As part of its Graveyard Shift series, Alamo Drafthouse at West Oaks will be screening a film that's been trying its best to get some attention. The Dead is a zombie film set in Africa. An American mercenary crashes his plane in the bush of South Africa and is forced to make his way across the desert in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. He is joined by a local soldier who is desperately searching for his son, and the two journey to a possible stronghold.
Howard and Jonathan Ford shot on location in hellish conditions in Ghana to complete the deal. Their lead actor, Robert Freeman, contracted malaria...twice. He almost died the second time. Police impounded their equipment unless bribed, and unscrupulous merchants charged exorbitant prices thinking that they were representatives of big-budget Hollywood.
Throughout it all, though, the crew persevered, and the result is a zombie film that is sure to be considered a classic. The Dead has already received great acclaim on the festival circuit, and the Fords continue to try and build interest for a full-fledged theatrical release.
"I missed the film when it played at Fantastic Fest and on a purely selfish level, I wanted to see it on the big screen so when I was presented with an opportunity to show it, I jumped at the chance," said Robert Saucedo of Alamo Drafthouse. "More than that, though, I am really looking for new ways to push the Graveyard Shift forward and try new things, and a bit of that is by booking new and cutting-edge horror to complement the classic titles we show monthly. Houston has a great international feel to its culture and I thought that the city would really dig a zombie film from South Africa."
Saucedo was also responsible for bringing the rare HBO horror mystery Cast a Deadly Spell to the Graveyard Shift last month.
Despite still being on a grueling schedule, Howard Ford found the time to answer a few questions about the Dead. Check out page 2 for the interview.
Art Attack: You say you were inspired greatly by Romero. He generally was using zombies to represent various aspects of humanity (Communism, consumerism, etc.). What do your Dead represent?
Howard Ford: Even though we were inspired by Romero's Dawn of the Dead many years back, we didn't really make a zombie movie for the zombies to represent a particular aspect of humanity. However, Jon and I have always been a bit too aware of our mortality and are so conscious that no matter what we do, death is coming for us, it's coming for everyone no matter what decisions we make, we cannot hide from it, we cannot outrun it. It will get us eventually, possibly very slowly and when we least expect it and that is something that the dead represents for us.
I know that's quite bleak and downbeat but hey, The Dead was never going to be the feel-good movie of the year! Having said that, I have always felt that if you do good in this world and help others when you can, you will also get to where you want to go and that karma is in the dead, too, if you choose to see it. There is a lot we can say about the comparisons of the images in The Dead to the troubles in Africa, both past and present, but I think most of those will be obvious to viewers and I truly hope there is a disturbing reality to the film that cannot be ignored.
AA: There seems to be a marked shift in zombie movies from defense-based to movement-based. Why are so many protagonists going on the run now rather than fortifying a base and trying to fend them off?
HF: Strangely, neither Jon nor I had actually seen a zombie movie where the protagonists were constantly on the run, which is why we wanted the movie to be a road movie, a journey, so to speak. It was one of the reasons we made The Dead as we felt even the zombie movies we loved spent too much time with the characters hauled up in a location where the zombies are trying to get in. We also wanted to make a film that showed the beauty of Africa in addition to the horror, so hopefully the constant change of locations helps this to be an uncomfortable mix of beauty and horror.
AA: Despite the fact that your two heroes come from very different backgrounds, they seem to get along pretty well together in their plight. In most zombie survivor flicks, the pressure of the horrors around them typically causes a great deal of friction. What do your guys have that makes them different?
HF: We made a conscious decision to avoid too much conflict between the characters as this seemed to be the focus of many of the zombie movies we have already seen. Characterwise, we wanted these two guys from different cultures to find a common ground and work together. There is already enough misery going on without having to endure the main characters fighting. Sure, there is tension, but we wanted to be subtle about this.
I really hope people notice that the Africans in the movie have banded together to protect each other and fight a common enemy. There had to be some positivity in this mix, and I have always felt that if the characters are at each other's throats all the time, I just want the zombies to get on and finish mankind off for good!
AA: Are you still seeking more big screen showings for The Dead or is your focus now towards the home market?
HF: We always wanted the film to be seen on the big screen -- I suppose we would not have been lugging our 35mm cameras across Africa and into the Sahara desert, trying to capture never-seen-before locations just for it to go to DVD. This is also why it has taken awhile longer to get the film released.
We shot it in 2008 but said no to any distribution deals that were straight to video. We would have rather shelved the film or just watched it ourselves than have this happen! Having said that, these days all the money is on DVD so this is an incredibly important aspect if we are to be able to continue making films.
AA: Which is harder, making a movie or trying to bring it to people?
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HF: Unfortunately, in our case the answer to this question will only scratch the tip of a huge iceberg, but trust me when I say that every single moment of this blood-drenched, sweat-soaked, vomit-inducing, epic undertaking was fraught with horrific challenges. Everything from police corruption, knifepoint muggings, near death from malaria, constant foot poisoning -- that's when we were lucky enough to find something to eat. The list is really quite endless of the problems we faced trying to get this movie in the can. So, I have a feeling our shoot was as hard as a shoot can be. Having said that, it's really tough to get people to leave their homes to go and see the film theatrically, so we are incredibly grateful for the support of those that do. These are the people keeping cinema itself from being dead.
AA: What's in the future for you?
HF: I certainly hope we get to make more movies; otherwise we'll go back to making TV commercials where you actually get paid! There is another movie on the table, a supernatural thriller which we will be releasing details of soon, and if enough people go and see The Dead, we will have to go back to Africa and make part 2, even if it kills us!
The Dead shows at Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks today, October 26, at 7 p.m.