Most would agree on the enduring value of watching classic films — Casablanca, Citizen Kane, etc. — but film buff Joey Halegua makes a fascinating point about the merit of the unacclaimed films in the history of cinema. “I think it is just as important for people to see the unpopular films of the past,” he says. “Approaching films in this way allows you to form a more realistic and well-rounded understanding of the media/culture of a particular time.”
With that in mind, Halegua, a Miami native and Chapman University film school grad, launched the Gutter Film Series in July. Hosted at LAB Miami, in Wynwood, the series screens two B movies/cult classics per month that are united by a theme. In July, the theme was Zombies in Tropicalia, and Halegua screened Lucio Fulci’s Zombie 2 and the Nazi zombie film Shockwaves. For this month’s theme of East Meets West, Halegua is screening the Karate-Blaxploitation film Black Belt Jones on Thursday, August 9, and an action film called Miami Connection on August 29. Ahead of the screenings, I traded emails with Halegua to learn more about the value of gutter cinema.
Tell me about the concept behind the Gutter Film Series — why the celebration of B movies and cult classics?
JH: The Gutter is dedicated to B movies and cult films from the past because I think it’s important for people to look to the past to get a better perspective on today. It’s one thing to watch the great films of the past, the Godfathers and Casablancas, but if you only revisit the popular films of the past you are only seeing a narrow selection of the media of that time. I think it is just as important for people to see the unpopular films of the past. I think that approaching films in this way allows you to form a more realistic and well-rounded understanding of the media/culture of a particular time. That’s not to say we are only showing unsuccessful films — many of these films ended up turning a profit in the long-run. It’s just offering an alternative glimpse into the past.
The concept of The Gutter was also born out of a personal longing. In Los Angeles there are a handful of cinemas that show these sorts of movies as part of their regular programming. I frequented these sorts of film screenings and some of my best times in L.A. were had while seated in a dusty old theater chair watching some scratched and faded film print. When I moved back to Miami I tried to find screenings like this and they just weren’t happening. I determined that it was my responsibility as a Miami native and a cinephile to create the sort of event that I would want to go to. That being said, we aren’t showing film prints at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future. I hope that in creating this event, I’m creating something that will bring people out of the woodwork, so to speak. I think that there are people out there who are or will become interested in this sort of event, and I hope to bring those people out of their living rooms and into a communal sort of environment.
I decided to call the event The Gutter Film Series because the films that I plan on showing are generally grimy or filthy in either content, aesthetic, or both. The idea of having your mind “in the gutter” is encouraged by this film series. It’s kind of a play on the legendary “grindhouses” of 42nd Street in Manhattan. I think that most of the films we will be showing at the event were frequent players at these sorts of grungy, dirty movie houses of the past.
Why did you choose an East Meets West focus for August? Why Black Belt Jones and Miami Connection in particular?
JH: I chose to screen Black Belt Jones mainly because it’s just a fun experience watching that film. But I also think it’s a really good example of a hybrid film. It’s a film that’s part Karate and part Blaxploitation, and I think it really does a good job of making it work. But mostly because it’s fun.
Miami Connection … is just a bizarre film that is hilarious the whole way through. There’s no way to really explain it, but I will attempt with a word association exercise: Miami, ’80s, cocaine, ninjas, Mullet (an extremely bro’d out rock and roll band), and lots of ass-kicking. People will have to see for themselves.
I decided to have our theme for August be about culture-clash films more as a reaction to our first Zombies in Tropicalia screenings than any sort of relevance to the month. To be honest, it’s an attempt at not pigeon-holing the series into being about horror or gore films. The two movies that we have planned for August are essentially comedies in their concept. If you read the plot descriptions, you can’t help but think, “Really?!? This exists?” So I wanted to ease off the intensity of zombies with something a little lighter and more comedic.
On its Facebook page, you say your goal with the Gutter Film Series is to inspire people — can you elaborate? inspire them to appreciate B movies? to earn a black belt in Karate?
JH: Haha. The goal with the Gutter is to create a place where people can come to see off-beat films from the past. In the pursuit of that goal I think that those who come see the films will leave the theater changed. Depending on the person, that change could manifest itself in an endless number of ways, or not at all. With creative people, maybe it will have an affect on their art. Athletes may be more inclined to going out and studying Karate. Whatever the change is, I think that it is only a beneficial thing for people to widen their perspective and awareness of the media that surrounds them. If it takes looking into half-forgotten films of the past in order for us to better understand films of today, then that’s what we will do.
To learn more about the screenings, visit the Gutter Film Series Facebook page.