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I can so easily recall the intense and heart-lifting memories of blood slashing across the screen, gnashing shark jaws penetrating the darkness and the gouging of a beautiful eye that seems to strike right into the audience, administering pain into the popcorn eating spectators in those worn-out theater seats, having come together as a unified group to support the cause: a genuine horror film festival.
No matter what economic feasibility and accessibility that Netflix and the rest of the Internet brings us now and in the future, the traditional movie theater remains a place where gathering for film festivals still makes sense. Meeting people who enjoy obscure subgenres of horror is one of the reasons why I throw them. Some of my film festivals have been huge successes, some I’ve fallen flat on my face in debt. I’ve experienced moments of sheer insanity, with the event about to start and I’m pacing in front of the venue talking on two phones at once because the backdrop and posters were delivered to the wrong address the day before. I’ve had times when I had tears in my eyes because the audience was so enthusiastic. It all balances out in the end: The twisted cinema show must go on.
The magical atmosphere of a film festival is created by the movie aficionados who arrive in droves, giving evidence to the phrase that “If you build it, they will come.” Create a festival for incredibly obscure animation that involves decapitated heads, and they will show up and enjoy it just as much as you do.
Film festivals have so much power, and sometimes that’s not always a good thing. A budding filmmakers’ self esteem can so easily be deflated when their film is rejected from a festival. I am a firm believer that every filmmaker should throw at least one film festival. They should go through the throes of finding a theater, promoting, watching all the films, merchandising, creating the awards, designing the program and planning the after party. It’s a lot of work to put on a festival, and it takes many people to make it flow smoothly. Just like an actor in a film, sometimes a movie just won’t fit with the program, no matter how good it is. Becoming a festival director for a day will not only make you understand how important it is to the audience, but it will make you a better filmmaker.
I started out small on this festival path, throwing movie marathons with my friends around the tender age of 14. A disagreement would usually erupt at the video store regarding the content, but I was incessant about watching horror: sitting down with others to share the experience was vital. Growing up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, the idea of showing horror movies in front of live audiences and honoring filmmakers never appeared as a possibility, let alone becoming a filmmaker.
Since 2004 I have directed an array of horror film festivals and hosted cult and horror movie nights at various theaters. I would make characters for myself based on the movies: warding off attack by cannibals, chasing after a wasted Hunter S. Thompson lookalike and even dancing with zombies. I have shown independents, studio and foreign cinema. I indulged in Lucio Fulci, David Lynch, Peter Jackson and Isabelle Adjani. I did giveaways and would beam like a lighthouse when audience members left laughing, or crying, or drunk, or just satisfied. I made decisions that made the events better, sometimes worse and I’ve learned a lot about the precarious sanity of a film festival director.
In the past few years, I have significantly narrowed down my festival involvement with my deeply vested interest in promoting women behind the camera. The Viscera Film Festival was an epiphany that came to me after creating a short film with an all-female cast and crew. Not only did more women need to work together, but they needed to support each other in public.
Women tend to create different horror than men. Content delves into abortion, loss, abuse, rape, body issues and the intense interpretation of how society views women. Many of the submissions have been disturbing, heart wrenching and clearly deranged. It truly makes me proud of the female gender.
When Viscera commenced three years ago, we relied heavily on supporters of the festival to promote the films. The fact was that I was broke, and I needed all the help I could get. Instead of going immediately to a theater, Viscera was a DIY effort: focusing online to reach women, press and supporters all around the world. Submission was free to the filmmakers and continues to be so. The filmmakers had the option to receive the judges’ notes to become better at their craft. Each year, a DVD of the officially selected films was released to the public. Websites reviewed the films and film fests screened many of their favorites at various theaters in domestic and international territories, exposing the filmmakers’ work to new geographical areas.
I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I believed in the idea, and that’s all that matters to get a film festival running: the motive behind it. Since then, Viscera has expanded into a 501(c)3 nonprofit and has a growing staff of passionate filmmakers and film-lovers. We are now going into our fourth year. In 2010, we had our first bloody carpet premiere, gathering over 28 short horror films and trailers by women, screening them in an all-day event in downtown Los Angeles. The attendees, special guests and moviemakers were incredible, gathering to celebrate something very special in the horror genre, and it was this feeling that took me back to my first festival experience. The undying support for those who explore the horrific things in our existence and imaginations is what will always keeps me crawling back.
If you cherish new ideas spraying across the big screen, then please show your support to not only these festivals, but especially to these filmmakers who need you. It’s the spectators who make and break festivals and the directors are at your mercy. If you, the audience, demand that festivals never go away, then they will respond. If you help them promote, pay for your ticket stub and use word of mouth as a way to give post-festival attention, then they will only get more dynamic for you.
The Viscera Film Festival is a short horror film festival for women and is currently accepting submissions. If you know any women, tell them to make horror films!
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