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Lock the doors. Hide in the basement, surely it’s safe there. A fool’s bet, for sure, but the panic is taking over. There’s no way to stop it now — it’s too powerful. Just hope it’s safe outside, bite the bullet and embrace the darkness that is the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival at the AFI Silver Theatre and Culture Center.
The festival, in its seventh season, runs from Oct. 10-20 and presents roughly 54 films — feature length and shorts.
“It’s D.C.’s only genre-based film festival,” says Curtis Prather, founder of Spooky Movie International. “In the past six years, it has become one of D.C.’s top festivals and I believe we’re one of the top genre-based festivals in the country.
“We’re definitely one of the top horror-based festivals in the country right now.”
The festival gives local filmmakers an opportunity to show their films and talk with audience members and other filmmakers to better perfect their craft. Some filmmakers are even there to try to get their movies into distribution.
“This year, we really opened it up to local filmmakers. We have two world premieres that we’re thrilled about and we’re doing a summit [this Sunday at 5 p.m.] with Ed Sanchez from ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ who has been a tremendous supporter of both local filmmakers and the festival,” Prather says. “He actually came to the festival last year, and sort of surprised us. He had produced a film that was making the rounds and it wasn’t expected that he would show up and he did. So that was wonderful for us. Last year we got to know him and it was actually his idea to do the summit.“
Sanchez will lead a roundtable discussion with filmmakers so that fans can get a better idea of what it’s like to write, produce and eat-sleep-and-breathe a film.
“The horror genre is the most fervent genre there is. The fans just can’t get enough of it. Just like every other genre, it has its ups and downs, but it seems like it’s going through a resurgence right now,” Sanchez says. “Having a festival here in the D.C. area just legitimizes horror filmmakers not only in the area, but brings a focus to D.C. as far as horror films are concerned. I know horror films are kind of a sub-genre — I know there haven’t been many horror films that are considered Oscar-worthy. I think that some of the best films around are being made in the horror genre.
“There definitely isn’t a lack of talent in the horror pool. Having a spotlight for those kinds of films in the area is obviously important to me and it’s important to a lot of horror filmmakers in the area. “
Sanchez says festivals like these are extremely important for new filmmakers because DVD sales are falling and more studios are pushing digital content.
“The harsh reality of what’s going on in the film business right now, since 2007 or 2008, the bottom dropped out of the DVD market. It hasn’t caught up. It’s similar to what happened in the music business, when CD sales started dropping and everyone went digital,” Sanchez says. “The same problem they’re having with piracy, small filmmakers are having with piracy. The big films, the big studios also have problems with piracy, but they have a legal department and they have ways of fighting it that a small-time filmmaker can’t. The problem is there is a limited market of people who want to see their film. A lot of them, unfortunately, download it for free. You know, you’ve got a kid that doesn’t understand the harm he’s doing in doing that.
“So getting the material out there in any way is important. Obviously, that’s the whole point of making films, besides the personal satisfaction and the drive of making something you believe in. It’s nice to make a living, it’s nice to make a little bit of money, or at least have people see it. So anything like this really helps. It brings awareness to the filmmakers and it also connects the audience with the filmmakers. Only good things can happen with these kinds of events.”
Each year, Prather and a select group of people wade hip deep in a pool of film submissions, ranging from the super scary, to the super funny and, of course, the super freaky. On that front, the festival kicks off with the showing of local filmmaker Richard Bates Jr.’s wildly inappropriate yet wildly entertaining feature, “Excision.” Bates first showed the film as a short at the festival several years ago. Now, he’s back with a feature-length film and an all-star cast, including Traci Lords, AnnaLynne McCord, Malcolm McDowell and Baltimore’s own John Waters.
For those who have never been, enjoy the ride. For those who’ve experienced the spooky thrill ride, try not to spoil it for the others. Just because a fan has been before doesn’t mean there isn’t something new this year.
“We strive for really quality films for a quality experience in a theater — it’s not at a convention hall and it’s not in a conference room,” Prather says. “Here, you can get beer and popcorn and nachos and be able to sit in the darkened theater and watch the film on the big screen and hopefully there will be filmmakers there.”