After 45 years, Troma Entertainment remains one of the longest-running independent film studios in movie history. To think that they have existed over a full third of the motion picture lifespan is quite astounding, and to have done that completely outside the Hollywood dynamic reveals a work ethic and passion beyond the average human’s abilities. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the devoted Troma fans who eagerly await the studio’s next release, attend the local events and sometimes even wind up in the films themselves. TromaDance exists to celebrate all things Troma – the films, the fans, the entity – while showcasing the work of talented filmmakers whose work has been ignored by the bigger industry festivals.
The festival started 20 years ago in direct protest of so-called independent film festivals that consistently favor A-lists and budgets, making it impossible for unknown filmmakers to get a slot. True to Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman’s vision, the festival showcases underground short films, features, bands, and artists for the scant entry fee of a suggested donation. Even submission to the festival is free, making it easy for anybody to be part of the selection. By design, TromaDance champions the underdog by giving a platform to those who would ordinarily go overlooked.
This year’s festival took place at 3 Dollar Bill in East Williamsburg, a large queer-centric venue with excellent Mexican food on the patio and ample space for the events. Booths dotted the main room, showcasing sponsors, musicians, and artists, such as cartoonist Mike Diana, director Frank Henenlotter and, of course, Troma. Beyond the tables, a large dance area was converted to a screening area with a sizable screen posted on the stage and seats arranged on the floor.
“…champions the underdog by giving a platform to those who would ordinarily go overlooked.”
The programming consisted of three domestic features and over 30 short films from the US, Spain, UK, Belgium, Brazil, Australia and Sweden, all arranged in thematic blocks. Standouts included zombie comedy Z Fest from Spanish director Gorka Leon, J.M. Logan’s John Waters-inspired Lunch Ladies and Z-Goat: First Bleat, an intense battle with a demon from Belgian directors Julien Jauniaux and Bertrand Leplae, as well as Once Bitten from UK director Pete Tomkies and starring modern scream queen Lauren Ashley Carter, Michael Paul’s twisted Strange Clowns and Stray, a truly beautiful, bizarre dreamlike film from Australia’s Dean W. Law.
The Short Film Spotlight fell on Brutal Realty, Inc, a genuinely hilarious piece directed by Erik Boccio in which a black metal drummer (London May) tires of relentlessly pounding double-bass blast beats and follows his passion for real estate. Brilliantly written, the story flips the classic “downtrodden anti-hero finds his dream” motif on its head while sporting some great gore and a stellar performance from May, who perfectly plays the black metal musician straight for laughs.
The feature films included Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana, a documentary from legendary horror director Frank Henenlotter about the cartoonist’s First Amendment case in Florida, Portal Man, an extremely low-budget cyberpunk effort blending elements of The Matrix, Trancers, and Dreamscape from director Charles Davis and the fantastic Assassinaut. Directed by Drew Bolduc, it tells the story of a dystopian future where four children take a trip in space to meet the president, only to find themselves pushed to their absolute limits when things go wrong. Like last year’s amazing Prospect, it effectively tells a raw science fiction story without relying on extravagant effects or action superstars.
“…remarkably on-point with social issues while being both nauseatingly disgusting and hysterically funny…”
When not screening movies, there were raffles, Q&As with directors and cast, a roundtable discussion about low-budget filmmaking and an exclusive look at Troma’s upcoming #ShakespearesShitstorm, which honestly looks like it may be the best Lloyd Kaufman film to date with its blatant skewering of social media, entitlement, and pharmaceuticals. There aren’t too many directors who can be remarkably on-point with social issues while being both nauseatingly disgusting and hysterically funny, but he is definitely one of them.
Now, this was a Troma enterprise and, as with all things Troma, it was not perfect. Technical difficulties started the first day off late, though things quickly came together very well. A missing sound man, however, caused further delays the second day, meaning an entire Spotlight block of director Dan Bringhurst’s short films had to be cut. Also, for some reason, there was radio interference in the sound system, and the audience had to listen to extreme Christian radio while trying to watch the films. That said, there was no cover charge at the door and no submission fee for the filmmakers. In fact, the whole thing was on Troma’s dime, so there really wasn’t much room for complaint.
Troma is a bona fide New York institution, and their presence encourages filmmakers across the country and around the world to work outside of the Hollywood system and have fun doing it. As to be expected, TromaDance lacks the finesse of more established festivals, but more than makes up for it by being down-to-earth, financially accessible and, most importantly, fun. Next year will mark the festival’s 20th entry (they skipped a year), so be sure to mark your calendars, and if you’re in the Midwest, keep an eye out for TromaDance Detroit. The quality of the programming makes it more than a worthwhile outing, and you never know what will happen. See you there.
[Header photo by Matt Paden]