christina raia

Nightmares Film Festival Recap

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.


Local Vegan Treat:

  • There was thankfully one vegan option in the area, a vegan fast food place 2 blocks away called Eden Burger, and they had really tasty desserts!

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Adirondack Film Festival Recap

I just got back from a wonderful weekend in Glens Falls attending the Adirondack Film Festival for my short “The Gaze” and Kelsey’s short “Revelations.” Kelsey & I attended last year and absolutely loved it. Here’s that recap, which details all the amazing aspects of the festival we were delighted to discover for the first time. This year, we were thankfully joined by Dani Thomas, our team member and Kelsey’s fiancée, for the whole 4-day trip, as well as “Revelations” Cinematographer Kimberly Drew Whiten and her girlfriend Rosemary Janeiro on Saturday. We all had a blast.

We were initially disappointed to see that, despite having two screenings for each film (one on each day), our blocks were actually programmed up against each other both days. We realized this would mean having to divide and conquer during our screenings, rather than be there to support each other. However, it actually ended up being kind of cool swapping screenings between the two days. The venues are all in walking distance, so it was easy to head over to each other’s block after we each introduced our respective film.

The audience reactions to both films were great! “Revelations” got a low of “aww”s at a sweet moment, and many people commented on how touching the short was and that they especially appreciated the representation of queer women over 40. “The Gaze” got a really loud “HA!” at an appropriate moment towards the end, which was fun to hear. Some filmmakers had nice comments after, and I had 2 local encounters that were really thrilling. One was when a man who I’d assume would dislike my film (based on a conservative appearance), came over to tell me he really enjoyed it and was considering buying one of the drawings based on it (more on the drawings later). And the other was when a young couple came over at the afterparty and said they just had to meet me and discuss the “brilliance” of my film. One of the young women was a local college student and an aspiring actor. She was so excited to chat with me that I couldn’t help but be really excited to chat with her! I’m glad the film resonated so much. It was a joy meeting and speaking with them.

Beyond our own screenings, we all watched over 50 shorts and multiple features. We went to parties and ate amazing meals. And most of all, made a bunch of new friends. I’m not going to recap the whole experience because it would be unnecessarily long (too late?). But I’d like to highlight some reasons why this festival is truly something special. Between my own work and traveling to festivals for my role with Seed&Spark, I’ve attended probably 100 festivals at this point, including some top tier ones. And this one just completely stands out. It's definitely in my top 3 as a filmmaker.

  • The community really shows up! This festival has 6 screens going at once the entire time and somehow manages to nearly fill all rooms. I’ve been in screenings where there are 200 people sitting there, which you’d think would mean the other venues are empty, but in fact none has less than 30 people and most have significantly more. I’ve never experienced local, non-filmmaker crowds like this. It’s truly wonderful. At both screenings of both “The Gaze” and “Revelations,” 60 people were in the room. Seriously. We counted. During the same window of time, we each had somewhere between 58 and 65 people watching our film. And this happened two days in row! That’s amazing, and that was in just 2 of the 6 venues.

  • Speaking of the venues, they’re great! They all have excellent picture and sound. Even the ones that aren’t actual theaters have an immersive quality thanks to efforts of the technical staff. They all also have a lot of character that give you a sense of the town.

  • And the town itself is worthwhile. It’s really easy and enjoyable to walk around. There are great shops and restaurants (with vegan options). And with the fall foliage, just standing around in the center of town is its own reward.

  • The programming is excellent! Head of Programming Jess Levandoski talks about her programming process in this article. I really respect her taste, and I appreciate her commitment to inclusion and representation. The audience is pretty homogeneous (white and mostly retirement age). So I think it’s wonderful that Jess makes it a point to program content that will possibly challenge their points of view. (And I find it equally wonderful that they all keep coming out for those diverse perspectives each year.) The shorts blocks are put together with such thoughtful curation and aren’t crammed with too many films (they all cap out around 60 minutes). And I really, really love that they create an overt distinction between invitational features (called “headliners”) and the truly independent features coming from submissions. I talked more about this last year, since we were there with a feature.

  • The accommodations and community-building are top notch. The festival takes care of the filmmakers in big and small ways! Not only does the festival offer a free hotel room to every single film with someone in attendance, they also have free food at a party every night and at one filmmaker breakfast. The festival staff members are also super warm and welcoming. They all recognize you and your film, and really make filmmakers feel special. This is most apparent in the existence of the Tooning In Gallery, which consists of drawings by local artist Anthony Richichi. He draws at least one piece inspired by a frame in each film that has a representative in attendance. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. It’s such a lovely element of the festival, and obviously so much work on his part. I just love it!

