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Nightmares Film Fest Adds Shut-In Horror Category

Hope Madden Hope Madden Nightmares Film Fest Adds Shut-In Horror Category
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All things being equal – and when was the last time that happened? – the Nightmares Film Festival would launch this coming October 22, immersing moviegoers in three days and nights of the world’s best new genre filmmaking.

Like nearly every 2020 event, Nightmares’ fifth annual invasion of Gateway Film Center may or may not go off as planned. But fest director and programmer Jason Tostevin—like the filmmakers themselves—is finding ways to embrace the change caused by the pandemic.

NFF has created a new category, Shut-In Shorts, meant to “celebrate housebound horror films.”

According to the press release, “The new category – unique to this year’s festival – is for horror, thriller and midnight shorts of five minutes or less shot under the restrictions of social distancing and shelter in place orders during this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.”

Like all other NFF categories, the films chosen from the category will be official selections of the fest. According to Tostevin, those films will also receive live online screenings via Bloody Disgusting’s digital showcase, World of Death. Both Tostevin and World of Death Founder/Host Tony Wash will join winning filmmakers for discussions and Q&A sessions with the online audience.

Columbus Underground: How did it dawn on you that this was a fantastic idea?

Jason Tostevin: Honestly, the idea for our 2020 Shut-In Shorts program started with the same reasons we do everything at Nightmares: to support genre filmmakers, and help our audience discover hidden genre gems. We’re always looking for new ways to do both. We’re part of the indie genre community, and so I’ve been hearing directly from makers about not just how tough it is right now for them, but also that they’re still creating, even under these constraints. 

It’s really a heroic story. There’s been an astonishing burst of creativity in genre that’s a response to lack of resources. People can’t go to locations, can’t bring in a cast, can’t get to the rental house for lights or equipment. Many have lost their jobs and don’t have the money for a production. Under those circumstances, people are making amazing films, and we wanted to raise them up and recognize the work.

CU: How did the Bloody Disgusting/World of Death partnership for this particular program come about?

JT: Tony Wash is a Nightmares alum and the founder of World of Death. He’s been a terrific partner to NFF for almost as long as we’ve been running, and we love what he’s doing with the World of Death channel, so we thought he would be the perfect teammate to join us in taking these shorts digital. 

CU: Why do the Q&A along with the screenings?

JT: The credit for that idea goes to Tony, who’s been hosting online conversations about things like special effects during the pandemic that are well put-together and really interesting. When I approached him, he recommended we do the same thing, but with the shorts. 

What I love about this idea of live conversation and Q&A with the filmmaker is, unlike most online film releases, it brings the creator into the frame. You get to see the short, with some introduction to its circumstances. Then, as an audience member, you can hear directly from the filmmaker about the behind-the-scenes work, and ask questions directly. That opportunity to hear from and talk with the person whose vision it was is very much in the Nightmares spirit.

CU: Does it seem like horror is a genre particularly adept at thriving under the toughest creative circumstances?

JT: Usually this is where we’d talk about horror being a low-budget industry, where people are used to creating without the infrastructure other kinds of films have. To some extent, that’s true. Genre filmmakers are some of the most resourceful creatives in the world. 

But what I think might be a bigger reason for horror’s endurance, especially in tough times, is that its stories are the most primal. They’re what all of us, wherever we’re from or whatever color our skin is, imagine in the dark. They poke us in the part of the brain that’s left over from when we were tiny furballs hiding in giant ferns and trying not to get stepped on by tyrannosaurs.

I think that makes the stories more compelling to tell for the makers, and more anticipated for the audience. 

CU: Will NFF 20 be an in-person event?

JT: It’s too early to tell. We’re reading everything we can get our hands on, talking to the industry trade groups and other festivals that happen before ours, and staying on top of every update. 

We think the landscape will be much clearer by the end of the summer. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to bring people together in a thoughtful, safe way. The film center is under duress, and we’re all missing connecting with others. That said, if the time comes and it’s too risky, it’s too risky. We’re about uniting the community, and we won’t cause harm.


Fee for submitting a Shut-In film is only $5, a price Tostevin says will not change between now and the final NFF deadline.

Submissions for the new category, as well as all other Nightmares programs, are being accepted through FilmFreeway.

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

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