Nightmares Film Festival Returns to GFC
“NFF is what all film festivals should be.”
So says Jason Hignite, Film Festival Director for HorrorHound, of Columbus’s own Nightmares Film Festival.
“It nurtures and encourages filmmakers,” Hignite continues. “It supports the independent film making scene. It promotes ‘Better Horror.’ To top it all off, it’s in a gorgeous venue.”
Gateway Film Center hosts the four-day exploration of “better horror” beginning Thursday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. The fest opens with a 5k restoration of Bill Lustig’s seminal 1980 horror Maniac, ends Sunday, Oct. 21 with the Best Thriller nominee Betsy, and crams those four days in between with more than a dozen shorts programs and 20-plus features.
Now in its third year, Nightmares Film Festival has a lot to offer. If you’re new to the fest, co-founder and programmer Jason Tostevin has some advice.
“There are three things I tell first-timers when they’re getting ready to experience our program,” he says.
“First, it’s unique. Be prepared to be surprised,” he says. “One site called our Saturday night Midnight Mind F**k block ‘the most dangerous and challenging program at any festival.’ You will be different after Nightmares.”
“Second,” he continues, “it’s inclusive. We work hard to include creators who aren’t normally represented in the genre, with an emphasis on people of color, LGBTQ+ people and women. We think diversity in viewpoints makes a stronger program.”
“Being a woman in the world can be challenging,” says filmmaker Brooklyn Ewing. “But at Nightmares it felt like a vacation from the struggle. Seeing so many women filmmakers in one space being celebrated as equals was a breath of fresh air. Nightmares celebrates better horror from everyone, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
What was Tostevin’s third point for first time attendees of the festival?
“It is purposefully relentless,” he says. “We pack the program to the gills to get you every great new nightmare we can. First-timers sometimes worry about missing things. Our program is designed to liberate you from FOMO. You are going to miss movies. We think that makes the ones you personally pick and commit to and see even more special.”
Does programming a film festival get easier in the third year?
“I’m not sure any year will be easy, honestly,” Tostevin says. “It’s big and complex year-round operation. We are definitely getting even better at it as we apply what we learn year-to-year.”
Chris Hamel, co-founder and President of Gateway Film Center concurs.
“Film festivals never get any easier,” he says. “When you’ve got somebody as awesome as Jason as a partner working every year to raise the bar, it helps.”
“In 24 months, it’s gone from essentially just Chris and me to an organization of 30 or so jury members and event volunteers, all carefully organized and trained on #BetterHorror,” Tostevin says. “Right now, keeping up with the growth and delivering the quality of program we’re known for are our biggest priorities. I’m not sure anything valuable is easy, but being part of bringing Nightmares to life is super thrilling and satisfying.”
Programming to sophisticated tastes, challenging and expanding expectations, excites Tostevin.
“It’s easy to collect a bunch of tropes,” he says. “It’s way harder to build a program that satisfies our horror expectations and challenges them at the same time.”
“The programs that don’t work for me are the ones that don’t take a point of view, and especially the ones that treat horror like it can’t have something important to say,” he continues. “That’s boring. What I’ve heard from the people who come to Nightmares is, they like that they get surprised. They find out something new about their own tastes, because we are curating movies that explore those parts off the map.”
Beyond providing quality entertainment, Tostevin sees the festival as an opportunity to support filmmakers.
“One of our beliefs is, festivals should build relationships with filmmakers over time,” he says. “So we invest in our alums. This year we introduced a new showcase section, Recurring Nightmares, that only plays new work by returning filmmakers.”
“Nightmares was a giant stepping stone for me as a filmmaker,” says Ewing, one of those alum. Her 2016 film She Was So Pretty earned the filmmaker recognition as Best Director, and the 2017 sequel took home the Best Cinematography Night Mare.
“It was the first film festival to believe in us. That opportunity gave me the confidence to make my second film, and helped me meet other fest directors, filmmakers, press, podcasters, and make real friendship in the indie film community. That support all year long from Jason Tostevin and the filmmakers we met there changed my career.
“We are also believers in identifying and elevating new talent,” Tostevin says. “I think we already have a good track record there. And we’ll continue to help our new NFF family in the class of 2018.”
The fest also boasts several premieres, as well as a visit from Bill Lustig on opening night.
“Bill will be here,” confirms Hamel. It was Jason’s idea to screen Maniac opening night. I don’t know if any of us will ever get the chance to watch it again on the big screen. This is it.”
“We have world and North American premieres from some of the best-loved directors in indie,” Tostevin adds. “Fred Vogel, who started Toetag Pictures and did the August Underground series, is bringing his new intimate thriller for its premiere. Scott Schirmer, who did Found, Harvest Lake and Headless, is bringing The Bad Man for its premiere.”
It’s the shorts programming that tends to really exceed expectations at Nightmares, and Tostevin promises 2018 will not disappoint.
“The shorts are phenomenal,” he says. “I’m very excited about Torin Langen’s Offerings, which is playing on Saturday and will be accompanied by live, in-theater music.”
There are also awards and panel discussions planned. It’s a set of minor tweaks to an approach that has made Nightmares Film Festival the top rated genre fest on submissions platform Film Freeway for more than two years.
“We’re really humbled by the response to our take on the genre,” says Tostevin. “And we feel like it’s making a difference, which is what we set out to do. We wanted the festival to aspire to an ideal— something we called #BetterHorror. That’s horror that genuinely tries for something, takes a risk, has a voice. It’s horror that explores uncharted territory. It’s inclusive horror. And we build out of those movies and scripts a program that elevates horror and inspires its creators.”
For tickets and information, visit gatewayfilmcenter.org.