David "The Puppetmaster" Popolow

One of the premiere events in Philadelphia this year was the Backseat Film festival. Undoubtedly it was not called the Drinking man’s festival for nothing. When you entered you were greeted with free shots of rum and a Pabst Blue ribbon. On top of that, you were treated to truly independent cinema… And no, I am not talking about the indie films starring Tim Robbins and executive produced by MTV…No…I’m talking truly independent films where people put their heart and soul and money they didn’t even possess into their labors of love.

And if that weren’t enough, there were after parties. All throughout the Philadelphia area, the Backseat Film Fest boogied at some of the most well known spots in Philly in places
such as The Tritone on South Street and Whiskey Dix. All six nights were nights to remember for its sheer energy, drinking and all around good natured fun.

The first night kicked off on Tuesday, February 28th with an opening ceremony that strictly means what it says. The two main hosts of the program, Zafer Ulkucu and Doug Sakmann (dressed as the devil and baring a medieval battle axe), opened the fest with the traditional bashing of rejected submissions. In order to complete this ritual, they needed the aid of two voluptuous virgins (hah). At Doug’s request, the bashing commenced and what followed was a flurry of broken plastic flying every which way from VHS tapes being shattered into a million pieces with every strike of a baseball bat to DVDs being single handedly MAN handled.

To me, I find it refreshing to see true criticism against rejected films. I honestly am sick of those sanctimonious letters that say… We’re sorry we cannot accept your film though all the submissions are good …blah, blah, blah…Why not just say we cannot accept your film because it sucks! God Bless the Backseat Film Festival for their honesty!

After the bashing and thrashing, the audiences were treated to a double feature of Porn.
The films to open the ceremony were the Backseat produced AVN award winner, Re-Penetrator and Xxxorcist, both starring porn superstar, Joanna Angel, who was in attendance with co-star Kylee Kross. Each film were greeted with expressions of shock and laughter. Both were an eclectic mix of sex and violence with a lot of porn humor thrown in the mix.

I unfortunately did not go to the after party at the Ministry of Information that night on the count of being sick that day. From what I heard it was a wild night.

The following night was the premiere of the employee appreciation gore fests Rental and The Janitor. Rental was a wonderful short about the hardships of working in a video rental store while The Janitor was a darn good show with some really inventive gore scenes and it teaches about the importance of tolerance in a workplace better than any film I have ever seen.

We are later treated to the Beach, Rock and Roll, Monster movie, STOMP! SHOUT! SCREAM! This film featured a kick ass 60’s style soundtrack with one of the coolest creatures ever created. As good as the Janitor was, there is no competition when it comes to the giant Skunk Ape.

The next night we are treated to two short films and Pot Zombies… The title says it all. These guys smoke something more than Wacky Tobacky. The two shorts were the profoundly funny Portal and the profoundly disturbing The Voice Inside. Lets just say, after watching those shorts, you will never look at your toilet or the hammer handle the same way again!

After that was the Rock and Roll double feature which started with All Kindsa Girls: an Evolutionary Tale Featuring the Real Kids. This documentary was very well received by the audience. Likewise with Rock and Roll Eulogy which was a hilarious and well made homage to the 60’s mockumentary and a throwback to those informational films that we all so loved when we were growing up.

Up next was the 70’s style kung fu epic, Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace, a winning combination of non-stop kung fu action and laughs. It won over the crowd with its charm and kick butt action and sent everyone into a laughing frenzy throughout its entire running length. It was preceded by the original trailer to the Harry Knuckles feature.

After that was the most notorious of our screenings… The no holds barred zombie kill fest, DIE, YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS! Talk about Audience participation, we had audiences throwing beer cans at the screen and a royal rumble that started with an old Kensington drunk taking swings at our staff members. Finally due to audience pressure and their hard pressed need to turn off the film, we succumbed to their demands. Honestly, I didn’t see anything wrong with the film. I take it people went into the screening thinking they were about to see The English Patient… Well… Sorry to disappoint!

The chaos left several casualties, mostly stepped on beer cans and flipped over tables. People fell over drunk and yours truly carpooled those who were too drunk to stand either over to the M Room where they could drink more or back home for their own safety. Needless to say this prompted me to play Duran Duran’s song, Chauffeur, each time I drove someone back and forth. Not to mention, people slept in the back seat of my car while I partied at the M Room that night.

Saturday was the presentation of the know thy zombie comedy, Livelihood, a clever satire on what zombies would be like if they were friendly and not the flesh eating beast they are always made out to be. The showing went really well and it actually got me to reconsider what it really was like to be a zombie… in fact, I threw out my Resident Evil games in protest to the unfair treatment of Zombies.

