On the website of Bad Theater Fest, a performance series of theater “so bad it’s great,” there’s a list of hypotheticals that attempt to answer the question you’re all asking yourself:
* Need motivation to create something? Bad Theater Fest is for you.
* Have writer’s block and need to step back from a current project? Bad Theater Fest is the cure.
* Don’t live near NYC? Don’t have the resources to produce your own work? Bad Theater Fest can mount your work or perform a staged reading (contact us for details).
* Always wanted to express your creative side but felt too embarrassed? Be not afraid. Bad Theater Fest says, “Go for it!”
So there it is. Why partake in any creative endeavor that is primarily defined by its badness? Why make it, or watch it? Because it can be liberating to the anxiety-riddled creative mind, and simply entertaining to the viewer. “It’s not that we have low standards,” co-founder Shawn Wickens writes, in the Bad Theater Fest mission statement. “It’s that we have different standards. We want to curate the most diverse festival possible, not only in content but with also who is involved.”
The same maxim can apply to film, of course.
The Bad Film Fest is a natural outgrowth of the theater fest. It kicks off its third annual showcase of subpar filmmaking tonight, at Cloud City, in Williamsburg. Screenings are $7 each; a festival pass, good for entry to all seven screenings in the three-day festival, run $45.
“When talking to someone the first time about it, I usually add that it’s not as horrible as it sounds,” says Starr Kendall, the festival’s other co-founder and -producer. “We try to encourage creativity and not worrying so much about the finer details. If it’s rough around the edges, it can still be an entertaining experience. We love first-time filmmakers and seasoned professionals who wanted to get a crazy idea on tape. Risk takers. Or some high school kid who’s inspired to make a movie.”
The idea for Bad Film Fest sprouted some time in October 2012, when Kendall and Wickens solicited submissions for short films to show between performances of bad plays. In short order, they found they had enough submissions to support an entirely separate festival devoted solely to film. It was “kind of a ‘why not’ moment,” Kendall says. This year, there were nearly a thousand submissions, from 71 different countries. The final lineup includes films from Ireland, France, Mexico, Iran, and Hoboken.
Restrictions are few and far between. “Anything can be considered bad,” Kendall explains. “You may have a crappy camera and sub-par lighting, but maybe also a friend who’s a great actor and you have a funny idea. What comes out of that may not look industry standard but can still be entertaining to a crowd. We want to support that.”
There is, of course, so much bad film on YouTube and Vimeo and elsewhere, thanks primarily to ever-cheaper costs of the minimum technology required to shoot some video and upload it for your friends to chortle over. “Any time you first do something, more than likely it won’t be great, because you’re learning,” Kendall says. “But that doesn’t mean the end product should thrown away.”
Some may argue otherwise. But in a culture abounding in summations to pay attention to this or that brilliant new thing, there is something undeniably emancipating about watching bad art. It fosters a certain fellow-feeling that is connective, refreshing, maybe even joyful. It’s a humorous reminder that there’s a weird, slightly stupid, guileless version of each of us, hunkered down inside the polished version we present to the world.
“It’s a ‘one man’s garbage, another man’s treasure’ thing,” Kendall reasons. “It’s nice to challenge ourselves to view something in a different way. To look past the bad and consider the good in these films.” And elsewhere, even.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.