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Gilbey on Film: Gregg Araki and the geeks

Why was Kaboom pulled from FrightFest?

Curious goings-on this past week at FrightFest, the UK's splendid annual fantasy and horror film festival, which runs each August over the bank holiday weekend.

Last Friday, the film journalist Alan Jones, one of FrightFest's organisers, wrote on his blog about the decision of the director Gregg Araki to pull his latest picture, Kaboom, from its slot at the upcoming festival. Kaboom, which screened at Cannes earlier this year, reportedly blends Araki's usual milieu (sex, drugs and general debauchery among elegantly wasted teens fired from Abercrombie & Fitch for being offensively pretty) with horror-movie overtones, and has been widely compared to Donnie Darko. It has also been described as "a messy clusterfuck of excessive surrealism, low production values and characters speaking in that mannered way that only exists in the movies".

Jones has been an enthusiastic champion of the film, and FrightFest doesn't want for prestige, having introduced to the UK films such as Old Boy, Shaun of the Dead and Hostel. So it was a surprise to read his take on why Araki had put the kibosh on Kaboom:

[We] were told that Araki wanted Kaboom pulled from our line-up because he didn't want it being seen by a "bunch of geeks", his alleged words. The first thought that crossed our minds was, how come he's taken this long to tell us when we've been publicising the programme for a month now and every major website has carried the news? The second thought was what sort of film does he think he's actually made? The third was: so much for the pleas of tolerance and acceptance he advocates in his movies. The fourth was: Wow, has he got the FrightFest audience wrong. The fifth was . . . we don't need his movie if that's his blinkered attitude.

It certainly seemed a rum state of affairs, not unlike discovering that Steven Spielberg has it in for UFO nuts. Who would be left to stick up for the geeks if not Araki? His work stretches from his flawed but well-intentioned 1992 debut, The Living End -- a key text of the new queer cinema -- to his beautifully controlled film of Scott Heim's novel Mysterious Skin. Conventional he is not. Even allowing for the inclusivity of terms like "nerd" and "geek", which are affectionate rather than discriminatory, it would be dangerous for any film-maker to dictate in advance a desired audience.

Now Araki claims, in a message posted today on Jones's blog, that he never made any such statement. In fact, he seems to have been kept out of the loop entirely, professing that he only recently discovered his film was off to FrightFest:

As anyone who's seen my movies would know, I'm a cinema geek and genre fan myself . . . As an indie director, I never take any fan of mine for granted and am grateful for each and every one. The only part of this sordid saga that's true is that Kaboom was unfortunately removed from the FrightFest line-up. That decision was made after careful consideration by myself, the other producers [and] the financiers and upon the advice of friends who work in distribution. The sad fact of the matter is it's becoming harder and harder to make and distribute truly independent films in the current marketplace. Getting your film out there to audiences is more difficult than ever and requires careful planning and strategy.

Fan buzz-generating screenings like FrightFest are of course amazing and great fun to do but they're normally slotted closer to a film's theatrical release date as part of an orchestrated marketing effort. Our foremost concern right now is what's best for Kaboom overall and how to parlay the movie's amazing debut in Cannes into the widest distribution possible. As to why the film was pulled so late, I wasn't even told of its inclusion in the festival till a little over a week ago (sorry, but I don't google myself or my films on a regular basis and have no staff or assistants to keep me updated on stuff like that).

That would appear to be the end of the story, at least until Kaboom shows up in this October's BFI London Film Festival line-up, as Jones predicts it might (he says the LFF is "obviously the place Araki thinks would be best for Kaboom even though it hasn't yet been accepted by that flagship festival"). Still, FrightFest gets some well-deserved publicity out of all this, while Kaboom is now a title that people will recognise. So can we kiss and make up?