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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: An Interview with Al Festa

Dakota Madrox Drobnicki and I have talked for awhile now. He understands the inner working of the obscure and unusual in horror cinema but most especially as pertains to one filmmaker/composer in particular, Al Festa. If you want to learn something about a particular filmmaker from Italy, Dakota is a veritable Encyclopedia Italiano. While Al Festa may not have made it to the championship round of our Maestro Mania competition, he is present in this interview provided by Dakota reprinted from Dakota's blog Rosso Sangue Reviews. We thank him for the use of the interview and hope that it provides you some insight into Al Festa, Italian filmmaking and Dakota's passion for cinema.

Follow the links at the end of this article to learn more about Al Festa. 

Foreword:

I conducted this interview with Italian filmmaker Al Festa in early October 2012, not very long after I’d started talking to him. Initially, I had just messaged him to see where I could find his movie Gipsy Angel, but the conversation that ensued became the impetus to this article. Since then, I had befriended him and spoken to him every now and again, but my appreciation for his films only grew from there.

First it was designing English-language posters for his most recent film The Hermit, then I finally managed to track down and watch a Japanese VHS copy of Gipsy Angel. And I must say, the film was absolutely worth the year of searching. Of particular note was his constant referencing of prior works, most as background objects (for example, the mask of Marius from Metallo Italia resides in a store Leo Daniel’s character goes in), the pivotal sex scene feeling like a prototype for the Stefania Stella sex scene in Fatal Frames, the film’s theme song being a reworking of his famous theme song “Living After Death” from Claudio Fragasso’s After Death, and even Al himself cameoing as a musician playing at a bar, playing a version of Kristal’s “Mango Tree” with pitchshifted vocals alongside dancing plastic flowers.


It’s as if he shot this film in 1989 fully aware that years from then, he would have a rabid fanbase who would recognize every single one of these references thrown in… and he was absolutely right. The only real issue I have with the film is that it feels a bit too edited down from whatever its original length would have been, and when I talked to Al about this, he told me he had a two and a half hour cut that he originally showed at Fantafestival 1990. To this, I say: Al, if you’re reading this, when your remastered DVDs and Blus of your films finally come to fruition, PLEASE include that extended cut of Gipsy, no matter how rough the condition of your print may be.

In any case, seeing this film finally led to me starting a Facebook group which I have dubbed the International Festaphile Association, which I devoted to archiving and bringing together all of Al’s known works, so that others may be able to connect the dots and have the full picture of Al’s body of work. This is the seed that I hope will one day plant a much grander rediscovery of Al’s treasures, but until then, it will have to make do with its modest numbers. (But hey, if you join and then accept my friend request, you get a free button… it’s a virtual button, but it’s something, y’know.)


Since then, not much has really changed. Al has released a new music video unto the masses (the one embedded above, which is visually reminiscent of his first two Stefania Stella videos, I think) and had an event for his Padre Pio project, but that is all I really know of. Checking his Facebook again, it looks like he has yet another new song on the way; perhaps 2014 is truly the year of the Festa! In any case, check out this snapshot in time, when yours truly, Festaphile Numero Uno, was truly beginning to see Al’s genius.

AN INTERVIEW WITH AL FESTA

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Rosso Sangue: You started out working as a film composer for movies by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, and you directed hundreds of music videos before making the jump to directing films of your own. During your time as a music video director, was there any particular act that you enjoyed working with, and are you still directing music videos today?

Al Festa: That’s absolutely true! I started with Claudio and Bruno, by God having in glory, composing the soundtracks for 4 films: Born To Fight, Robowar, Cop Game by Mattei and After Death by Fragasso… really, really bad films [laughs] but this has been a good experience for me for making my music in films and experimenting a lot! From this point of view, this has been really important to me. Yes, I directed 105 videoclips for all the most important Italian singers… among all I can say the videos of Bianca Neve, Tracy Spencer, Cecchetto, Heater Parisi, Alessandra Martines, Stefania Stella and many others, I like them all… I think that making videos it’s a very good school for doing movies… You learn all the aspects of shootings because you can experiment a lot; lens, cameras, movements etc… Yes, I love videoclips. Today, I’m still directing videoclips sometimes for friends when they ask me to do. I am going to direct the video of my song of my latest film The Hermit: Inferno/Paradiso with the singer Daniela Parrozzani.


Rosso Sangue: I must say that I had a real blast watching the Bianca Neve videos, my absolute favorite being the one for Broken Heart… What was it that prompted the transition to becoming a full-fledged film director?

