Starting tomorrow, the Spectacle Theater, Williamsburg’s tiny bootlegs-and-rarities screening room, hosts the second annual Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium, featuring a selection of rare-to-infamous apocalyptic films, plus DJ’ed parties and several talks. The L’s Michael Joshua Rowin will be moderating a panel on “Atomic Anxieties” following Saturday afternoon’s screening of the post-nuclear nuclear family drama Testament. (The panel also features Time Out NY‘s Josh Rothkopf, and Andrew Rosenthal, chaplain at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.) We had some questions for festival director Andrew Miller.
Why a festival of apocalyptic films?
The easiest answer is that no one else was doing it. Which seemed odd, since the general public’s obsession with the End of Days in all its forms is nothing new and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As long as humanity endures, it seems we will be imagining the way in which it will end. Which is good for me and the fest’s co-director Kristana, I guess, since it makes for an ever expanding library of films for us to cull from. It makes for interesting pairs too, like Christian Rapture PSAs with zombie movies. I think we’re definitely just getting started though: we haven’t even touched on asteroids or the sun’s expansion yet.
Why these particular apocalyptic films? Did you pick the films and curate distinctive panels around them, or start with themes and fill in with titles?
It was definitely a mix of both. We picked Hardware, for example, not only so that we could discuss apocalyptic anxieties surrounding the digital age, but also because it’s a neglected cyberpunk classic with some seriously exquisite blood-red skies. I think we lucked out in that the movies on our wish list coincided so neatly with the subjects we wanted to talk about. Or to be more accurate, made us want to assemble a panel of an experts to talk about it for us.
What are the goals for the panels?
We want to figure out why we keep telling this story. Is it because we’re afraid it’s going to happen, or because we feel like we deserve it? Or is it a half-wished for descent into dog-eat-dog barbarity and the extermination of all the boring people in the world? Whatever the case, the fest has a pretty wide range of guests in attendance—artists, critics, filmmakers, academics, scientists, novelists, chaplains—so I think the conversations will be pretty interesting, and may very well get to the heart of our obsession. Hopefully we’ll able to find out if we’re doomed, or just plain paranoid.
Would you care to trace a through-line across the years of apocalyptic cinema on view at the Doomsday fest?
The films included in the festival trace the past 40 years of our apocalyptic fears. Latent distrust of technology began as early as the late 60’s with Colossus: The Forbin Project, arguably the granddaddy of “technology run amok” films, and continues with the almost gleefully nihilistic Hardware from the 90s. And all the various ways in which we were spooked in the 80s are on full display here. Reagan was really one of the best things to happen to the doomsday genre— back then it wasn’t even in question, the end was just all kinds of nigh. On one hand we have valley girls celebrating the apocalypse at the mall (Night of the Comet) and frat boy zombie pandemics (Night of the Creeps), and on the other we have the devastatingly existential atomic parable Testament, which has scenes so grim it makes The Road look like a Lifetime special.
As far as what the future of doomsday cinema holds, well, we’ve got a “Doomsday Shorts” program, and almost all were made in the past year or so. They’re a great mix of the totally dark and totally ridiculous. The filmmakers are just unbearably talented, and I’m looking forward to how they might exploit my apocalyptic fears in the future. At least until 2012.