Inside Denver's new neo-cult series Channel Z
When Lamberto Bava's splatter classic Demons screens this Saturday, January 25 at the Alamo Drafthouse, it isn't just a rare chance to see this obscure gem on the big screen. The film also marks the debut of Channel Z, Keith Garcia's new cult-film series that picks up where his excellent Watching Hour left off. Along with co-programmer Theresa Mercado, Garcia plans to use the series to bring lesser known but still fantastic underground films to a wider audience. We recently caught up with Garcia and Mercado to talk about what to expect from the series, how it came to be and how it will fit into the Denver film scene.
Westword: In a nutshell, what is Channel Z and what do you hope to accomplish with the series?
Keith Garcia: I've been dying to get back into telling people what they should see. Unfortunately, I had to leave the Watching Hour behind, but the basic core of that idea was always about bringing movies to the forefront that people have missed somehow their entire lives, or it's just not even on their radar. With the name Channel Z, what I kind of think of as it's that last station on the dial that you would expect to have something on it. Sometimes the best movies I saw as a kid were the ones on that far-reaching channel that you had to click through for 25 minutes to get to.
Theresa Mercado: I obviously was a tremendous fan of the Watching Hour. That's how I met Keith, as a fan going to his movies. Almost every Friday, that's where I would be, going to the Watching Hour. Losing that series was a major void in the Denver cult-film scene. Starting something fresh and new [with him] is awesome and amazing. I love horror movies. I love neo-cult movies. I love weird, bizarre cinema. I love things that no one's seen -- sick shit. I love sharing my favorite things with people who have never heard of them, and as you have shared those things with me, I want to share those things with other people.
Garcia: Trust is a big deal with it, too. I think Theresa has built up a film community that trusts her, in the same way that the film community trusted me. Especially nowadays, there are so many movies to watch, not just in the movie theaters, but on VOD or iTunes or Netflix. The thing that most people want is that trust, like, "Well, you tell me what I should see." I'm happy to be that instructor. I think that Theresa is, too. We're both great teachers. Especially when it's something that a lot of people have never seen, but know by reputation. Like, "Isn't [Last Action Hero] that awful Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?" It's classified that way, but it's so much more than that.
How did the partnership happen? Did he just call you up and ask you to join?
Mercado: I think I had inquired a few times about whether or not there would be a Watching Hour program at the Alamo, because my Friday nights I'd just sit at home, rocking on the couch, wishing I had something to do and watch. Then he asked if I'd be interested in somehow being involved and I said, "Oh, my god, yes." Then we just got together and decided there'd be a horror night and a neo-cult night and went from there.
So Theresa will be doing all the horror picks, and Keith, you'll focus on non-horror selections? Will there be exceptions to that?
Garcia: In February when we do Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, she's doing Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which, yes, is a horror film, and I'm doing part two, Freddy's Revenge. Yes, that's a horror film, but it's the gay one. My role will be to let you watch it through gay eyes, instead of through typical horror eyes. That will change how you view that movie, especially if you've seen it before and dismissed it as sort of a crummy sequel.
When I first watched it, I was a kid and the subtext went right over my head. As I began watching queer cinema as a gay man, there were little sort of "campfire stories" about certain movies, like "Did you know that this movie has a gay subtext?" Like, The Hidden, which is written by the same writer as Freddy's Revenge. Like 95 percent of the cast and crew say, "Oh, we had no idea this was a gay movie" but the 5 percent who knew -- the writer and the star -- say, "Oh, yeah, this is gay."
Originally it wasn't supposed to be theme-driven, right? How did you decide to tie each block to a theme?
Garcia: I'm a big fan of themes. I love doing film series based on directors, or whatever. I'm a big fan of that type of programming. Kicking off, the first film is Demons, selected by Theresa. I'm like, "What do I pair with that for my non-horror?" I was thinking about Demons and what I like about that movie, and one of my favorite things is it takes place in a movie theater. It's about that weird fear of watching a horror movie and the fear that the terror is going to come out of the screen. I thought about the other times I've felt that, and The Last Action Hero is about watching movies and about breaking that fourth wall. And it fit that notion of a movie that no one has seen, or that people have dismissed. So in the vein of trying to show a movie that no one has seen, that other theme came out: movies about the movies.