Al Festa: I don’t know, but that song and that video I really like a lot… I think that Sony Music didn’t like song and video and they prefer Wake Up! andPrince Kiss… I still prefer that but yes, probably yes. After 100 videos done, I was dying to do a full film… I did the school for film makers in Rome, and of course Music Conservatory, I have spent my first youthness in schools, cineclubs, music academy, concert halls etc… and of course running behind girls. [laughs]

Rosso Sangue: What exactly is your directorial debut Metallo Italia, and is there a chance that it will one day receive a wider release?


Al Festa: Metallo Italia was a project that I really co-directed with Peter Ferro, but because of his absolute incapability in doing musical videos I did it at last by myself. Yes, it will be soon a new special release like all my movies, remastered with extras and a CD soundtrack. A smart project, totally crazy that I still love until today, and I am proud that today, it is considered a cult/music video film…

Rosso Sangue: While we’re on the subject of the special releases of your movies, would you like to take this time to reveal your plans of re-releasing your films to our readers?

Al Festa: Yes, it’s easy, I will do it by myself! In Italy, video distribution is almost finished; piracy is a great problem here, you can easily find films in the markets before they are coming out in theatres, that’s true! They destroyed the market so it’s very difficult to find a good distribution, so I will do by myself as soon as I have some time to do it. All the DVDs and Blu-Rays remastered are done… a long work, they are all coming out in a triple package special edition… Metallo Italia, Gipsy Angel, Fatal Frames, Progetto Sapientia,and The Hermit.


Rosso Sangue: How did your relationship with the famous Stefania Stella begin?

Al Festa: I made 3 videos for her for some songs called Alibi, a beautiful noir clip, Pensamiento Estupendo, and Eternal City later. She was my girlfriend for many years, and we started working together. She is smart, lovely, beautiful, and the opposite of me; calm, well considered in financial operations; not me! I am a mess from this point of view, I consider myself a true artist… a real artist, to me, is or should be the worst enemy of all this, of money; in fact, I am! So we decide to split the things. I was and still am taking care of all the artistic and technical aspects, direction, music actors all, and she is taking care of production and distribution and relationships with the companies… I have no very good relationship with all them. I care about the film, not about the market, so we have a society now called Factory Productions and we still work together. She is also talented as an actress; in fact, in The Hermit, she plays the role of a possessed woman during an exorcism, a scene that I ADORE! One of the best of the entire film…


Rosso Sangue: What was the genesis for Fatal Frames, your most well-known film to date?


Al Festa: Mmmm, okay, not easy… I am a thriller fan, I grew watching Deep Redand Halloween, and all giallos of Bava, Fulci, De Palma, Hitchcock, etc, and I wanted to do a thriller in the old style. In fact, my inspiration was a TV series called Il Segno Del Comando, or The Sign Of The Will, an esoteric TV fiction of the 70s, very famous in Italy, starring Ugo Pagliai. In fact, he is together with famous Italian giallo actors; one of the main lead actor of the film, Giorgio Albertazzi, a master, Rossano Brazzi, a myth, Alida Valli, Ciccio Ingrassia, all very famous, and my idol Donald Pleasence.


This is a dream come true… When I was a child watching Halloween, I could never even imagine that one day I had to direct none other than the legendary Doc Loomis… I can’t still believe this, working with him to me was like working with a living legend… I have a beautiful memory of him… I adore him. Then another of my idols and a very good friend, David Warbeck… I was crazy about that man, a lovely, lovely person, so nice, good, gentle… His disappearance has been and still is very sad for me… a good man, a lovely actor.


Then the great Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man of the Phantasm series… a nice gentleman, very far from the horror/thriller world, he directed a music festival in his city, a real gentleman, incredible! More lovely, Linnea Quigley, the Scream Queen, she said to me one day “Al, I beat zombies and dance nude on the graveyards…” [laughs] I said “Okay, you are my girl”, and I chose her for the role of a paranormal consultant.


And last but not least, Rick Gianasi. A brilliant actor, smart, handsome, girls went crazy for him (Grrrrr! [laughs]), very professional and nice… We chose him for his participation in Star Trek Voyager, and of course for Sgt. Kabukiman, crazy film made by Troma, crazy nice people…

I have missed the gorgeous Stefania Stella! Stefania Stella is the main actress of Fatal Frames… a star! She sings the song, Eternal City, an homage to La Dolce Vita shot in Trevi’s Fountain, and she played a double role with a good intensity as I asked her. She is lovely, very professional, and also she produced the film with me for Mediaset/Medusa. I adore her!


