By Victoria L. Kidd
Hollywood does not have the market cornered on horror. While October advertisements entreat audiences to settle into theater seats for the next big blockbuster, true aficionados of the genre are scheduling an alternative way to get their horror fix by planning to attend the upcoming Virginia Independent Horror Film Festival, an event that is now in its 3rd year.
Festival Director Christopher Schoen is one of the visionaries behind the Festival. His love of a good scare started at a young age. “When I was little, living in southern California, my family took us to a Halloween festival, and the experience stuck with me throughout my life,” he says. “Now that I have grown and found more passion for horror films, I want to create that same feeling for modern audiences…I got the idea for the festival by attending the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville several times over the years. Seeing the atmosphere they created where filmmakers, industry folk, and film fans got the opportunity to interact was Hollywood magic at its best. I wanted to create a similar experience.”
That four-day festival experience will be taking place between October 29 and November 1, and it’s going to be a Halloween weekend that is packed with activities that members of the cult of the scary movie will enjoy. Most important among those activities is the screening of the films around which the event is centered. The festival features short films that have a runtime of no more than twenty minutes and feature-length films with runtimes between 55 and 120 minutes. Selecting the films that will be shown is a task that falls to to Schoen and Public Relations Director Leslie Taylor as well as numerous volunteers who pitch in to help.
From nearly 870 short films and 160 feature-length films submitted, Schoen and Taylor will select between 35 and 40 short films and between 10 and 12 feature-length films to show to audiences over the four festival days. (The final number of selected films will depend on the collective run time of those selected, since the objective is to show as many quality pictures as possible.) While all submissions meeting the general dictated requirements are accepted, they are particularly interested in films that are shot in Virginia or the Mid-Atlantic Region (or have some connection to the area).
“We are passionate about presenting films made in the region,” Taylor states. “That’s always been the objective. Nevertheless, there are so many filmmakers who are just trying to get their work in front of an audience, so we do accept work from throughout the United States and from around the world.”
To those unfamiliar with film festival operation, receiving submissions from around the world may seem far-fetched for a small operation based in Virginia, but Schoen and Taylor have proven themselves to be up to task when it comes to building a festival worth noticing. They have grown continually since the event’s start three years ago in Richmond, VA. Taylor explains, “That first year, well, we struggled to find enough submissions to fill the one-day festival. We received maybe 30 to 40 shorts and maybe no more than six feature-length films. Then the next year we were able to fill a two-day festival, and now this year we have exceeded even our own expectations.”
The dramatic increase in submissions (from no more than 40 short films originally to 870 and from no more than 6 features to 160) is largely the result of a sound decision the pair made with regard to how films should be submitted for consideration. The festival now uses FilmFreeway (www.filmfreeway.com) as the conduit for submission. The service provider boasts that there are more than 2,700 festivals and contest administrators currently using FilmFreeway to solicit and accept films.
“FilmFreeway really made us accessible to a lot of filmmakers,” Taylor says. “There are so many people looking for a place to submit their work, and this site really helped us get the word out about what we were doing…We have had submissions come in from Italy, India, Greece, England, and everywhere else you can imagine. It’s neat to see how far word of the festival travels.”
While the new submission platform helped draw interest from filmmakers, the festival’s partnership with Winchester’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (www.drafthouse.com/winchester) has greatly expanded what attendees can expect over the four days. Taylor relays, “Our goal is to make this a convention-style, destination festival, but while we grow into something even bigger, we want to use the resources available to us to put together the most fun, interactive festival you can imagine.”
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Prepare for Thrills and Chills
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That vision of a fun, interactive festival includes a costume contest, a horror-themed burlesque show performed by Timeless Tease (a troop from Baltimore), a beer-tasting event sponsored by O’Connor Brewing Company, opportunities to meet special guests, booths where festivalgoers can shop the wares of vendors, and the opportunity to get “spooked” by roving “creepers,” as Taylor calls them. There will even be a family-friendly screening on Saturday with an all-you-can-eat “cereal bar.” The Alamo’s theater space and parking lot will literally be transformed for the weekend, and Taylor praises the Alamo for being more than simply a venue for the event.
“They are a real partner in this festival,” Taylor says. “It was a happy accident that we got connected with the theater. A local who is involved in filmmaking saw our call for submissions and suggested the Alamo as a great place for us to hold an event. I am so glad we received that tip. The theater is perfect, and Steve [Nerangis] has been terrific.” (Nerangis, a well-respected area businessman, is the executive heading up operations at the Alamo in Winchester.) The Alamo will also be serving as the box office for the event, providing a seamless and familiar way for festivalgoers to purchase tickets for the events occurring over the weekend.
Since many aspects of the event are still being finalized, the price for admission has not been established yet, but Taylor offers assurances that interested parties will not have sticker shock once additional details about pricing are released. “We want people to come, and we want to showcase the amazing work of these filmmakers, and we want to offer this opportunity to as many people as possible.”
Schoen echoes Taylor’s excitement about what’s planned this year. “This year, festivalgoers can expect a variety of different films from the genre, from Slasher flicks to Zombie Movies,” he explains. “They can expect some of the favorite classic horror films alongside of the cutting edge films of 2015…This year we are closer than ever to creating that immersive, film-going adventure. I truly believe that this year will be a unique experience that has not been seen in this part of Virginia for a long time.”
If you like having the hairs on your neck stand up and your pulse quicken, you will very likely find yourself in good company as you watch carefully selected horror films…in the dark…with strangers. Visit www.vahorror.com, pull out your calendar, and cancel any and all engagements you have planned for October 29 through November 1. Schoen, Taylor, and a hoard of ghoulish volunteers await the opportunity to make your blood run cold at the 3rd Annual Virginia Independent Horror Film Festival.