Exploring Desire

Desire can manifest itself through greed, lust or even revenge. It is a craving that can bring out the worst in people: How far will people go to satisfy their fetishes for pain, money or sex?

The Exhibitionists explores the darkest corners of desire and sex. It is bound to make audiences uncomfortable—in a good way—when it premieres at the fifth annual Arizona Underground Film Festival.

The festival features cult films from various genres such as horror, exploitation, drama and documentary. The films are either too risqué for mainstream moviegoers, or they were released and quickly done in by weak box-office receipts.

"Because of the content of the film, I placed a strong focus on seeking out underground film festivals as a venue," said Michael Melamedoff, director of The Exhibitionists. "And the Arizona Underground Film Festival has a tremendous reputation."

The mastermind behind the AZUFF is David Pike, a film buff with an infatuation for edgy cinema. Pike knew other cities had underground film festivals, and wondered why Arizona wasn't home to one. So he created the AZUFF.

"When the festival started out, it was me and one or two other people helping out," Pike said. "It has grown a lot over the years. The more it grows, the more people want to be a part of it. We get a lot more serious films that want to play the festival and use the festival as a launching platform."

Pike was determined to hit the Tucson film scene with something different. He said he wanted audiences to experience an alternative way of looking at film. With the festival, he is showcasing a clandestine side of cinema. Pike has given exposure to films that are often overlooked because of their content and low-budget status.

"They may not have a huge budget, but they still are great films," Pike said. "They come out, and word-of-mouth and time make them popular. This is what gives them cult status."

AZUFF also is a pioneer in introducing exploitation—a genre that exaggerates certain subjects, such as zombies, Nazis and sex—to film festivals.

The festival's dynamic spirit has attracted underground filmmakers, such as Melamedoff, from around the country. The Exhibitionists is Melamedoff's second feature film. It depicts 36 hours in the life of Walter Todd, a filmmaker with odd sexual obsessions and an explosive dark side, as he tries to gather some of his friends for a New Year's Eve party full of surprises.

"This movie is a truly unique viewing experience because of the way it gets under the viewer's skin," Melamedoff said. "It's a very provocative film. It is a tremendously disturbing film, and at the same time, it pulls it off a tremendous sense of grace and sense of humor."

Melamedoff started filming The Exhibitionists in August 2011. He had a budget of $100,000 and a 12-day shooting schedule that was made even shorter when Hurricane Irene hit New York.

"We really thought the film was going to remain incomplete," Melamedoff said. "We thought our sets would be destroyed, and the subways wouldn't reopen in time for us to finish filming the movie."

But the hurricane moved on; the sets were intact; and Melamedoff was able to put the film in the can.

He submitted The Exhibitionists to Pike earlier this year. "When David reached out to me to tell me the film had been accepted, we were thrilled," Melamedoff said. "David has built a wonderful festival over the last five years, and it seemed like a very appropriate home to premiere the movie."

Melamedoff said his work exposes the different ways in which people manifest desire. He plays with how people approach what they want, both positively and negatively.

"My films are for people who, at some level, feel like they are not being spoken to by traditional Hollywood movies," Melamedoff said. "I hope I am giving that to them, and I am thrilled this city is opening its arms to me."

Melamedoff and actor Richard Short will attend the premiere and take questions from the audience after the screening.

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