Lloyd Kaufman, the diminutive founder of great American B-movie factory Troma Entertainment (The Toxic Avenger, Terror Firmer) is 150 pounds of Yale-educated dynamite wrapped in a bow tie and an agenda. Through TromaDance, the studio’s annual counterpoint to the Sundance Film Festival, Kaufman aims to restore art to the people. This, he preaches quickly, with gusto and reason, from Troma’s Manhattan headquarters. To be sure, he’s driving the bus—pedal floored, with toxic green lights flashing.
“One of the interesting crusades, one of the themes of TromaDance’s four years, has been calling attention to the fact that the world of art is getting more and more concentrated, into fewer and fewer hands,” he says.
Such are the joys of interviewing Kaufman, whose incessant rants against the machine are topped only by his celluloid spectacles featuring drunken kabuki cops, nuclear vermin, fanged phalluses and gleeful, gratuitous breast-usses and blood. Similar themes saturate TromaDance, which in past years has seen Jesus pitching “New Testament” wine coolers, zit fetishism, Ronald McDonald and crew kidnapping the daughter of the Burger King, a killer commode, gay crayfish and motivational vomit.
TromaDance has grown substantially since its inception in 1999 through taking a grassroots tack, inviting entries from filmmakers regardless of experience (films range from shot-on-video shorts to full-length features) or genre and charging neither entry nor admission fees. The festival now encompasses screenings in both Park City and Salt Lake City, and opening and closing festivities that rival only Lapdance in hedonism. And true to Troma’s up-with-regular-people way, the invite-only soiree has no automatic admittance policy for “VIPs”—in 1999, R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe was turned away due to capacity concerns.
New this year is an interactive discussion forum called “Make Your Own Damn Movie” which pits members of the filmmaking “establishment” against alternative auteurs. Kaufman will also present a TromaDance seminar at the Virgin Megastore on Jan. 20. Attendees can expect exposition on all things TromaDance, from its philosophy of free to the concept of liberating art from corporate control.
Kaufman believes TromaDance has had a positive impact on the Sundance Film Festival, which he views as part of the “media cartel,” which in turn, he believes, view TromaDance and other upstart festivals such as Slamdance and NoDance as threats. He also believes that Sundance has altered its approach, screening more independent content to allay accusations that Sundance is Hollywood dressed-up as indie.
“A lot of the official entries at Sundance you’re gonna see a week later at the movie theater. And most of them are from Miramax or HBO,” Kaufmen says, “But it’s my gut feeling, based on the selections of the past two years, that Sundance is attempting to reach out to more genuinely independent movies, reacting to the fact that more and more journalists are onto the fact that Sundance has been totally co-opted by the giant conglomerates. So I do think there is a subsidiary benefit to having all these alternative festivals in Park City.”
Nevertheless, Kaufman says Sundance and Park City continue persecuting the smaller festivals, imposing limitations on promotional activities. Passing out fliers earns a citation—filmmakers may only post fliers at a single kiosk, and signage, even at venue locations, is restricted—and God help you if you slag the good name of Sundance founder Robert Redford while defying the anti-advert policy, as TromaDance 2001 program director Doug Sakmann did. A boisterous offer for Redford to fellate him after police issued a warning for passing out fliers garnered a festival-long stay in the Park City pokey (Troma couldn’t afford the $25,000 bail).