For the project Ashley Fester was working on, meeting Jack Nicholson and Jeff Goldblum was an eerie coincidence.
To pay for her film, Celluloid Horror, a documentary on Canada’s first and only horror cinema festival and its notorious organizer, Fester worked odd jobs on Vancouver film sets.
On those sets she met Nicholson, whose psycho performance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining made the film one of North America’s most celebrated horror films.
Fester also ran into Goldblum, know for his role in David Cronenberg’s The Fly.
He made a decidedly fearless attempt to feed her figs at the craft service table.
“He said, ‘Have you ever tried fresh figs?’ and I told him no, and he said ‘Could I entice you into trying one?’ and he tried feeding me the fig cause he’s just such a character,” said Fester.
Seven years and four editors later, Fester took 60 hours of footage and whittled it down to a 90-minute documentary that follows Kier-la Janisse as she struggles to establish and keep afloat CineMuerte, literally the Cinema of the Dead.
Celluloid Horror — part-cinema history, business lesson and inspirational story — plays in Whitehorse Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Beringia Interpretive Centre.
Interspersed with Janisse’s rousing story are grisly clips from classic horror films Mermaid in a Manhole and Cannibal Holocaust — still banned in 30 countries — and interviews with genre legends like Udo Kier and Buddy Giovinazzo.
Classic and legendary, of course, to horror aficionados.
Most Western filmgoers will be unfamiliar with many of the references in Fester’s film.
“The film exposes audiences to a history of horror from a European perspective,” she said, adding that usual Western horror tastes are briefly placated.
“There’s a zombie in the film. He makes a quick appearance and then he’s dead.”
While the film history lesson is a bonus, the real story belongs to Canadian Kier-la Janisse.
Running CineMuerte, an annual event for seven years until she left for Austin’s famed Alamo Drafthouse theatre, was not easy.
Janisse applied for, but never received government grants.
The British Columbia press was unkind, if it ever actually covered the small film festival.
“She doesn’t wait for the money — she applied but she doesn’t put the project on hold,” said Fester.
“So she basically ends up paying for it herself without corporate or government sponsorship.”
Audiences fall in love with the eccentric Janisse, said Fester.
That includes people in Watson Lake, where she screened the film last week.
“They expected her to be crazy, but a lot of people liked the humanization of horror,” said Fester. “It’s a motivating story.”
Fester met Janisse at a small video store in 2001. Janisse was compiling a list of directors she wanted to screen at the nascent film festival.
“I knew the directors of some of the films and led her to people to contact and help with business aspect,” said Fester.
Watching Jannise struggle to make the festival happen, she quickly realized the dramatic possibilities of the underdog and her upstart project, the first and only horror film festival in Canada.
She filmed the first three years of the festival.
“Janisse’s path is just so rough,” said Fester, a native of Edmonton.
“But she stops using the screwed-up-teenager excuses. She knows what she wants and leaves her husband.
“There were some tears in Watson Lake.”
Celluloid Horror itself has played at festivals and continues to draw interest from horror buffs across North America.
Fester decided to screen the film in the Yukon because she’s in the territory to finish a documentary started a decade ago.
It’s a “seven years later” ending to what’s tentatively called Doyle and Hill: The Hetero’s Guide to Being a Dyke.
In addition to her work on-set as production assistant and casting director, Fester, a Concordia University graduate, has directed films, including The Space Between and Kaufman’s Care.
But now narrative is second to her documentary work.
“You get addicted to documentaries,” she said.
“You start filming everything.”
Tickets for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. show are $7. A licensed reception begins at 7 p.m. DVDs can be purchased at the show.