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Nightmares Film Festival Goes Virtual

Hope Madden Hope Madden Nightmares Film Festival Goes VirtualImage via Nightmare Film Festivals Facebook Page
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Lockdown is a nightmare, but an in-person event is far more dangerous and scary. That’s why Nightmares Film Festival will take its fifth annual fest online with Masquerade.

The much beloved genre fest has grown in popularity, each year boasting more big name premieres, more films, more filmmakers in attendance, and larger crowds at Gateway Film Center. The decision to separate the fest from the crowds was a tough one, says Jason Tostevin, fest co-founder and programmer .

Columbus Underground: How hard a decision was this?

Jason Tostevin: The decision not to be in-person was strange in that it was both really hard and really easy. 

It was difficult because it feels like there’s a lot riding on it. People look forward to gathering each year, we help films get seen and distributed and scripts get produced. The film center benefits from pass sales and needs those more than ever. The judges have invested so much time, really since our last edition ended, carefully evaluating submissions. Lots of people’s treasured time and work was at stake. We agonized for months and kept making plans and scrapping them, hoping to find a way to hold the in-person event safely.

In the end, it was simple. We can’t bring our community together, because we’d be putting them in harm’s way. And there was no way we were going to do that. After that it was a question of our ability to put together a digital experience that would honor the films and screenplays, create some of the human connections we’re known for, and raise people’s spirits a little. We think Masquerade can do that.

CU: This is not the first film fest to decide to go virtual because of the pandemic. Were you able to learn from other fests’ successes and failures to make some decisions about launching NFF virtually?

JT: We have been keeping close tabs on other fests for months to see what they’ve done and how it was received. Chris (Hamel, GFC President) identified our virtual platform because he’d seen major institutions use it and knew it would work for our needs. And I’ve been talking with my festival director friends about virtual streaming, geofencing, stream-limiting, live Q&As, everything. Everyone is learning alongside each other. My experience is, there’s a real sense of camaraderie in the genre fest world about it.

CU: For filmmakers, I love the transparency about seeking a secure platform. For audiences, I love that you can stream films in your own time rather than being required to watch at a determined time. What were some other considerations before taking this virtual?

JT: We’re new at this, but we’ve learned a lot from our in-person events and our friends at other events. The program will remain the bellwether quality people have come to expect, so it becomes about how people experience the program in an entirely new way, and protecting filmmakers’ work is table stakes. 

Your readers may not know, but film premieres and making films publicly available are major gates in the fest world. So, as so much of the festival circuit has gone virtual, people have begun to worry that having their films available to stream at one fest may hurt their chances to get into another, because “it’s been available everywhere.” Of course the truth is, it hasn’t been. People had to know the fest, find it and pay to access the film. It’s not like it was on YouTube. But that’s a real worry filmmakers have, and we understand it.

Beyond that, it has to be fun and rewarding. We want to make sure Masquerade has that thrill of discovery you get at Nightmares Film Festival. And that people get to spend time “together,” because that community-building and support is central to what we do.

CU: Are there other ways the virtual environment offers opportunities that an in-person fest may not?

JT: We’re most excited that a digital experience has a chance to bring even more people together. Without the cost of travel, more people here and around the world can participate, and meet others, and feel like they belong. We think there’s an opportunity to support an even more diverse audience at home, too, for the same reason. Income disparity in the U.S. means BIPOC and LGBTQ people on average have a harder time funding a movie, let alone traveling to a fest. We hope going digital creates more access for people who don’t always have it.

There’s a secret advantage for the audience, too. We build our in-person Nightmares program so it’s impossible to see every film, forcing choices. With almost all of the lineup available to watch on your schedule, this will be the first year people can watch them all!

CU: Do you see the virtual program’s live events as a way to encourage group participation, networking and camaraderie – the kinds of things the in-person fest did so well?

JT: Belonging matters. Connecting creators and fans through better horror is at the heart of what we do because we think it changes the world for the better. It helps people feel part of a community, gives them a chance to learn from others, generates partnerships and more productions, and gives them a support network into the future. So we unequivocally want to carry that tradition on in Masquerade. We’re going to have Q&As, table reads of finalist scripts, workshops by top genre creators, an online VIP lounge. We know people can’t sit online all day, so we’re planning to consolidate live experiences into a few hours each evening, so people can plan for them.

CU: Is there anything you can tell us right now about the lineup itself?

JT: We actually can break some really fun news. Masquerade will host the world premiere of What Happens Next Will Scare You, which is the follow-up film from the team that made WNUF Halloween Special. WNUF is a beloved indie treasure, and we’re honored that Chris LaMartina and Jimmy George are sharing their next film with us. Also, and don’t tell anyone, we heard they might be bringing us a secret screening, too. Something about a sequel? We’ll see.

Nightmares Film Festival presents Masquerade will run October 21 – 25, 2020.

Submissions are still being accepted for consideration at Film Freeway.

For updates, follow Nightmares Film Festival on social media @NightmaresFilmFest or visit nightmaresfest.com.

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

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