The day was then filled with short films and music videos of all different kinds of genres… ranging from narrative to animation to comedy sketches. The majority of the shorts were dominated by SillyCon’s Sketches and Weinercop vs. Crockinator. Undoubtedly, the best of the shorts was Bzzzzzzzzzzzz, from the director of Harry Knuckles. Other shorts included Fuck Pillows….Which I’ll let you use your imagination on what that one is about. The festivities continued with more short films and music videos and finally concluded with the highly controversial horror exploitation flick, Pleasures of the Damned. This film sent quite a few people out of the theater with shock with its explicit violence and taboo content. The filmmaker’s family was in attendance for the screening and they should be proud of their kin’s legacy.

The party didn’t stop there as the Backseat Crew and party goers traveled to Whiskey Dix for a power packed after party featuring Shiragirl and the Legendary Wid. On a side note, I drove the Legendary Wid to and from the venue… But that’s not all… He loaded my car to the hills with all his props from his basement. Gotta give the guy props!

Upon returning to the club, I got to see Doug dancing onstage with Shiragirl in what can only be called, an unexpected onstage appearance.

Sunday started the last and final day of the festival with Irish American Ninja, a chop socky satire about a, well, Irish American Ninja. However, things really kick off with the second shorts program … Starting with Doug Sakmann’s preview of the highly anticipated Punk Rock Holocaust 2: Serial Bandicide. The second shorts program also featured the Academy Award Nominated short, Guard Dog by renowned animator, Bill Plympton and a really wonderfully animated CG short titled Zoom Suit by John Taddeo. Along with the serious accomplishments, we also had the laugh out loud, or for those who only speak internet language, LOL, comedic animated shorts by John Shock with the stop motion animated, Mr. Happy Drives Drunk and the MS3TK style Rudolph the Terrorist Reindeer. Both short films rocked the audiences with their humor. This festival had a really pleasant surprise with the traditionally animated short film, Pizza for Sprinkles, by one of our own, Hilary Clark, who also edited the Bikini Bandits Booby Bowl episodes which were also shown at the festival and had garnered well over 100,000 viewings on

The festival also had some spectacularly gruesome horror shorts… One of which was South Philly based filmmaker Mike Zaleski’s Half Price Sale which honestly was a pretty grotesque albeit well made film, and the stop motion animated shocker, my film, Circle of Freaks. Both of us were available for Q&A after our films were shown. While Mike’s lasted only a couple of minutes, I literally stood for at least a good ten to fifteen minutes. Not that I minded. But when you have laryngitis, talking is the last thing you want to do… especially when you sound like I do and the end result is something close to Mickey Mouse on crack. Throughout the rest of the night, I had this pipsqueak voice that everyone just seemed to love to imitate. Another one that was shown was my personal favorite, Tattle Tale Heart, a surreal adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell Tale Heart done with Puppets.

The festival closed with the tragic documentary, Derailroaded, a rather bleak look into the life of Larry “Wild man” Fischer. At times the film was very funny and sometimes very endearing and inspirational and at times, downright disturbing. In short, it was a breathtaking ending for one of the wildest film festivals out there.

The festival came to a quiet and satisfying close at Tritone on South Street. I backed up into another car and I didn’t even bother to see if I knocked off their bumper.(well anyway) Everyone pretty much drank and toasted to a very successful week and a weeks worth of partying and movies that signify the true spirit of independent cinema.

As far as favorite movies, my personal favorite was the toss up between Derailroaded and Harry Knuckles. While the Harry Knuckles film had everything from action to comedy to pro wrestling, I think I preferred Derailroaded. It was a very well done film and it gave a great insight into man I have never heard of but who has left an indelible and profound impact on some of my idols. My very favorite film of the festival was the Edgar Allan Poe inspired, Tattle Tale Heart. The short was a puppet retelling of Poe’s short story, Tell Tale Heart. To me, it was undoubtedly on of the greatest Poe adaptations I have ever seen with some really astounding art direction and puppetry.

It’s hard to say what my favorite night in that festival was… all of them were awesome and I can honestly say that I have partied more in those six days than I had my entire life… (yes, I am a nerd… in fact I am wearing one of those You know you are a Geek when…t shirts as I am writing this) having been to other festivals throughout the past couple of years, I can honestly say that nothing beats Backseat Film Fest for its sheer energy and honesty in keeping to its independent roots.

Join the Backseat Conceptions mailing list.