I will say that the one con amongst all the pros of the festival is the fact that they don’t have Q&As. I believe it’s because they want to keep things perfectly on time and running smoothly (which they totally do), and Q&As can be unpredictable. But if they’d just build the time into the blocks, I think this very attentive audience would be super into having Q&As. As filmmakers, we don’t just want to see our work in front of a crowd; we want to hear feedback and know how things are being interpreted. We want to discuss our artistic intentions and talk about the making of what we and our collaborators did together. There were so many times through the weekend where I desperately wanted a Q&A. Not even for my own work, but for others. I had questions for the filmmakers, but had to run to catch another screening. Or, even if I could spend the time talking to the filmmaker(s) one-on-one after, what I really wanted was to hear what that particular audience would say or ask about the film(s) in a group setting. There was one block, probably my favorite of the bunch that I saw, called Laugh Therapy. It featured comedies about the experience of being a woman. I feel it tackled underrepresented subject matters in entertaining ways. There were 200 people there and they were laughing non-stop through the block. I would have seriously loved to hear the conversations that’d come out of that room. I think it would’ve been a cathartic experience for so many people involved. The lack of Q&As is the only thing that disappoints me about a festival that is otherwise phenomenal. I hope that they listen to all the filmmakers asking for Q&As this year, and incorporate them next year. And, of course, I hope I’ll be there next year to experience it!


Local Vegan Treat:

Catch “The Gaze” next at:

“Revelations” premieres on our site on November 5th!

Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival Recap

I just finished my weekend at Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival in Cary, North Carolina where “The Gaze” screened. This was my third year with a film in the festival but my first time attending. I’m glad I finally got to experience it. Overall, I had a nice time. There were only a handful of filmmakers in attendance, so while not watching films, I mostly experienced a quiet weekend exploring what turned out to be a really cute town.

As for the fest itself, you can tell it’s run by filmmakers because the picture and sound projection of all films were excellent. It’s also held in a beautiful venue, The Cary Theater. The festival is not as well attended as it should be. The festival staff seems to do a good job promoting it. But I think it hasn’t gotten the word of mouth it needs just yet. My screening had 35 people, and it was the most attended block as a whole. What’s nice, though, is that all but 5 people in the audience seemed to be locals not affiliated with the festival, so the films definitely reached people they probably wouldn’t otherwise. I hope that as the fest grows (it’s only in its 4th year) locals will come out to see the films.

My block had 11 shorts in it and I really appreciated that my film and the one other with filmmakers in attendance were programmed at the end so that they were fresh in the attendees’ minds for the Q&A. The Q&A itself was very brief, unfortunately, but I did get cool compliments one-on-one after. My favorite moment was 2 girls, one in high school and another in middle school, coming over after to tell me how much they enjoyed my movie and that they’re both aspiring filmmakers. It was also cool being reunited with Dycee Wildman & Jennifer Bonier in the same block with their short “Coming Alive.” Their previous film “Inside The House” was one of my favorites in 2017, which I saw at Ax Wound 2 years ago.

Other highlights:

  • getting to see festival director Christine Parker again, who I worked with at my old job I Was There Film Workshops

  • making new filmmaker friends, like Trinity Vélez-Justo, who gave a great presentation on the significance of sound & music in horror

  • watching 4 compelling pitches all by women in horror where the fest awarded one $400 from the festival’s ticket sales

  • and finally getting to meet & spend time with Megan Peterson, who drove from Wilmington to see my short and my Crowdfunding presentation. I helped launch her crowdfunding campaign for her feature Drought back in 2017, and she’s now joining my education team at Seed&Spark.


Local Vegan Treat:

  • I didn’t really find anything great but they at least had food options that weren’t just chains!

Catch the film next at:

Fem.Cine.Anarchy Recap

Last Thursday, I attended a screening of “The Gaze” as part of Fem.Cine.Anarchy in Portland, Maine. Fem.Cine.Anarchy is a free popup screening event celebrating "diverse, intersectional, edgy, female-driven, short narrative films, directed by female-identified persons." It’s run by Kate Kaminski, the founder and festival director of the now discontinued but well-remembered and recognized Bluestocking Film Series; and it was born out of the #DirectedByWomen celebration every September. I had such a great time at Bluestocking last year (screening “Enough”), that I knew I wanted to submit “The Gaze” and attend anything affiliated with it and Kate. I was really honored to be one of only 9 selections for the event.

