When it comes to the local cinematic scene in Philadelphia, no one is more qualified to be its nucleus than Eric Bresler. In addition to hosting numerous film-centric events all year round, most notably Cinedelphia, Bresler also curates one of the most unique live performance spaces in the city, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, or PhilaMOCA. In addition to this, he also operates Philly’s local found footage scene, Video Pirates, which showcases some of the most intriguing and bizarre gems from film’s darkest corners.
Fresh off of the 2014 offering of Cinedelphia, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Eric to discuss his history in the Philadelphia film scene as well as a few revelations about future projects.
How did you get started with PhilaMOCA, up to and including your eventual curator duties?
In early 2012 PhilaMOCA founder Gavin Hecker was looking to move to NYC for work and a mutual friend of ours recommended me to him to take over the place. So I dove right in, the place was mainly known as a DIY show space at that point and I expanded that to include a wide variety of the arts, diversity is what really sets our space apart from other local outlets. I officially took over all aspects of PhilaMOCA last summer, so it’s now run by Cinedelphia Entertainment and our lease is signed through the end of 2015.
What can you tell me about Cinedelphia? How did the festival first come about? Additionally, how did this year’s festival go? Which performances proved especially popular with audiences?
I started the Cinedelphia Film Festival last year in an effort to promote Philly’s contributions to film and television history, to showcase local accomplishments beyond the ROCKY movies. So in 2013, all of the 40-some-odd programs were Philly-related in some manner. I also have fond memories about attending the old Philly Film Festival back when it was held in the Spring so it’s been fun to recapture that feeling, in a way. Right from the beginning I was making a statement about the state of film festivals today, how sad it is that many of them are just clones of each other, how a lot of festivals really have no interest in discovering and showcasing new and interesting work, just work that has been pre-approved by Variety or whatever. I hate the submission fee festival model, I hate that there are festivals out there that don’t even open the submission packages, but turn huge profits exploiting aspiring filmmakers. That’s why I took an all-curation approach for the CFF, no submissions, just research and creativity.
I could have gone with the Philly theme again this year, but I felt that having it evolve was the more rebellious route so I broadened the theme to include video-era oddities and archive programs, things that I’m personally interested in these days, all under this loose “preservation” theme. I’m really proud of this year’s programming, next year’s will likely be along the same thematic lines.
The festival itself went great this year, I’m really proud of that City Paper cover story we received concerning the opening night film, VIDEO WARS. That was probably my personal favorite screening of this year’s festival, it was a real pleasure putting this film and its cast and crew members that were in attendance back in the spotlight. There was a pretty spirited Q&A too. Some of the most popular events of this year’s festival were THE SHINING projected forwards and backwards with a live score by Psychic Teens, the Everything Is Terrible! retrospective (they’ll be back with a new live show on May 22!), the RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH Philly premiere with Lloyd Kaufman in attendance, that Troma crowd is wild! A lot of my favorite programs were the moderately attended ones, like the all-animated GIF film twohundredfiftysixcolors and the Amy Fisher biopic mashup TRIPLE FISHER. Another great one, which was a surprise for the audience, was when we showed a short called STAGNATION after COMPUTER ERROR: THE WORST OF CGI, both are by the same director. STAGNATION is the three TRANSFORMERS films edited together but with all of the robots removed, the result is a rather harrowing human drama, it’s truly some subversive brilliance.
Can you go into detail on Video Pirates? What first got you collecting such material?
I was a big VHS collector throughout the 90s, mostly horror movies, old anime, Hanna-Barbera cartoons. By high school my friends and I had developed that sense of humor that appreciates amateur productions and film oddities, I’ve pulled stuff for current Video Pirates projects from tapes that date back that far. I would sit people down and show them weird videos throughout college, the first time I actually organized a series of clips into a live show was at a party in 2002 at the Astrocade, a really cool warehouse I was living in at the time at 10th and Ridge.
The Video Pirates name itself dates back to Christmas break of 1998 when my dad recommended I watch the anthology film AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, the most memorable skit in it concerns a group of literal pirates who deal in bootlegging movies, the first Video Pirates live show actually opens with that clip. By the time I actually sat down to edit the first proper Video Pirates piece in 2012 there were a whole bunch of amazing collectives out there doing similar things: Everything Is Terrible!, Found Footage Festival, TV Carnage, I’m representing for Philadelphia. There have been two Video Pirates DVDs released so far, my work has screened at International House and L.A.s fantastic Cinefamily, and I opened for Everything Is Terrible! on their 2012 Christmas tour.
Philadelphians: I want your tapes!
What are a few interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?
Hm…I’m a Drexel University graduate, longtime employee/manager of a TLA Video store (2003-2008), former Managing Director of the Philadelphia Film Society (under the old guard). Right out of college I made a feature-length documentary about Japanese animation fans called OTAKU UNITE!, that was distributed and played festivals and conventions all over the world.
Around 2008 I grew tired of video production and started concentrating on local film programming and tour booking for bands from Japan, I ran a record label for a while, Tokyo No Records.
