Director Rusty Nails went down to Park City, Utah, last year to show some of his work at the Lost Film Festival and soak up the scene at Sundance, which was going on at the same time. But his working holiday took an unexpected turn when, en route to a Sundance screening in a hotel, “somebody said that John Waters was there.” A fan of Waters’s films since seeing Pink Flamingos at age 15, Nails set out to find the director. After chasing a couple of false leads, he and his friends eventually tracked Waters down in the lobby. “We were all just talking, and he was fun to hang out with,” says Nails. The next morning, he continues, “I thought, ‘I should just call John Waters in his hotel room.'” A groggy Waters answered the phone. First Nails asked for an interview, which Waters declined. “I was thinking, ‘God, this phone call is about to end,’ so I told him that I had a movie I wanted to put him in. He was like, ‘Oh, really? Describe the role. Is it long or short?’ I was trying to figure, which is better? Long or short? So I said short. He said, ‘Good, I only like short roles.’ And he suggested I send him a script. I talked to him for another minute, and he said, ‘Are you going to the Sundance Awards tonight?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have a ticket. Unless you want to give me one.'” To his surprise, Waters did. “Patricia Arquette came,” Nails says. “It was like a first date to the prom!”

The film that Nails invited Waters to appear in, “a romantic comedy bank robbery,” has yet to be made, but the two have kept in touch, and Waters agreed to speak at this weekend’s one-year anniversary celebration for Nails’s Movieside Film Festival. Named for the Fireside Bowl, where the festival began, Movieside is a monthly showcase of film and video shorts interspersed with live music and performance art. Nails launched the series after, seeking more creative control over programming, he parted ways with Usama Alshaibi and Trevor Arnholt, with whom he’d founded the similar Undershorts Film Festival in late 1999. Movieside is now mounted at a different venue each month and has also traveled to Omaha, Seattle, and Portland, Maine.

“For me it’s really about autonomy,” says Nails. “I’m the central person running it, and there are certain things that I personally want to see happening in a film festival.” In programming the series Nails shies away from films with violent or sexual content; he at least insists that such elements be presented “in a new light and hopefully with some degree of intelligence.” Stylistically the films are all over the map: narrative, experimental, animated, live action. The only rule is that nothing be more than 20 minutes long. Among Nails’s picks are Raymond S. Persi and Matthew Nastuk’s frisky Ghost of Stephen Foster–a music video pairing 1930s-style animation with music by the Squirrel Nut Zippers–and Russ Forster’s Springtime for Eva, created from found footage of Eva Braun set to music by Nico.

To Nails–who sees his festival experience as a way of honing his own production management skills–having Waters participate is a validation of his career choices. “[Pink Flamingos] was definitely one of those films that made me think, ‘Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can earn a living making movies.’ My main goal is to make films that I want to make without having to accept a compromise that I am unpleased with.”

The Movieside anniversary shows will be held at the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Saturday and Sunday, December 7 and 8. Both shows start at 8 and cost $10; Waters emcees on Sunday only. The festival kicks off with a benefit party on Friday, December 6, at 8 at Acme Art Works, 1741 N. Western, featuring film and video screenings, art, readings, and musical performances; tickets to that are $5. On December 8 at 6, at the Biograph, Waters will introduce a screening of his 1981 film Polyester, which will be shown complete with “Odorama” cards assuming the batch currently being printed is finished in time. Admission is $6 and proceeds benefit the Chicago Rape Crisis Center Hotline and Open Hand Chicago. For more information call 773-856-5220, go to, or see the sidebar in Section Two.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Angela Scalisi.