When I started writing for this blog, I did not expect to be interviewing my heroes. Once again my expectations have been rocked as I was able to hold congress with Joseph Ziemba. Joseph is a wealth of schlock knowledge, and has a passion for passion projects. If there is a movie out there about a psychic sloppy joe sandwich made by a door-to-door pickle salesman, he knows about it. Joseph has humble beginnings, starting as a blog writer, and now works amongst those things he loves with The Alamo Drafthouse and AGFA. I hope you enjoy the interview and the obscure recommendations of Joseph Ziemba!
You seem to be involved in quite a bit. What does a typical work day look like for you?
For my day job, I’m the director of genre programming at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX and also the director of the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA). A typical work day is all over the place! For instance, yesterday, I worked on artwork for an upcoming AGFA Blu-ray release, created contracts for a new theatrical partner, worked on 2018 programming for Video Vortex (the Alamo’s national series that celebrates straight-to-video movies from all over the world), and had two programming meetings with our national teams.
I read Bleeding Skull religiously. The reviews are informative, but more importantly than that, they are entertaining. As a fellow reviewer, I wonder, do you ever get hung up trying to make a review work?
Thank you! My passion for the movie usually dictates the writing process. If I love it or hate it, the writing process is pretty smooth and fun. The boring, middle-of-the-road movies seem to take the longest to write. Because what do you say about a static movie where two people sit on a couch and talk about aliens?
How did you used to go about uncovering all of this schlock and exploitation goodness you review? What made something stand out?
It’s a constant obsession. Movies are one of the great loves of my life, so I’m always reading books, tracking down old magazines for information, and adding to my want list. In terms of what stands out, that boils down to my personal tastes. I’m naturally drawn to the more obscure side of culture across the board — that’s where I find the most interesting people and stories.
The AGFA label is the best thing that has happened in movie distribution in recent memory. New life is being brought to forgotten gems and films that would otherwise be discarded. Could you touch on that?
Aw, geez! Thanks so much! That’s really kind of you to say. I feel so lucky to be a part of the team at AGFA. Our mission as a non-profit is to preserve genre movies we love that have been forgotten or neglected. Our focus isn’t becoming “huge” or making tons of money, which isn’t even possible. Misunderstood or overlooked genre films made by people on the fringes need the most help. It’s harder for their voices to be heard. That’s where AGFA comes in. We want to share our love for these movies and make sure that they will be accessible to future generations forever.
Can you talk a bit about some of the upcoming releases? I’m especially excited for the Turkish-made The Sword and the Claw.
For sure! Glad you’re excited about SWORD AND THE CLAW. We are too! The street date for that Blu-ray is 01/22/2018. Before that, we have Ed Wood’s THE VIOLENT YEARS on 11/21/2017. Next year, we have eight releases lined up, including two with Something Weird (one of which is Ed Wood’s long-lost TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE), two in our new line of AGFA + Bleeding Skull releases, and four stand-alone AGFA releases. We’re so incredibly excited about 2018!!
If everything goes well, how many films do you anticipate AGFA releasing?
On average, we’re aiming towards 8-10 releases a year from now until forever.
Jumping back to your work with Bleeding Skull, what can we expect from the second Bleeding Skull book?
The second Bleeding Skull book is called BLEEDING SKULL! A 1990s TRASH-HORROR ODYSSEY. It’s a direct sequel to the first book and will be published by Fantagraphics in 2018. The first one included movies that were released theatrically, but this book strictly covers homemade movies from the VHS depths. It’s insane how many titles were produced in the 90s. Annie Choi, Zack Carlson, and myself are almost done with the writing and legendary D.I.Y. filmmaker Mark Polonia is writing the forward. Polonia Powa!
The Polonias are great! I was wondering if you could fire off some recommendations from your encyclopedic knowledge of obscure film oddities.
My favorite discovery this year is SHIP OF MONSTERS, which is a Mexican horror/sci-fi/musical/dream-blast from 1960. I think everyone should watch it. I’ve been submerged in Bollywood genre movies for the last eight months. That experience has been insane. There’s SO MUCH out there! Check out DISCO DANCER, SON OF DRACULA, and BHOOT BUNGLA. I’ve also been making my way through Korean horror from the 90s and 00s. Have you seen the WHISPERING CORRIDORS series? So good!
I’ll definitely look into it! How were you able to turn what you love into your career?
I owe that to both Bleeding Skull and Zack Carlson. Zack was a founding programmer at Alamo, along with Lars Nilsen and Kier-La Janisse. They set the path and direction for AGFA that helped us to make it what it is today. Zack was the person who pushed me to visit Austin and consider working for Alamo. And I met him through my work for Bleeding Skull.
What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?
At this point, I’m just happy to be alive, happy, and healthy. So I guess my proudest accomplishment is making it this far and being surrounded by truly great people that inspire me on a daily basis.
THANKS AGAIN to Mr. Ziemba!
-Elliot “Rat” Ross