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PRESS!! Another Hole in the Head celebrates 20th edition during a scary time for film festivals

Pam GradyNovember 29, 2023Updated: November 29, 2023, 12:36 pm

When Another Hole in the Head launched at the AMC Kabuki 8 in 2004, founder and Executive Director George Kaskanlian feared no one would turn up for his horror film festival. It wasn’t an unreasonable fear; the name itself reflected it.

San Francisco IndieFest director Jeff Ross remembers programmer Bruce Fletcher suggesting the moniker, as in “San Francisco needed another festival like it needed …”

But the audiences came. Kaskanlian recalls, in particular, a screening during that inaugural festival of Christopher Coppola’s “The Curse of Bloodhead” sold out the Kabuki theater in San Francisco’s Japantown to the delight of the filmmaker and festival organizers.

Still thriving two decades later, the 2023 edition of Another Hole in the Head runs Friday, Dec. 1, through Christmas Day at the Balboa, Roxie and 4 Star theaters, as well as at the Eclectic Box SF performance space in the Mission District. Nineteen features and 12 short film programs will also be available to stream online.

“What makes me want to keep going every year is the filmmakers,” Kaskanlian told the Chronicle. “Giving filmmakers a chance to play their movies in front of an audience, that makes me happy.”

Another Hole in the Head: Begins with a screening of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1. Through Dec. 25. $15-$35 live events, $9.99-$12.50 online, festival passes $40-$160. Balboa Theatre, 3630 Balboa St., S.F.; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., S.F.; 4 Star Theatre, 2200 Clement St., S.F.; Eclectic Box, 446 Valencia St., S.F.

The ongoing success of Another Hole in the Head and Ross’ four festivals under the San Francisco IndieFest banner — IndieFest, DocFest, IndieShorts and the Green Film Festival — might be a blueprint moving forward during a challenging time for film festivals.

Another Hole in the Head’s 20th edition (Kaskanlian dates the festival to a weekend horror sidebar that was part of 2003’s IndieFest) arrives 3½ years after COVID-19 upended the world in spring 2020 and amid constant headlines about the city caught in a “doom loop,” and film festivals are not immune.

First, theaters closed in March 2020. When they reopened in 2021, it was months before they were allowed to sell tickets to full capacity. Further COVID outbreaks cast a pall on live attendance, and some audience members discovered they preferred streaming. Festivals had to change with the circumstances.

“COVID had a massive impact. You can see it in the closed theaters, in how the bigger festivals in town have contracted: smaller footprints, smaller programs,” Ross said. “In the case of IndieFest and DocFest, we went from 15 days on two screens at the Roxie to eight days on one screen, augmented now with some additional online presentations. ”

But Kaskanlian is nothing if not nimble. All film festivals were forced to pivot during the pandemic, but he may have been better positioned than most — and not just because Another Hole in the Head is run on a shoestring budget compared to larger festivals. He had already pivoted once before COVID. Another Hole in the Head began strictly as a horror film festival, but after eight years Kaskanlian opened it up to include other genres.

“We changed, because not everyone wants to watch horror films,” he said. “Now it’s a genre fest open to anything. It has a little bit of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, documentaries — just cool, weird stuff.”

The pandemic forced Kaskanlian’s second pivot to a fully online festival in 2020, followed by a festival with a 50% mandated audience capacity in 2021 before it could continue under normal conditions in 2022.

“You know, (the pandemic) actually helped,” Kaskanlian said. “It forced us to go live on Zoom, which we’re still doing. … That year, 2020, we did on-demand events and a lot of people showed up, so we started implementing them again the year after when they started loosening restrictions in 2021.”

To date, there is an uptick in ticket sales for this year’s festival, though sales have yet to match pre-COVID numbers. The online festival, which reaches a worldwide audience, remains a success story, with sales increasing between 20% to 25% each year since 2020.

For this year’s lineup, Kaskanlian whittled to 250 films from 850 submissions — 35 of them features — and is enthusiastic about the treats in store for festivalgoers.

Among the scheduled events, San Francisco ensemble Sleepbomb is set to perform its live score accompanying the 1920 silent classic “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”; filmmaker Richard Elfman and wife Anastasia plan to provide a live music and burlesque pre-show before the screening of their feature

“Bloody Bridget,” in which Anastasia stars; the San Francisco

Set world premiere of “I’s” imagines the moment AI surpasses human intelligence;

The French fantasy “She Is Conann” spins a female-centered take on “Conan the Barbarian”

And partially shot in San Francisco, “tOuch,” is a documentary exploring the world of BDSM.

From Dec. 6-9, the festival is scheduled to present “Live on Stage! A Nightmare on Elm Street Holiday Parody.” Blood is expected to spatter from the Eclectic Box stage during this theatrical sendup of the classic horror film, so fans should come prepared. Kaskanlian suggests wearing old clothes, or white for gory-looking Instagram photos.

Ross believes the future of film festivals will be healthier if they are treated like the opera or the symphony with the same sort of taxpayer, foundation and donor subsidies. But he also acknowledges how remaining small and independent has helped festivals like his through this time of uncertainty.

“Staying lean means I can keep doing this DIY … as long as there’s still people in town interested in checking out our weird offerings, I can keep doing it,” Ross said.

As for Kaskanlian, he is bullish about his festival’s future.

“Another Hole in the Head is never going away. If I can’t do it anymore, I’ll pass the torch to some young kid. We’ll be here for life,” he said, with a laugh, “just like COVID.”

Pam Grady is a freelance writer.



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