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“Cannes of Horror” Returns to Gateway Film Center

Hope Madden Hope Madden “Cannes of Horror” Returns to Gateway Film CenterStill from Swallow via IMDb
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It’s not just ghouls and goblins descending on CBUS this weekend. Thanks to Nightmares Film Festival, horror film fans and filmmakers are headed to town en masse as well.

The horror film festival arrives for its fourth year at Gateway Film Center this Thursday, October 24 with a screening of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s award-bedecked and much buzzed about horror Swallow at 7 p.m.

Swallow is just one of the major indie genre works boasting a NFF screening in advance of traditional distribution. The program includes the regional premiere of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s follow up to Goodnight Mommy, The Lodge, as well as the Ohio premier of Joe Begos’s Bliss follow up, VFW, and Travis Stevens’s hotly anticipated The Girl on the Third Floor.

“We’ve been called a bellwether fest because what you see here, you’ll likely see at fests throughout the coming year. We’re a great place to discover new genre films before anyone else,” says festival programmer Jason Tostevin. 

“We set our sights higher every year,” he continues. “There is so much to be excited for at Nightmares 19. We have IFC and Gunpowder & Sky coming live to scout films, and Magnolia sponsoring. We have as strong a program of features and shorts as I’ve seen anywhere. People are set to fly in from all over the world and pack the house.”

Chris Hamel, festival co-programmer and president of Gateway Film Center, is equally excited about the festival’s 2019 slate, noting the competitive nature of genre festivals.

“I need to acknowledge the many great film festivals that are flourishing in the United States,” Hamel says. “I am really proud that we have created something that is considered to be among the best of them. I think what sets us apart is the incredible program of films we screen. It really has improved each year and we feel excited at the challenge of continuing to get better.”

Like Tostevin, Hamel points to the involvement of distributors and the impact that has on filmmakers as a major breakthrough for this year’s festival

“The opportunity to connect filmmakers and distributors has always been important,” he says. “We hope they are able to talk candidly about the state of the industry, how it works, discuss what distributors are looking for, and, ultimately, that these distribution companies will acquire the rights to some of these amazing films.”

For filmmakers like Meg Swertlow, whose screenplay for No Overnight Parking is a festival awards finalist, Nightmares has become an important part of pursing genre aspirations.

“I first heard about Nightmares when I met Jason Tostevin at a panel during the 2017 Austin Revolution Film Festival,” Swertlow says. “Something about meeting Jason and hearing about the ‘Cannes of Horror’ really inspired me to finish the script.”

Her screenplay, “is about four women trapped in an underground parking structure with a masked killer,” she says. “But it’s also about getting out of emotionally and/or physically abusive relationships, the cycle of abuse and the addictive nature of relationships.”

Swertlow credits Nightmares for the motivation to complete the work.

“I put every submission date in my calendar,” she says. “It’s been a huge goal for me all year. Two weeks before the final deadline, I basically locked myself in my apartment to finish the script in time to submit. I submitted my script at 11:55 p.m. on the night of the final deadline!”

Nightmares embraces new talent as well as return filmmakers, like Tommy Faircloth.

“I was lucky enough to play the very first year of Nightmares,” Faircloth says. He returns this year with the world premiere of his latest film, A Nun’s Curse.

“Any opportunity I am able to, I always want to come back,” he says. “The Gateway Film Center is a wonderful venue, so seeing your film in a theater like this is something I look forward to.”

“I’m always excited to see my genre family come flying in from around the world,” says Tostevin. “We’ll once again have more than 100 filmmakers and screenwriters coming in from all corners: Brazil, Austria, Australia, Italy. I can’t wait to celebrate them for four days in the coolest film center in the country!”

Filmmaker Lisa Ovies plans to attend. Her film Puppet Killer, “a self-aware love song to horror infused with some great comedy and next-level acting,” screens as part of the program.

“Nightmares was a huge draw for us,” Ovies says. “We play nine festivals that weekend, including our hometown Vancouver premiere. Of all of them, I chose to be at Nightmares. They have a great family feel, they promote and support so well and really appeal to true horror fans.” 

“I will definitely be attending Nightmares,” says Brandon Espy. His short, We Follow You, sees followers attacking influencers like zombies once social media is eliminated from life. Espy, “wrote, directed, produced, edited, funded and even did production design for this. Shot it in one day and completed post-production within two weeks just in time for the last day of extended deadline submission for Nightmares!” 

“It’ll be my first time to this festival and Columbus, OH,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing the great features, shorts and panels from all the other talented filmmakers. Happy to connect with everyone and truly experience everything that Nightmares has to offer.”

Why are filmmakers so excited about the festival?

“I really believe it’s that we stand for something that helps us stand out,” Tostevin says. “I think people know being selected means something. We are deeply committed to our filmmakers and screenwriters, and they see it in action. We generate as much or more coverage as any fest. We create opportunities for our folks. We connect them to one another and encourage and support them. And we expect certain things of them, that they’ll participate, they’ll strive to get better, they’ll show a commitment to giving back to the community. Our fans and creators become members in something special.”

Tostevin is particularly excited about the opportunity created by the involvement of distributors this year.

“I’m over the moon for our filmmakers that IFC and Gunpowder & Sky’s horror imprint, ALTER, are going to be here live, thanks to work led by Chris,” he says. “Beyond expanding the opportunity for our filmmakers to get acquired and distributed, I think these partnerships elevate us to another tier, which we can turn into even more connections for attendees.”

It was Nightmares’ reputation that drew filmmaker Ryan Oksenberg’s interest. His film Together, “about a biohazard remediation cleaner who finds the integrity of her business threatened after hiring a technician who shows a bit too much taste for the work,” screens this weekend.

He says he was attracted to Nightmares because of, “the fact that it is a celebration of genre and known for being a communal festival experience that unites the top genre creators from around the world,” he says. “Also, how can you not want to be screening your film at ‘the Cannes of horror?’”

“I think all of that is happening because Chris and I never lose sight of the basics,” Tostevin says. “We select the most surprising and exciting films, we build a communal experience for creators and fans at the film center, and we give people an experience they can’t get anywhere else.” 

Nightmares Film Festival runs Thursday, October 24 through Sunday, October 27. For schedule information, visit the Nightmares Film Festival website. For tickets and showtimes, visit gatewayfilmcenter.org.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her horror movie podcast, FRIGHT CLUB.

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