Mayhem is one of the cornerstones of Nottingham’s film culture. Hosted by Broadway cinema, each year it brings a fascinating flavour of niche film-making to a wider audience. With 17 films shown in 4 days, there’s bound to be something which grabs your interest. Earlier in the week we interviewed festival organizers Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil. Here’s what they had to say about what audiences can look forward to this year.
To anyone unfamiliar, how would you describe ‘Mayhem’? How did it begin, and what makes it different from other film festivals?
Chris Cooke: It’s a horror sci-fi and cult film festival that runs over 4 days. This is our 11th edition.
Stephen Sheil: Myself and Stephen founded the festival and built it up from a single short screening to what it is now – a 4 day event. We started off in screen 2 [at Broadway cinema], now we’re in screen 1, and we’ve got a loyal audience. Some people book their holidays around the event. People have met their partners, had babies, because of the festival [laughs]. When we started there weren’t really a lot of other horror film festivals out there. There’s one in Edinburgh called ‘Dead by Dawn’, and now there’s quite a few. I think its testament to the fact there’s been a big resurgence in the horror genre, particularly over the last 10 or 15 years.
CC: It’s like Steven’s been saying, it’s not just a horror film festival, and that gives it a much broader appeal. It emerged out of a horror film festival, but we’ve always shown a lot of cult cinema building up to it, some really fantastic left-field cinema, like John Water’s Polyester. We all understood that horror audiences often crossover with sci-fi audiences. So there’s a lot that will appeal to people who want to journey off the beaten track, as well as people who are really committed to horror films.
SS: One of the things about Mayhem is that it’s a very curated festival. It’s myself and Chris that choose all the films, so it corresponds with our particular taste in film. We both come from a film-making background, we enjoy having filmmakers here to talk about the films that they’ve made. We’re always trying to get filmmakers here, international filmmakers here. The first weekend that we did, our big guest was Mark Gatiss, which was great.
CC: People like Gareth Edwards [Monsters, Godzilla], his careers just starting. He’s just done a Star Wars film. We’re lucky, I think, that directors are really interested in coming along and talking about their films, sometimes at the start of really big careers. So it’s an opportunity for them to showcase their work to a new audience, get out of London. It’s not all part of a big marketing machine. Instead, it’s a chance for them to meet audiences, meet fans and to talk about what it is they’re trying to do.
SS: We’ve got a great home here at Broadway, we’ve got screens, there’s a café bar, it’s a nice place in the center of town, so people like coming here and enjoy the atmosphere.
“Myself and Stephen founded the festival and built it up from a single short screening to what it is now…People have met their partners, had babies, because of the festival”
CC: It’s a really laid-back festival as well. It’s a nice environment, it isn’t horribly cramped, and people get on. If anyone has never been to a film festival and is thinking of coming to Mayhem, don’t worry about coming on your own. Everyone’s extremely welcoming. You’ll either make friends, or you won’t have to. You can put your feet-up and enjoy 4 days of great cinema.
SS: Coming from film-making backgrounds, Chris and I have both been in the position our guests have. Going to festivals, introducing films, screening them. So when we’re having guests here, we’ve been in there situation, and we have an awareness of how they want the event to be treated.
What are your stand-out memories from previous years?
SS: Well I would say, a couple of years ago we did a screening at Saint Mary’s Church. We had Nicolas Roeg, who directed Don’t Look Now, which is an early 70s classic. And Nic Roeg is an incredible director, and he came to present his film. So we showed that, in this space, got to interview Nic Roed on-stage, which was terrifying. But it’s just this fantastic memory of walking in the Church with him, seeing the seats down, seeing the screen laid out – I don’t think he was expecting it to look as good as it did.
CC: And we’ve had people similar to Nic Roeg, directors who’ve made a real mark on genre, over the years. People like Robin Hardy [The Wicker Man], Mike Hodges, who directed an obscure horror film called Black Rainbow, but is more famous for doing Get Carter. But it is things like Gareth Edwards coming, not only introducing his film and doing a post-screening Q and A, but also revealing to the audience that he’d been to Broadway [cinema] when Quentin Tarantino was here, which is what inspired him to make films. He even did a one hour masterclass on how you could make a film like Monsters from your own laptop.
SS: What was great about that event was he totally de-mystified it. You see the film and think, ‘wow, that’s amazing’, but then he tells you – ‘you grab this effect from this particular program, here’s where you find it, and that’s what you see on-screen’. He totally de-mystified it. He wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to reveal my secrets’, he was like ‘anyone can do this, with the amount of skill that comes from an effects background’. He made it seem accessible.
CC: And there must have been someone in the audience who thought, ‘ok, because of this, I’m going to go away and start this project’.
So why ‘Mayhem’? Where did the name come from?
CC: Well, when started off we had a collection of short films, most of them horror films. It occurred to me that October would be a good month [to screen them], but May was coming up. Then we were stuck needing a title, so ‘May-hem’. Originally, it was going to be in May, so we called it Mayhem.
SS: It also really fits, it originated as a horror festival, but even as we’ve branched out, it fits with the general tenor of films we screen. If it’s horror, sci-fi or cult, it’s got that sense of craziness.
CC: You’re not going to have a selection of bland, straight to DVD films with us.
Are there any screenings that you are particularly looking forward to this year?
SS: Well German Angst is a really interesting one. For proper hard-core horror fans, there’s a lot to get out of that film. It’s quite a provocative piece of cinema. But also because it unites 3 very interesting German directors, so it’s quite a unique production. Jorg Buttgereit, Andreas Marchall and Michal Kosakowski. Jorg Buttgereit is a legendary director, no doubt, of a film called Necromantic. Notoriously banned in the UK, but became a huge cult phenomenon. And he hasn’t directed for the cinema for a long time, so he’s returned with something, well [laughs], just as fascinating. I mean it really is fascinating horror cinema. It’s like a H.P. Lovecraft nightmare.
SS: Well it’s very hard for us to pick between the films because obviously, we program them all. But for me, The Invitation is a great film, there’s nothing else like it. I don’t think its got much out there at the moment, they’re quite cautious about how to market it. It’s best to go into it without knowing too much. It’s tension-heavy, slow-burning and –
CC: – Genuinely terrifying.
SS: Genuinely terrifying, yeah. And also Crumbs is really interesting. It’s an Ethiopian, surreal sci-fi movie.
CC: It’s like art-house sci-fi horror…from Africa.
SS: And it looks amazing. The landscapes just look beautiful.
CC: Mayhem does that, it mixes things that are really surprising. Things like Nina Forever, a really, really dark, dark, Gothic romance. Not only has it got deadpan humour, but it also has some of the most stunning imagery. And it’s from two debuting directors, the Blaine brothers. So they’re coming in to talk about that. And then right at the other end, if you’re someone that wants a really good horror-comedy, we’ve got Deathgasm on the Sunday, which is absolutely hysterical. If anyone is a fan of this new wave of New Zealand films, they’ll know that What we do in the Shadows was a big hit last year, for comedy horror. Deathgasm is picking up a lot of awards now, so there’s a lot of momentum building up around that film. We’ve also got some rare 35mm screenings, such as the rare 80s classic Society.
SS: If you want to see a rich, privileged social elite taking part in perverse sexual fantasies, it’s the film for you.
CC: It’s a very funny film as well.
That’s it for part 1, but there’s more to come from Chris and Steve. Be sure to check-out the rest of the interview in part 2! Mayhem runs from the 15th to the 18th of October, at Broadway cinema. For more information and full-festival passes, click here . This is great to get involved with Nottingham’s vibrant film culture, and we hope to see many of you there. We’ll bring you more coverage as it happens.