In "Horror Film Festivals Rise from the Grave" Nancy Rosenbaum of MovieMaker.Com looks at the growing number of film festival devoted to the horror genre, Prominently featured is Hollywood's own Screamfest:
Screamfest horror film festival director Rachel Belofksy says she didn’t grow up loving scary movies. “As a little girl, I was terrified of everything,” she recalls. “All the vampire films freaked me out. Even as a teen, it wasn’t my thing.” Belofksy’s fear has since been supplanted by fandom. Now if you show her a good “decap” scene, she can explain its artistic merit, point by point.
In talking with film festival organizers (many of whom are aspiring moviemakers themselves), I learned that some festivals (Screamfest included) are succeeding at attracting industry heavy-hitters who can potentially catapult a moviemaker toward bigger and better opportunities. This spells good news for independent moviemakers who can translate their love of gore into original, well-edited films.
Belofsky herself could be considered something of a den mother to this rising generation of horror-makers. A film producer in her own right, she co-founded Screamfest in 2001, back when there weren’t many major industry festival events devoted exclusively to horror here in the United States. While some fests can take many months (if not years) to launch, Belofsky and founding partner Ross Martin organized the inaugural Screamfest in a mere six weeks—just in time for Halloween.
Even though the last decade has witnessed a steady rise in the gross receipts garnered by horror films at the box office (a market share increase of 2.85 percent in 1995 to 5.96 percent in 2006, according to www.the-numbers.com), Belofsky says she was tired of seeing horror being dismissed as “the bastard child of the industry.” She wanted to catalyze a change and thought that a horror-themed film festival could help emerging talent get noticed by industry executives. Her experiment seems to have paid off.
Today, Screamfest has grown from a two-day blip into a 10-day extravaganza that whittles 500 submissions into a program showcasing 30 to 40 films annually. A few years ago, Belofsky even managed to recruit special effects master Stan Winston of Terminator 2 and Aliens fame to join her as an official partner and sit on the festival’s advisory board. Horror legends like Wes Craven and Sam Raimi soon followed.
In 2006, Screamfest drew an estimated audience of 5,000 and some even resorted to buying scalped tickets outside the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the festival takes place. “It was pretty hilarious,” says Belofsky of the sidewalk bidding wars she witnessed.
It doesn’t hurt that the festival’s popularity has helped to land distribution and development deals for several of its past award-winners. Spanish-bred director and special effects artist Víctor García credits Screamfest with launching his Hollywood career. In 2004, his independently-produced film El Ciclo won Best Horror Short at Screamfest. When he learned that his moviemaking hero, Stan Winston, was active in the festival, Garcia took a gamble and paid for a plane ticket from Barcelona to Los Angeles so that he could accept the award in person. For Garcia, the combination of winning and meeting Winston “was one of those moments you’ll always remember… To me, it’s been the beginning of everything.”
Fast-forward three years: Garcia recently completed Return to House on Haunted Hill, his directorial debut for Dark Castle Entertainment, which had a straight-to-DVD release in mid-October. He has two new projects in the works, too, and has been shooting short Webisodes for Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. “I really feel lucky,” he says.