As we thought about our next movies, I was like "February is the second month, let's do sequels in a franchise." I knew I wanted to do Freddy's Revenge and she was like, "Ooh, can I do Wes Craven's New Nightmare?" I was like, perfect!
Mercado: That one was easy, a no-brainer.
Garcia: For March she asked if I considered Play Misty for Me a horror movie, and I said yes. Then I was thinking of my pairing and decided the theme would be "first directed films by famous actors." Lots of those are shitty movies, though, but I came up with Buffalo 66 by Vincent Gallo.
Mercado: Which is an excellent choice. I also love themes at my series. I think the people whocome to mine sort of expect a theme and are always excited about what the theme is going to be. Thus far together, it's been very organic. It just works. Choosing a theme hasn't been difficult. He says something, I'm like "Yeah!" I look forward month to month to working together and picking off each other's thoughts. I think the themes will be fun.
Keith Garcia and Theresa Mercado
Is the Alamo excited to have the series?
Garcia: Definitely. I think it's right up the Alamo's alley. There's the Austin portion of the Alamo that does a lot of the programming, but they leave the door open for the local theaters to pick something up on their own and roll with it. They've been waiting for me to get something together and roll with it. They're already excited about the concept and execution.
I'm a big fan of doing something fun at the screening. That's something that Theresa's been doing at her screenings, so I figured if [she] came aboard, too, I wanted her to do some stuff and I'll do some stuff, too. For Demons, we'll be doing some goodies for the audience, including doing a collectible pin. You'll get one at every Channel Z, tied to the film. At the end of the year, whoever has the most of those pins, we'll do something cool with them.
Mercado: We're both movie nerds and before I had my movie series, I always loved that Keith would encourage people to dress up in character, or have movie-themed stuff, give away prizes, and have trivia for the movie. As a movie nerd, those are the things that made me want to go see it there instead of seeing it at home by myself. I do that at my series, and we'll be doing it with this series. It makes it more fun ... makes you remember it a little better. I want to make it more of an experience.
Theresa, now that you're joining forces with Keith, what does that mean for your Cruel Seasons series?
Mercado: It will continue. There's a million movies out there. I can show horror movies multiple times a month for the rest of my life and never share all the movies I want to share with people, so it will continue. I'm hoping that all my people who come to my series are very excited about this series.
What else should people know about Channel Z?
Garcia: As much as I can, the selection will be on 35mm film. That's an important thing to me, maintaining film as best we can. Many of these films I saw myself on 35mm and it just evokes something. Even if a print is a little deteriorated.
Mercado: It only adds to the charm.
Garcia: The scratches and the washed-out color, the weird splice ... yeah. We're one of the only theaters in town that does 35mm at all and I want to make those projectors work.
Mercado: I feel very strongly about that,too. It's just sort of a lost medium at this point, and when it's gone, it's gone forever. There's something very romantic about seeing it in that format. It's not perfect, and that imperfection is what makes it great. I can watch a DVD at home, or wherever. It's that extra effort that someone went to track down a print and present it to you. Sometimes that's the only opportunity you'll ever have to see it like that, and I think it's great to offer that to our viewers.
I definitely encourage people to suggest things, things that they'd like to see. Things you've never seen because they're inaccessible, or things you love and want others to see. What do other film nerds want to see? I'd love to help people fulfill that and find these films that they've always wanted to see on 35mm on the big screen.
Garcia: My goal ultimately, even back in the Watching Hour, was wanting people to understand the breadth of film around us. You can go to Channel Z on a Saturday, you can go to Theresa's series once a month, you can show some VHS tapes at your house, you can go to the rest of the Alamo's programming. You start to pick up on what's out of the ordinary, or what's extraordinary about film. That's all I've ever wanted, is to keep people watching movies. I never want anyone to think that Denver's a boring city for movies. There's a ton of things that play here; you just have to know how to find them. Come hang out with us and you'll find them.
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