That’s all, there are so many things to say and so many memories about Fatal Frames, my personal Deep Red, is in my heart forever, and I am very glad to see that today is considered a cult movie—I’ve read this in many sites and this makes me happy because, at last, they understood the film, the meaning (a tribute to Italian giallos of the 70s)… A difficult film to shoot for the locations, cast, and finally, the SFX of the great Steve Johnson, Oscar winner with Stan Winston. I think that his assistants in the shootings in Rome were Bill Corso and Joel Harlow, both Oscar winners for Indiana Jones and Star Trek… what a cast! Fatal Frames is my Bible…

Rosso Sangue: The promotional materials for Fatal Frames prominently advertise that it had won a special “Lucio Fulci” award at the XVI Fantafestival, which I found to be a fitting achievement as much of the film seemed, to me, to have been visually influenced by Fulci’s later films, particularly A Cat In The Brain and Voices From Beyond. To what extent would you say you felt Fulci’s influence during the making of Fatal Frames, if you felt it at all?

Al Festa: Not at all! I liked Lucio very much, but I think that we are very different; he is more direct, he did not care about all the aspects that I do. He was more realistic, pragmatic, concrete, without nothing left to visual style… I am different, probably because of the video world, where this elegance is very important. Lucio did not care about that and probably he was right, but this is my style, maybe also because of the music that gives me a more poetic way to shoot films.


I suppose I tell you something about the great Lucio… When we made the premiere of the promo of Fatal Frames, during a festival in Rome, there was a special invitation party with the projection of the 25-minute promo of Fatal Frames at the cinema Barberini… At one point, Fulci appears with his iron chair (he had a leg broken) and he asked me: “Are you Al Festa?” I said yes… “Okay, push my chair!” and I did, and we entered in the cinema, me pushing Lucio on his iron chair, everyone was wondering… for me, it has been an honour doing that, I adore Lucio and his work. At the end of the projection, many journalists went to ask him what he thought about Fatal Frames… I still remember clearly, he said “This guy is very good, I like this film and the way he films… don’t break my balls!” All true, and he said to me in my ear “You are a future great director, you have style…” I remember this, and we have been almost friends since that moment… I am still good friends with the lovely Antonella, his daughter…

Rosso Sangue: Lastly, as far as the Fatal Frames-related questions are concerned, I noticed a connection between Massimo Lavagnini’s film Sick-O-Pathics and your film, Lavagnini having a cameo appearance in your film while Rick Gianasi, David Warbeck, Linnea Quigley and Stefania Stella cameo in his, with the main theme of your film even playing during Stella’s appearance. Can you please elaborate on how this connection was established?


Al Festa: Very simple, Massimo is a friend, a good friend, totally crazy. I didn’t know him but he was there every day on the set… [laughs] It is true, I asked him who he was and he started talking (until today!) and we became good friends. I saw that he was (still is!) crazy and I asked him to play the role of a neurotic cop, that I called Maniac Cop, you know why… Massimo had lots of fun, one day he asked me “Al, I am shooting a film in my style! May I ask you to use some of your actors free?” I said “Massimo, do what you want, no problem, find a moment when they are free for me, it’s okay…” And it is done, that’s all very simple, a favour to a good friend and to the sweet Brigida Costa that co-directed the film if I well remember…

Anyway, Massimo is the best horror/thriller expert I have ever known, he knows everything! Any single actor or films, even C-movies, he knows all! He is a living bible for horror. I tell one thing nice about Massimo… He had to do his last examinations for graduating at the University and, of course, his thesis was concerning horror movies. A teacher asked him during the examination why he did not mention a film like The Exorcist in his work, and Massimo said “Simple!The Exorcist is not at all a horror film!” This is my friend Massimo…


Rosso Sangue: What can you tell us about your fourth film, Progetto Sapientia? I understand that this film is a mockumentary of sorts, correct?

Al Festa: Okay, Progetto Sapientia is something I call a reality film; in fact, it is an experiment, absolutely real, into the world of spiritism and medianicism. The original idea was to create a team of experts, mediums, scientists and sensitives and to close them in a special place to see if it was possible to film some phenomena. The place was an ancient Inquisition Convent where many people had been killed and tortured in the middle ages close to Rome called Monastero Di San Giacomo, today called Sapientia; that’s why the name of the film is Progetto Sapientia—The Sapientia Project.


