Although the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) has existed for nearly a decade, the organization has really picked up steam over the last couple of years. Their mission to rescue and preserve film oddities of all shapes and sizes has made them a sort of sweetheart to the cinephilia community. And a well-deserved status it is. AGFA, and its co-collaborators, Bleeding Skull and Something Weird, have introduced audiences to all sorts of obscura. From the moody Pittsburgh lensed meta-thriller Effects (1980) to the can’t-really-describe-what-I’m-looking-at monster flick Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973), AGFA’s passionate (and indefatigable crew) wear their celluloid hearts on their sleeves, and the output has been nothing short of fascinating, and often spectacular.
As an Austin-based institution, their allegiance with the annual Austin film festival Fantastic Fest has afforded audiences a rare chance to see some truly amazing gems on the big screen. This year, AGFA has gone all out with three screenings that are must-see events. The late DIY underground filmmaker Sarah Jacobson’s short I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (1993) and her lone feature length outing, Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1997) will be showing on September 21 at 2PM. The nutty compilation Drug Stories! will screens on September 22nd at 2 PM, and, the laid-back shot on video slasher Blood Lake (1987) can be seen on September 23rd at 2 PM. All are worth a look, and provide a little something different to compliment the festival’s more contemporary offerings.
AGFA’s Joe Ziemba answered a few questions about the work they do, and what to expect from their screenings:
Diabolique: The American Genre Film Archive has been around for a little while. Could you just give us a brief history of AGFA and your role in the company?
Joe Ziemba: The American Genre Film Archive was formed in 2009. AGFA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in Austin, Texas. We exist to preserve the legacy of genre movies through collection, conservation, and distribution. Our archive counts among its advisors Alamo Drafthouse founders Tim and Karrie League, filmmakers Paul Thomas Anderson, Anna Biller, Frank Henenlotter, and Nicolas Winding Refn, musician RZA, exploitation film savior Lisa Petrucci, and genre film superheroes Zack Carlson, Kier-La Janisse, and Lars Nilsen.
My official title is Director of AGFA and Genre Programming and Promotions at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. On the AGFA side, I steer the ship creatively and oversee the development of the archive with Bret Berg, Alicia Coombs, and Sebastian del Castillo. I handle all design work, and oversee home video and theatrical releases, social media, video editing, and anything else that falls under the creative umbrella.
Diabolique: The general output from AGFA in connection with both Bleeding Skull and Something Weird has been nicely wide and varied. I mean, you guys are involved with everything from Effects to The Zodiac Killer (1971). What attracts you to pursuing certain titles?
JZ: Thank you! Since AGFA is a non-profit, our bottom line isn’t dependent on sales. So as long as we make back our production costs with each release, we’re good to do another one. When it comes to choosing a movie, we always start from a place of passion. Someone on the team brings a movie to the table, we all watch it, then we discuss. A lot of projects come together as a result of brainstorming and just hanging out together.
Diabolique: So, I guess the next question would be what is it about Blood Lake that made you want to bring into the digital world, not to mention show it in a theater (which may be a first, I’d imagine!)?
JZ: I discovered Blood Lake during the early days of Bleeding Skull, around 2004. Like many shot on video horror movies that I was devouring at the time, this one stuck with me — but not for traditional reasons. This movie wasn’t successful because it spooked me (Sledgehammer), grossed me out (Boardinghouse), or made me reevaluate the boundaries of filmmaking (Tales from the Quadead Zone). Blood Lake was literally a document of someone’s actual vacation in the context of a slasher. It was endlessly fascinating. To this day, it still feels like the only shot on video horror movie in history that could be appreciated by both David Lee Roth and Andy Warhol.
When we launched the AGFA + Bleeding Skull home video line, I made a huge list of “dream movies” that were contenders for a home video release. Blood Lake was high on the list, because it was one of the last notable 1980s shot on video horror movies that had yet to be rescued from VHS obscurity. We’re honored to help introduce the movie to a new generation of weirdos next year!
Diabolique: I remember at the screening of The Zodiac Killer you mentioned how AGFA does something a bit different with their transfers, as a way to conserve a certain quality. Could you reiterate the process for retaining certain film aesthetics?
Sure! It’s more of a mission statement and call-to-arms. When we scan film elements, we don’t add anything or take anything away digitally. We stay true to the prints themselves and replicate the theatrical experience as much as possible. Our film transfers might include emulsion scratches and imperfections, because that’s the way the print or negative looks. And that’s the way it would look when projected in a theater.
Diabolique: Is there a different process for restoring/digitizing video?
JZ: Yes, video is really simple. We just create a lossless digital transfer from the master tape, whether it’s S-VHS, U-Matic, or whatever! We have VHS capturing capabilities in-house, but have to send other formats out to labs. We tweak the audio and video a bit, but there usually isn’t much cleanup work that needs to be done. Definitely not on the scale of film transfers.
Diabolique: AGFA is also screening two of Sarah Jacobson’s works at Fantastic Fest (the short I was a Teenage Serial Killer, and the feature I’m not a Virgin Anymore). It’s so wonderful that you’re giving her work an extended legacy. Could you tell me about where you discovered her for the first time, and what you think audiences will get from her films?
JZ: Thank you so much! Our whole team is really proud to be working on the Sarah Jacobson films. We’re all big admirers. I was introduced to Sarah’s work through my creative (and life) partner, Annie Choi. Annie wrote about I Was a Teenage Serial Killer for our upcoming second Bleeding Skull book. I read her essay, watched the VHS, and instantly became a fan for life.
Watching Sarah Jacobson’s films is like witnessing creative fire unfold before your eyes. There’s so much inventiveness, anger, and drive pouring out of the screen. I hope that audiences will feel inspired when they watch Sarah’s movies. I hope that her movies make people feel like they can do anything.
Diabolique: You guys are so busy! You’ve also curated a screening themed on Drug Stories. How did you come to collaborate with Something Weird?
JZ: This question might take ten years to answer. But long story short, Something Weird was a revelation for me as a teenager. The aesthetic and curation helped to shape my tastes and understanding of what movie appreciation could be. Something Weird introduced me to Doris Wishman, who is still my favorite director to this day. AGFA started collaborating with Lisa Petrucci of Something Weird a couple of years after Mike Vraney, her husband and creative partner, sadly passed away. We did a Kickstarter to get a 4K film scanner for AGFA with the purpose of reissuing as many movies as possible from the Something Weird archive. We’re so grateful to be working with Lisa. Its been one of the high points of my life.
Diabolique: Can you tell us what we can expect next from AGFA and/or Bleeding Skull?
JZ: You bet! As far as AGFA releases go, all three titles screening at Fantastic Fest will be released on home video and theatrically next year (Sarah Jacobson’s films, Blood Lake, and Drug Stories!). We’re also excited about Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973) and Guru, The Mad Monk (1970), an Andy Milligan double feature that will be released in February 2019.
On the Bleeding Skull side, our second book, Bleeding Skull! A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey will be published by Fantagraphics in April, 2019. The book was written by Zack Carlson, Annie Choi, and myself. We can’t wait until it’s out!