KURJA POLT 5: NATURE GONE WILD
Kurja Polt Festival celebrates and screens those wonderfully bizarre, daring and wild works of cinema that proudly wave the banners of cult, genre, off mainstream, exploitation, B movie, camp, paracinema and the likes. Some are full-fledged genre classics, others are film orphans and bastards without a pedigree, still others the suppressed, overlooked and unjustly forgotten films by the great auteurs. Together, they form a cinematic subculture with its own creed, style, membership and its eternal place on the margins of canon, from where they rage against the conventionality and conformism of mass culture, against the social, political and cinematic status quo.
This year’s thematic retrospective takes as its point of departure the abundant and diverse lineage of genre films encapsulated by the phrase Nature Gone Wild (also Nature Run Amok, Nature’s Revenge and Animals Attack films). These usually include the creature features and the eco-horror and sci-fi films, which first came to prominence in the 1950s, fuelled by the fears and anxieties surrounding the effects of nuclear testing and radiation. Here nature’s creatures, blown to gargantuan proportions and often radioactive, were perceived as an ominous, murderous threat to humanity. Even if human activity was the cause of these aberrations, the narratives’ and spectators’ sympathies lay with mankind. Nature had to be conquered and her threats eliminated no matter what. Growing concerns with the unbridled progress of science and our newly awakened environmental consciousness brought about a second wave of cinematic eco-terror in the 1970s. This time round, however, the films became more naturalistic and their sympathies increasingly shifted towards nature. Her creatures remained deadly, but man now fully deserved their rage. And, boy, did he know it! His sense of quilt permeated all pores of the animal kingdom. All flora and fauna, factual or fantastical, flued the paranoid imagination of the creature feature. From bugs and spiders, to amphibians and worms, birds and bats, wild cats, boars, dogs and bears, sharks and killer whales, squids and piranhas, snakes and crocodiles, carnivorous plants, bacteria and viruses, and let’s not forget the prehistoric and the mythological monsters (Godzilla, King Kong, Bigfoot and Werewolf) along with all their bountiful crossbreeds.
Yet the purpose of our retrospective is not a systematic survey of the usual suspects. In keeping with the free and iconoclastic spirit of the films and filmmakers that Kurja Polt champions, we have taken a broader and more skewed approach, searching for signs of nature gone wild in varied and sometimes unusual places. Firstly, in the Australian outback. The slow burning eco-thriller Long Weekend (1978) is not only one of the finest examples of Australian exploitation cinema of the 1970s, but also the germ and nexus of our retrospective as such. So it seemed only fitting to give Ozploitation a special focus and shed light on the phenomenon with Mark Hartley’s documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) – a bewildering journey through an unjustly forgotten cinematic era unashamedly packed full of pubes, boobs, tubes… and kung fu. The iconic Gill Man and his thrilling underwater adventure Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – presented in 3D! – will provide a true creature feature classic. The haunting and stylized experimental sci-fi Phase IV (1974), the sole directorial feature by acclaimed graphic designer Saul Bass, will add the indispensable ants. And a nod to Hitchcock who famously brought the nature gone wild premise into the mainstream and the cinematic cannon. So we shall give him another nod. But rather than having Tippi Hedren battle it out with his feathered menace, we shall enter the lions’ den with Ms. Hedren and Roar (1981), “the most dangerous movie ever made”. Representing the European cult cinema underground, we have its heavyweights, Lucio Fulci and Walerian Borowczyk. Killing two birds with one stone, master Fulci’s seminal gorefest Zombi 2 (1979) gives us the shark and the requisite zombie – the greatest of all natural disasters and the epitome of man’s mistreatment of nature, ever since Romero. While our midnight movie extravaganza bows to horrotica, the bawdy mixture of Eros and Thanatos, in the form of its undisputed pinnacle, Borowczyk’s La Bête (1975), and its modern-day, female rendition, Monica Stambrini’s short film Queen Kong (2016).
Our homage this year goes to the Belgian director Fabrice du Welz, a fervent cinephile, a natural born filmmaker and a true genre auteur. Setting out as the Belgian exponent of the New French Extremity, du Welz’s films have increasingly defied categorization affirming their maker as one of the most deft and original voices in contemporary genre cinema and beyond. Having showcased his stunning Méliès D’Or winner Alleluia (Alléluia, 2014) back in 2015, we now return to the beginning. Along with his early features Calvaire (2004) and Vinyan (2008), screened on 35mm, our honorary guest will present his carte blanche choice Manila in the Claws of Light (Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, 1975), a bona fide classic of world cinema directed by the Filipino master Lino Brocka.
Our contemporary section will be bursting with visual baroque yet brimming with nostalgia. Festival favourite S. Craig Zahler’s second feature, the prison thriller Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017), is an authentic return to the gritty grindhouse and the ultraviolent pulp of the 1970s. Hong Kong legends Derek Yee and Tsui Hark join forces for an epic reimagining of a Shaw Brothers classic in Sword Master 3D (San shao ye de jian 3D, 2016), taking us back to the golden age of wuxia, steeped in all its ethereal romance and whimsical self-irony, but retold in mind-blowing 3D. And finally, here is the true return of the king. Our favourite hero, Indian muscleman and demigod Baahubali is back for a marathon double dose of the most sublime incarnation of film entertainment: Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017).
Also returning for a second (but not final!) instalment is the Cult Film Conference, presented in cooperation with Northumbria University of Newcastle, UK, where a true brain trust of cult and genre cinema is at work. And this year, the conference has gone global! Along with our distinguished friends, Dr Russ Hunter and Dr Steve Jones from Northumbria University, we shall proudly welcome the most pre-eminent of cult scholars, the Belgian-borne Canadian-based Dr Ernest Mathijs, author of several seminal books on cult cinema and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. And joining us all the way from RMIT University in Melbourne, Dr Alexia Kannas will round off our Ozploitation focus by exploring the role of the landscape (the outback) in Australian horror cinema.
So wriggle on out of the kangaroo pouch and come feature your creature at Kurja Polt 2018!
Maša Peče in Kurja Polt Festival