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Film preview: Anomaly -- The Rochester Genre Film Festival


Nerd alert! This is the inaugural year of Rochester's first genre film festival, Anomaly. Anomaly is the brainchild of local festival organizers, filmmakers, designers, artists, and writers: Matt DeTurck, Adam Lubitow (CITY's film critic) Meghan Murphy, Matt Knotts, Erin Murphy, Kristin Pelc-Pacheco, Vanessa J. Cheeks, Eric Maira, and John "Magnus" Champlin. The group says they just generally love the strange, maniacal, and what may very well be the next cult classic.

The organizers specify that this year, they're showcasing independent films from the genres of horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, dark comedy, and some titles that blend more than one genre (namely supernatural thrillers and, yes, supernatural rom-coms).

"Our lineup highlights the breadth of what 'genre' movies are," says co-organizer Adam Lubitow. "We're not only showing horror films -- although trust me, we've absolutely got blood and guts if you want that -- but we also have movies that will make you laugh and cry, and look at the world in a completely different way."

The lineup includes films that have screened this year at some of the most prestigious festivals in the world: Sundance, Cannes, South by Southwest, Venice, Toronto, Fantastic Fest, and others. "And most, if not all, of these won't be screened in Rochester again," Lubitow says.

The festival includes 10 feature films and a program of 20 shorts from around the world, and it runs from Friday, November 8, to Sunday, November 10, at the Cinema Theater. Individual tickets for each of the screenings is $10, and festival passes are also available for $70. Tickets can be purchased directly from the festival website at

When CITY met with the organizers to get the scoop on the lineup, we also we discussed the importance of a collective experience -- of watching a movie in the theater rather than streaming privately like we often do today -- and what that means in the digital age, when everyone has access to their own personal, portable screens. Perhaps horror films in particular are the best example of how shared (though naturally voyeuristic) emotions such as fear and aversion are communally cathartic, like how seeing a Stanley Kubrick film in theaters is a wildly different experience than watching it at home.

Anomaly's organizers want to repopularize instances when the audience jolts in unison during a jump scare, and when viewers' manners mirror one another (tightened jaws and straightened postures). In part, this experience has to do with the lack of control over sound, lighting, and for reasons pertaining to etiquette (such as not being able to text or talk for the sake of distraction).

But whatever vulnerability we feel in the theater, it's felt as a group -- unlike in our shuttered, private spaces -- and genre films embrace the concept of collective excitement.

Though it's the festival's first year, the creators have organized after-parties at local nightlife spots, as well as guest appearances, which include Zach Shildwachter, co-writer of the sci-fi action film, "Labrys"; and Rochester filmmaker Jack Beck, writer-director of the sci-fi fantasy, "Stari Grad (Old Town)." Both screen as part of the "Shocking! Spooky! Saturday Shorts" program on Saturday, November 9, at 10:15 a.m.

Prior to the screening of "Extra Ordinary" on Saturday night, editor Mark Di Stefano will introduce the locally-produced, horror-comedy-skater short "Night of the Living Shred."

Actor Tom Williamson and writer Matthew McArdle will be present for a Q&A following the 9 p.m. screening of the action flick "VFW" on Saturday night. (That showing is presented in partnership with nationally-known, Rochester-based horror t-shirt company Fright-Rags.)

And on Sunday, writer-director Vivienne Vaughn, composer Andrew Scott Bell, and co-director Zach Shildwachter will participate in a Q&A following the special US preview screening of the holiday horror anthology film "Deathcember." This screening will be the first chance for audiences to see the film anywhere in North America.

What follows is a brief peek at a few of this year's selections.

Director Adam Egypt Mortimer brings us face to face with the traumas that come with mental illness in "Daniel Isn't Real." The film experiments with literal interpretations of what are often metaphors for depression, mania, and delirium -- inner demons manifest, personal prisons materialize, and a protagonist jumps into the actual abyss. After nearly killing his own mother, main character Luke (Miles Robbins) locks up his childhood imaginary friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Several years later, in college, Daniel is freed. The direction in this psychological thriller is reminiscent of "Drop Dead Fred" and "Fight Club." A modern critique of the film could pose questions about the violent, white, three-dimensional, male protagonist whose violence is impelled by mental illness. (Friday, November 8, 6:30 p.m.)

A small village in Brazil is erased from the map, denied access to clean water, and loses cell phone service, inexplicably. UFOs appear and bikers spy on civilians. The Brazilian film "Bacurau" is not easily categorized, and it's likely to be most appreciated by Black Mirror and Twilight Zone enthusiasts, as it integrates dystopian, futuristic, thriller, and science fiction themes. Directed by KleberMendonçaFilho and JulianoDornelles, the film was notably the winner of the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. (Saturday, November 9, 1 p.m.)

Bring your goofiest, Monty-Python-quoting friend out on Saturday night to see the hilariously haunted "Extra Ordinary," an Irish film directed by Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. The story centers on gifted medium Rose (Maeve Higgins) as she uses her talents to help the desperate Martin (Barry Ward) who is being haunted by his recently departed wife. The script serves jokes so fast you might miss them if you're not paying attention -- and everything is on the table, including sexual innuendos, jokes about infanticide, and "ex-wifercisms." Considered a paranormal rom-com, nearly every line is quotable. (Saturday, November 9, 6:30 p.m.)

Rachel Crawford is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be sent to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY's arts & entertainment editor, at