Fantastic Fest: 'Machete Maidens Unleashed!'

Q&A with documentarian Mark Hartley

Fantastic Fest: 'Machete Maidens Unleashed!'

So where was a cash-strapped grindhouse moviemaker to go in the Seventies? Mark Hartley answers that very question in Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which gets its U.S. premiere at the Paramount on Friday. The Chronicle recently spoke with Hartley about his leap from Ozploitation to the Filipino films of Roger Corman.

Austin Chronicle: This is your second genre-based documentary in as many years. Had you planned on being the go-to guy for niche genre-film docs?

Mark Hartley: Actually, I don't have a documentary background in any way shape or form. I've got a music video background. But I always loved particularly the Australian genre films when I was growing up. When I got into making music videos and commercials, I ended up working with a lot of the old school Australian crews who'd all worked on these films, and they just had amazing stories. I thought, you know, there's a great untold story here.  

AC: How did you make the leap from Ozploitation to the Filipino films of Roger Corman?

MH: I have to be honest about this, and that is I was a gun for hire on this. After Not Quite Hollywood [Hartley's 2008 documentary about Australian exploitation cinema] I really had no interest in making any other documentaries. I'd been trying to get narrative films going for a long time, working on various projects. And a producer rang me and said, "I've got this project which another person has been developing and they can't quite pull it off. We've spoken to the financier, and they've said that if we can get you involved that we'll get the money and we can go out and do it." I said, "Look, I'm really not interested," because at that point it was a documentary purely focusing on Weng Weng, the [Filipino midget martial artist].

I told them I'd made a film that I thought was kind of not too niche, which proved to be incredibly niche, in Not Quite Hollywood, and I didn't want to do something even more obscure. But I ended up flying up to do some more research so that at least I'd be more informed when I turned them down.

AC: So what happened?

MH: I realized that the one doc I'd like to do would be one where I could meet all my film heroes, and the best way to do that was to do a doc about Roger Corman. But after checking IMDB I discovered that had already been done. However, after doing more research on the Filipino exploitation films of the Seventies, I realized that Corman was heavily involved in that and there was a much broader story there. At the time the country was under martial law and it was a terrible place to be if you wanted to have artistic pretensions, particularly revolutionary ones.

And so I thought maybe that's the angle and it means that I can meet and interview all my heroes from [Corman's] New World period. I really hijacked the project and pitched that new idea and then molded it into a story that would allow me to talk to the people I wanted to talk to and show some films that I actually liked from that period.

AC: The Philippines are still quite a boisterous place. Did you have any trouble with government officials or censors? Because the film is not all that flattering in terms of Filipino history.

MH: No, we went slightly under their radar. I don't think anyone really realized the story we were telling. And in a way, I changed the focus of the film early on. It became more of a fish out of water story about the Americans going over there and coming to terms with suddenly landing in a third world country for the sake of saving a buck, and then having to deal with all the various dramas that that entails. 

Machete Maidens Unleashed! screens Friday, Sept. 24, 10pm at the Paramount Theatre with Mark Hartley and Roger Corman in attendance. It screens again on Monday, Sept. 27, 9:45pm, at the Alamo South Lamar.

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Fantastic Fest 2010, Fantastic Fest, Machete Maidens Unleashed!, Mark Hartley, Not Quite Hollywood, Roger Corman

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