It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon inside Atomic Liquors. In sharp contrast to the burgeoning hipster scene that will overtake this venerable—and recently revived—Fremont Street watering hole later in the evening, things are quiet right now. Alternative rock from the digital jukebox plays at a low volume in the background; a few grizzled regulars sit at the bar, where a young, pretty bartender serves them stiff drinks. A few obviously misplaced tourists walk in, drawn by the old-school vibe of the place.
In a darkened corner booth near the side exit, Chad Clinton Freeman is impatiently checking his cellphone. The husky, long-haired, bespectacled founder of the PollyGrind Film Festival is waiting for a call from Michael Muscal, the first-time director of the “stoner horror movie” Little Fucker. The film isn’t just another entry into PollyGrind’s eclectic programming mix of sub-independent cinema—it’s one for which Freeman is trying to attain distribution under his PollyGrind Presents label, a partnership with B-movie distributor Wild Eye Releasing.
Now in its fourth year, the IMDb-qualifying PollyGrind—which returns October 9-13—has built a considerable reputation among the underground film community as a venue for all sorts of filmmakers to exhibit their creations. Although pigeonholed as a horror festival—something Freeman alternately contends with and resigns himself to—PollyGrind is completely open to all types of film, regardless of freshness, budget or genre.
“Most festivals won’t show a film unless it was made in the last year,” Freeman says. “To me, if it’s good, if it’s entertaining, if it offers an experience, it doesn’t matter. I just want to show good stuff.”
Freeman’s approach to developing the programming for PollyGrind begins with reviewing the entries he receives throughout the submission period, which typically runs from April until mid-July. This year, Freeman says he received 777 entries, the most PollyGrind has ever received. He designates the official selections first (“the stuff I like,” he says), and then builds the schedule around those.
“I want to program films people expect,” he says, then pauses for a moment. “But I don’t want to program films people expect.”
Not only is Freeman the one-man selection committee for PollyGrind, he’s also the sole judge for its awards. He also happens to be the festival’s publicist, webmaster, marketing director, travel planner and projectionist. Freeman calls PollyGrind his “baby,” but it still seems a Herculean task for him alone to pull off an event with so many moving parts, year after year. After spending time with him, though, it becomes obvious that he’s uncomfortable with the idea of loosening control over any aspect of the festival’s operations.
“It’s something I love and put all of myself into it,” Freeman says. “It’s like a really obsessive hobby.”
In previous years, Freeman has tried to expand the scope of PollyGrind through strategic partnerships, but those didn’t always work out well. He held a screening of Albert Pyun’s Road to Hell at Rave Motion Pictures’ Town Square location (now an AMC Theatre) last year, but despite an impressive turnout of 200 people, miscommunications with management and the lack of additional personnel marred its success. In 2011, he teamed up with the Neon Reverb music festival to promote a series of shorts and documentaries at Theatre7, but those screenings were counterprogrammed against Neon Reverb shows at other venues, and turnout was almost nonexistent.
Originally, Freeman and Atomic owner Derek Stonebarger (who also owns Theatre7) discussed plans this year to host drive-in screenings at Atomic, perhaps with car shows and live bands playing. But now, save for daily “pre”- and “post”-screening cocktail hours at Atomic, Freeman is stripping PollyGrind down to its most basic form: back-to-back-to-back screenings of features and shorts for five days (save for an “encore weekend” October 25 and 26), all in one location: Theatre7. He’s even entertaining the idea of announcing all of the award winners prior to the start of the festival—a move that goes against the grain of every other such event. But doing things differently is basically PollyGrind’s stock in trade.
“One of the unique things about PollyGrind is that I’ll show films other festivals are afraid to show,” Freeman says. “PollyGrind cuts away a lot of the glitz and diva-ness of bigger festivals.”
Still, to the casual observer, it might seem as though the festival is in a holding pattern. The number of selections this year is the greatest in the festival’s short history—100 films from 13 countries, with 18 of those world premieres. But the reduction in the number of days, venues and peripheral events for the 2013 fest, combined with the fact that as a one-man operation, PollyGrind can only go so far, puts the future viability of the festival in question. Freeman, however, says he has a long-term vision, even if he’s the only one who can see it.
“I think it’s still building,” he says. “Ideally, I would like a theater that [seats] about 100 to 150 that is home to PollyGrind. The best scenario would be a venue that has a theater, a bar with the ability to host bands and a separate open area that could be used for convention booths, art shows or a haunted attraction. That way PollyGrind could have the movies, the music, the art, the spectacle and then some all in one place.”
Ultimately, though, Freeman isn’t particularly concerned if PollyGrind draws huge crowds of spectators for its screenings—he says that “trying to get the public in this town is like pulling teeth”—but if he gets to be an advocate for filmmakers, if he can be part of the process of them getting distribution deals or getting their next film completed, then to him, PollyGrind is a success … and a passion worth pursuing.
“I’m always going to be a student of film,” Freeman says. “I started the festival not knowing anything, and now I’ve learned so much. I am always looking forward no matter what and adapt as I go. I want to learn what I can.”
Fourth Annual International PollyGrind Film Festival
Oct. 9-13; Encore Weekend Oct. 25-26, Theatre7, 1406 S. Third St.
Screenings: $7 ($10 at the door), VIP all-access pass: $77, PollyGrind.com.