What else…my favorite band is Sparks and I’ve traveled all over the world to see them perform live, my other travels are usually centered around movie-related things. I’ve slept in the Welsh village that THE PRISONER was filmed in, I’ve visited the shrine of Thai actor Mitr Chaibancha, I’ve shopped at Dario Argento’s museum in Rome (yes, Luigi Cozzi was manning the register). Philly is still my favorite city in the world though.
And speaking of your hobbies, how much of yourself would you say you put into PhilaMOCA and the events it showcases?
I read a lot of comic books, all of the super hero stuff (not much D.C. these days), but I collect oddities. Spire Christian Comics, promotional books, educational comics, treasury sized editions, Marvel Fireside books. My favorite comics of all time are the two Gumby specials that Arthur Adams drew, one was written by Steve Purcell (Sam & Max) and the other by Bob Burden (Flaming Carrot). I’m a huge Flaming Carrot fan, I’ll definitely invite Bob Burden to come to PhilaMOCA some day, I did the same for Chris Claremont, whose X-MEN comics started me reading in the first place, and Michael Kupperman, I’m a big fan of his Tales Designed to Thrizzle. Beyond comics I listen to a lot of older international pop stuff (on an Italo disco kick lately) and watch a lot of obscure foreign movies (currently working on Swedish films from the 70s). I’m a big Howard Stern fan and felt helpless when they canceled Howard TV late last year, but luckily the WWE Network has filled that void.
So yeah, my personal interests are all over our in-house programming. I also really love hosting likeminded individuals and organizations that I’m a personal fan of, I’m endlessly impressed with the Miss Rose’s Sexploitation Follies crew, they do the movie-themed burlesque shows, and I’m always happy to host Exhumed Films, whose screenings I’ve been going to since 1998 (their most recent PhilaMOCA event was on Friday, May 9, KAIJU-PALOOZA with free promotional items for the new GODZILLA film!).
I can be a selfish curator, I’ll program events that will likely lose money, but that risk keeps things exciting. Hell, I flew in the guy who sang songs in the two BIRDEMIC films and he performed live for half a dozen people. That kind of situation has its own magic, we don’t shy away from awkwardness at PhilaMOCA. I guess once I get a good event idea in my head I’ll always follow through with it, attendance and bills be damned. We’re completely event-funded by the way, we don’t apply for grants or have a membership system or anything like that, we completely rely on the draw of what we showcase.
What is a particularly memorable moment for you from all of your experiences with PhilaMOCA, Cinedelphia, etc.?
There was a moment at our Christmas party this past December, Suzanne “Underdog Lady” Muldowney was on stage singing “Little Drummer Boy” in Latin to the accompaniment of NJ-born solo act Keyboard Cathy, and I kind of stepped outside of my body and surveyed what I’d created and felt a genuine pride. That’s a very fond memory.
I’ve curated a countless number of memorable events, a few that come to mind: the live script reading with Greg Sestero from THE ROOM (a concept that he’s since taken on the road for his subsequent appearances, with my blessing), the entertainment for both David Lynch-themed Eraserhood Forever events, our recent DOUBLE DARE retrospective. I loved the Ben Leach-curated Mr. T-themed art show/celebration (complete with a Mr. T impersonator who drove down from Boston for the event); I loved it when director Slava Tsukerman attended our screening of LIQUID SKY with a live score by Cheap Dinosaurs. Hosting The Monochrome Set on their first U.S. tour in 30 years was a real achievement. In late 2012 I did an event centered around Sparks, it was a Sparks-themed art show, a 60 minute video I edited on the history of the band, and a long succession of musicians covering Sparks songs, from a string quartet to an accordion player. I met my girlfriend that night when I sang a Sparks song with her band, Weird Hot. A year later a guy came up to me at the Sparks concert at the Trocadero, their first local show since the early 80s I believe, and told me that he believed that it was the PhilaMOCA event that brought them back. Maybe! So yeah, lots of fond memories.
What are your big plans and ideas for 2014?
I’m working on two big things right now that I can’t mention just yet, both are film related and unrelated to all of my other activities and will be announced later this year. One of them is going to change the face of moviegoing in Philadelphia. Teaser! Aside from these…
All of my free nights for the next few months will be going into editing Mausoleum Party, our new public access show that will begin airing on PhillyCAM in June. We’ve shot five episodes live at PhilaMOCA and have showcased such rare and unique talents as UFOlogist Riley Martin, legendary YouTube sensation Jan Terri, and Macaulay Culkin’s Pizza Underground band.
Some PhilaMOCA things that we haven’t announced yet include three official comic-related afterparties for Wizard World, a Danzig-themed art show/celebration, and a brand new, multi-week, in-house film festival that we’ll be holding in late October. This week I’ve been speaking with public access legend Madame Chao about doing a retrospective this summer and Lydia Lunch about performing live in the near future. Oh, and one of my moviemaking idols may actually be visiting us this fall, fingers crossed!
I have an ongoing Video Pirates project too that will hopefully be done by early next year, it’ll end up as a 3.5 hour career retrospective of Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan. So I’m slowly working my way through his 180+ filmography, it’s been nine months now since I started it.
Anything else that you would like to add?
I like to voice my appreciation of our attendees every chance I get. Again, we don’t have outside funding, you are the people that keep us open. And the people that keep us in operation are the volunteers and interns, I’m always hoping that they know how much I appreciate their help.