I just got back from Columbus, Ohio where “The Gaze” screened at Nightmares Film Festival. This was my third year with a film in the festival but my first time attending. I’m so glad I finally got to experience it.
Going into the weekend, I was little bummed to be traveling alone since I had such a fun time last weekend with some of the team at Adirondack Film Festival. But that feeling quickly subsided because I found myself chatting with people right away while waiting for the opening night film; and from that point forward I was completely immersed in the festival.
The real highlight of Nightmares is the venue itself. The Gateway Film Center is wonderful. The screens are beautiful, with amazing sound systems, and the seats are so comfortable. I saw 5 features and over 40 shorts and everything looked & sounded amazing. The venue also has a bar inside with a food menu. And it’s centrally located enough that popping in and out for coffee or other food options was super convenient. Also, the upstairs lounge that leads to the two theaters where the festival’s screenings are held is very conducive for striking up conversations and making connections while between screenings. That no-pressure ability to meet people, combined with the scheduled filmmaker meetup Friday afternoon, led to quite a few new acquaintances that may become longterm friends.
The screening blocks are packed with films, so the Q&As are brief and sometimes skipped all together. But I got some great comments about “The Gaze” after the block. A few people complimented or asked about pulling off the VFX (done by Sean Mannion). And this crowd in particular enjoyed the meta layers to the film. Some mentioned that they really enjoyed the surprise of the ending.
I know filmmakers appreciate my transparent breakdowns of what to expect out of the festivals I attend, so here’s a rundown of what I experienced at Nightmares. In addition to the impeccable technical aspects, the festival gets good overall attendance. I was pleasantly surprised to see that with nearly 70 people at the opening night films that ended after 1am, there still managed to be 40 people at the 9am film the following morning. My block was nearly sold out with over people 70 people in the room. And that seemed to be the case, at least through most of Friday and Saturday (I had to leave before the final day). The last block Saturday started at 2am. I have no idea what that turnout was like but I heard a lot of people say they were going to stick around for it, and many of those people had been there for the 10am screenings that day! That’s something unique about the festival. While I’d say most of the attendees were other filmmakers, Nightmares has a small but super devoted base of fans who just love horror and love meeting genre creators. I met a group of men who drive from Indiana every year to watch as much as possible (they were definitely in the 10am to 4am group of watchers). They don’t make movies, they just love watching movies and call themselves horror cinephiles. I’ve been to horror conventions before and know how super fans can be. But these guys are unique in that they specifically love independent horror and take pride in discovering new voices within the genre. It was really cool seeing them excitedly ask the attending filmmakers to sign their postcards and other memorabilia that we indie filmmakers are so used to nobody caring about at most festivals.
As for the programming as a whole, they do a good job of offering very different options across two screens the whole time. It gives people the choice for what best suits their tastes & interests, and showcases the full variety of what the genre offers. Overall, I found the films had really high production value, but were, unfortunately, pretty heavy on the male gaze (which isn’t uncommon at most genre fests that aren’t explicitly inclusion focused or run by women). I will say that they don’t shy away from critiques and conversations surrounding issues within the genre, as evidenced by their programming of a Social Progress Through Horror panel every year, where diverse panelists are encouraged to speak openly. I appreciated that panel and Jason & Chris(fest founders)’s overall openness to discussion.
All in all, I had a nice weekend and enjoyed having my film as part of the festival.