It’s not an official festival, really just a single night out for locals to discover and enjoy some films that they’d probably never see otherwise. None of the other filmmakers were planning to attend, so I knew it wouldn’t be the kind of screening with a Q&A or for-filmmakers feel (though Bluestocking definitely was). It’s ultimately for film-lovers in the community, which I was totally down for because, Bluestocking aside, I also really loved the vibe in Portland last year and wanted to go back. So, I figured Justin & I could just make a min-vacation out of it with the mindset of getting a break from NYC at a time that happened to coincide with this little screening. Considering that, it really exceeded my expectations. The venue, on Slab’s outdoor patio, was great. They have excellent pizza (with an amazing vegan special), which was a surprise for us New Yorkers. And the space was really well equipped for the screening. The picture quality was solid and the sound was really good upfront where we sat. And best of all, despite it being a very chilly evening, people really turned up! There were over 50 people there who stayed through the end even though it was basically freezing below 60 degrees by the end of the evening, which is a real testament to the quality of the lineup and the communal atmosphere Kate has created over the years through Bluestocking and this pop-up. Overall, in spite of a bit of shivering, we had a wonderful time. It was so lovely to see Kate and her partner Betsy again, and to get such fun reactions from the audience as a whole.

Our short time in Portland after the screening was also a treat. Our one full day there had great weather (it’s a little unfortunate that the evening before wasn’t as warm - but at least it didn’t rain), so we were able to walk around a ton. Some highlights were seeing the local passion for progress and change during the Climate Strike at Portland’s City Hall, grabbing delicious donuts at The Holy Donut (they’re made from potatoes yet so light and fluffy), spending some time by the water, and happening across an unexpected concert in the little park outside our hotel where a community dance class showed off their skills. It was a fun trip. I definitely recommend checking out Fem.Cine.Anarchy next year if you’re in the mood for a breather by the water in a cool little city with a night out featuring an entertaining and thoughtful selection of shorts. 


Local Vegan Treat:

Catch the film next at:

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival Recap

I spent the weekend at Horrible Imaginings Film Festival for the premiere of my new short “The Gaze.” Including my film, I saw 42 out of the 50 shorts and 3 out of the 5 features; and I attended the 60th anniversary screening of The Tingler (with Percepto —it was SO fun)! There’s no other festival where I could sit through that many consecutive films and still want more. Their programming beats pretty much every other festival I attend because they not only care about production value and put storytelling above all, they also make inclusion and contemporary social issues a major aspect of their programming. Every single block is put together so thoughtfully. It’s truly amazing. I walk away from every block having experienced so much engagement on an emotional and physical level, and with so much to ponder. Unlike so many (male-run) genre festivals, this one doesn’t have gratuitous violence against women or mindless exploitation flicks. It’s incredibly intentionally programmed, and I just really respect how well films are selected and paired together. I attended for the first time back in 2017 and absolutely loved it. You can read me rave about the festival as a whole in that post as well. For new aspects that stood out this year, there’s the change to a more centrally located & genre-friendly venue and, given the current state of the world and the various human rights violations happening in our backyards, the programming was particularly political, which for me led to a more thought-provoking and visceral viewing experience. So many of the films are still lingering in my mind in the best way.


The thing that makes the festival really special, though, is its director Miguel Rodriguez. During his introduction of The Tingler (a moment I hope was captured and will be posted on their site) , Miguel talked about how when watching William Castle speak at the beginning of the movie, it’s so clear that you’re watching someone who passionately loves what he does and gets such joy out of it. That’s what I feel is so evident when you see Miguel speak during every single instance throughout the festival. He clearly cares so much and is very apparently having a ton of fun despite the overwhelming amount of work that goes into running such a well-executed festival. He has such a warmth to him that immediately makes people feel like family. And his ability to talk in depth about every single film, and in such a genuine way, makes a filmmaker feel truly seen and appreciated. It is such a gift to be part of the festival. I hope to attend as often as I can in future years.

As for my actual screening, it went super well! It was an incredibly powerful lineup of shorts that all explored systemic issues in some way. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the first Saturday screening at 11am, but it ended up being the most attended block because it not only included the most films in one (11 shorts), it also included at least 3 local films. So there were over 100 people in house (the other blocks seemed to range from 50 to 75). The downside though was that, because there were so many people on stage, there wasn’t time for a substantial Q&A. While all other blocks averaged 3 filmmakers in attendance and each got very personalized and specific questions before opening it to the audience, we, unfortunately, only got a general inspiration question with time for only a couple more from the audience. I didn’t get to discuss the craft the way I’d hoped, which was disappointing (not just for me and my film but I also so wanted to hear more from the other filmmakers on stage with me). I don’t blame the festival for handling it that way. It’s just an unfortunate tradeoff for the larger crowd. That said, “The Gaze” got some great (audible!) audience reactions, and many people came over after to compliment the film. Overall, it was an awesome premiere and such a fun weekend!


Local Vegan Treat:

  • Munchies Vegan Diner is delicious! I have to shoutout specifically, though, Mylk Nut’s Lavender Almond Milk drink. I was never a milk drinker pre being vegan, and as one I rarely want to drink milk alternatives outside of coffee or tea. But I tried this milk and I was legit addicted the whole time I was there. I wish it was sold outside of Southern California!

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P.S. Check out the festival’s wrap-up for shoutouts to the rest of their team that made it such a success!