The medium is a living legend, Mr. Fulvio Rendhell. He is actually considered one, if not the one, of the most important mediums all over the world, and also a maximum expert in paranormal phenomena, magic, and bewitchment; he wrote many books, he is very famous and important, then I had the team done under his guide. What happened, you can see in the film… but I can tell you that many strange and inexplicable phenomena happened. Really, it’s a mystery even to me that I am an esoteric expert. Yes, many things; the locations were terrible, full of dark presence, full of death, of blood, of pain, of sufferings… [shivers] a terrible and, at the same time, fascinating experience that I consider unique in his genre. But I am proud of that project because it is also a precious will of Mr. Rendhell (who is still living, thank God) for the next generations into the world of seances and spiritism.

Rosso Sangue: It sounds like a fascinating experience. I haven’t been able to find any information on this, when was the film shot?

Al Festa: 2005, but this film had a sort of blacklist from the Vatican Church so until today it hasn’t been even presented in one single projection. I hope to present it one day together with my films in some festivals, and of course also in home video.

Rosso Sangue: Tell us about your new movie The Hermit.


Al Festa: Ah, good, The Hermit is my favourite film… I consider this the film of my maturity, for many reasons. (Of course, if I have any maturity… I don’t really know…) The story that I like a lot, the cast made by good actors, the locations in south Italy, the fight between good and evil, everything. It is a movie very different from all my others, not an easy film, not a horror… I can say an esoteric/drama/thriller… I love this film. It is all based on the discovery of the unknown (but real!) mysterious code in south Italy called Codex Purpureus Rossanensis that is one of the most ancient gospels, made in fine golden paged in purple paper… but in the code, it’s missing the part regarding St. John’s Apocalypse, where it described the end of the world and the coming of the reign of the Antichrist.


A strange figure, the Hermit, discovers this lost part of the code in a cemetery during a snow storm, and from that moment, lots of strange things start to happen in the villages of south Italy, and this stranger man goes from village to village telling prophecies to people regarding the upcoming end of the world with so many things that happen, with a revealing ending climax where all the things seen will be explicated from a different point of view in a spectacular sequence of a fight between God and evil. A complex film, hard, not easy for a public with culture, not commercial but I adore this movie. There is also my best score, since here, all the post-production has been realized by myself in 6 months non-stop working in my new private studio audio/video and I had, for the first time, the possibility to have the total control of the whole production… fantastic, great! I am very like to have this possibility that is the top for any filmmaker or musician. I love mostly the scene of Stefania Stella who plays perfectly a possessed woman during an insolent exorcism, the sequence of the 7 Deadly Sins performed by the great artist Tanya Khabarova, a fantastic Russian mimo dancer famous all over the world, a revelation to me, and my friend Marco Di Stefano, the Hermit, a fine actor, so sensible and brave… yes, I like this film. It is also a good way to tell through cinema what I really think about the dualisms of good/evil, positive/negative, sun/moon, day/night and so on, they are two faces of the same medal to me…


Rosso Sangue: Now, in our prior conversation we had talked about your thoughts on the current state of the Italian horror industry, which were very fascinating given how you were there as the industry began to dwindle. Would you mind recapping those thoughts for our readers?

Al Festa: Okay, so the Italian film industry in general is in its worst moment. In Italy, we shoot no more than 20 films a year and most of them never will see the light of a screen… this is for many reasons: one, piracy; two, television; three, producers, old and without any ideas; four, directors without any experience; and five, fiction is the only industry that is good in Italy. So for all these reasons, horror/thriller is more down now than in any other time. This also for the fall of the most famous of all, Dario Argento… unfortunately, the great Dario has many years that he didn’t realize a film that we can say in Dario Argento’s real style, but only pale imitations of himself; in fact, the movies are not successful, and if the one who is considered the top is going every day more down, think about the others. The producers don’t risk one euro in horror films… the TVs don’t buy if not for a bunch of money, a real mess!

The only thing that makes this horror brotherhood go on is us! The makers… in fact, there are some directors like Federico Zampaglione, Manetti Bros, Alex Infascelli, Sergio Stivaletti, and myself who courageously try to realize different films with their money and blood. This is the situation today that’s the truth! Anyway, to the moment, we are very far from the time of Freda, Bava, Fulci, first Argento… gone! And the Italian thriller/horror giallo is badly done. But we will live again, like any zombie proud of this name! LONG LIFE TO HORROR MOVIES… LUCIO IS WATCHING US… WE MUST GO ON ABSOLUTELY! I seriously think that we all are a sort of modern knights, fighting against the power who would like to destroy us, but we are strong!

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Al Festa has an official Facebook page, as well as an official YouTube channel where you can see a ton of his music videos, as well as trailers for all of his films. The official website for his company, Factory Productions, is currently under development.

Here are all of the promotional trailers for Al Festa’s filmography:

Gipsy Angel

Fatal Frames

Progetto Sapientia


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