong production values and strong acting, Heidi is an impressive example of local filmmaking, even if its found-footage horror story (about an evil doll) is overly familiar and drags significantly in the second half. Thursday kicked off with Freeman’s favorite film, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, an uneven Taxi Driver-ish dark comedy about an ice cream man obsessed with a soap-opera actress. My favorite was the documentary Rebel Scum, about self-destructive Tennessee punk band The Dirty Works, featuring some uncomfortably intimate glimpses into the private lives of the troubled, volatile members. It’s the kind of offbeat discovery that Freeman excels at finding.
On Friday, the festival moved to Hell Town Studios, a converted haunted house complex that’s an ideal setting for a horror-heavy festival, even if its equipment for showing movies leaves something to be desired. The murky picture of Hell Town’s projector was preferable to the flat-screen TV showing Saturday’s selections at zombie-themed bar the End, though, and watching those movies in the middle of a noisy bar was a bit of a challenge. Even so, the enthusiasm from Freeman and the festival’s hardcore fans never waned. Saturday included a brief set from comedy rappers MC Randumb & Jewish Dave, climaxing in a performance of the festival theme song. Onstage with the goofy duo, Freeman danced and sang along, the whole crowd cheering him on. If this is indeed PollyGrind’s last year, it was a hell of a swan song.