Frightful Films Hit Bellingham
As the credits end and the horror film begins, the audience members are not the only ones to gasp in anticipation.
“The first time you see your work on the screen at the Pickford as a student filmmaker, it’s like, ‘Woah, I made a movie.’” said Gary Washington, co-founder of the horror film festival Bleedingham.
The film festival involves various Western alumni and was hosted at the Pickford Film Center on October 24th, giving first time and experienced filmmakers their chance to showcase their frightful films.
Now in their fourth year, the festival accepts 12-minute short films from a variety of horror genres. This year 17 films were shown to a panel of film-industry professionals, and applicants competed for zombie-themed trophies called “Bloodies” as well as a $500 grand prize for best film.
At the end of the night, “Never a Dull Boy That Jack” took home the $500 prize, including six “Bloodies” for their film “The Graveyard Shift,” according to the film’s official Facebook page. The film won the top spot in every category judged, except for the “scare factor” in which they placed second.
Films were judged on a number of categories, including: cinematography, editing, sound design, story, special effects and the scare factor, according to the Bleedingham website.
While the festival is disguised in spooky attire and bloody fanfare, it goes deeper than just an opportunity to dress up, Washington said.
“At its core, it’s designed for filmmakers to receive accolades from their peers as well as get critical feedback from a panel of industry professionals,” Washington said.
That type of feedback is essential to growth as a filmmaker, and Bleedingham hopes to fill the void for filmmakers in Whatcom County where opportunities are limited, Washington said.
The festival was created after a late night of brainstorming with friends during Washington’s final year at Western four years ago. Washington disliked that a lot of performance art within Bellingham was self-congratulatory, and wanted to create a platform for real feedback for an artist, rather than just a pat on the back, he said.
After teaming up with practical effects expert Langley West, the duo decided to hand select panelists with ties to the horror industry. After teaming up with the Pickford to screen the festival, Bleedingham was officially launched in October 2012, Washington said.
Since its start, Bleedingham has strived to maintain a connection with students as well as Western, Washington said.
Washington met Western Assistant Professor of the Arts Chris Vargas at a previous Pickford film festival where Vargas was an acting judge. After learning more about Bleedingham, Vargas jumped at the opportunity to become one of 10 judges on the Bleedingham panel, Vargas said. The careful selection of judges is one they pride themselves on, Washington said.
“I think it allows people to imagine their work in a professional venue. Since the Pickford screens it and they have an excellent theater and projection system, it gives local filmmakers a chance to dream big,” Vargas said. “It’s a really great stepping stone for a lot of people.”
Vargas has been teaching at Western since 2014 and previously screened and rated movies for Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. Festivals like Bleedingham can open the eyes of up-and-coming filmmakers to new possibilities, he said.
Though Vargas is no stranger to screening films, this will be his first time judging a horror-themed film festival he said. A warning however — it’s going to take a lot to get him to scream.
“I’m a fan of horror movies. I’m kind of a tough audience when it comes to horror. I don’t tend to scare very easy,” Vargas said. “I’m pretty well suited to see a lot of different kinds of horror films.”
In order for a horror flick to score high in his book, mind games are what really does it for Vargas.
“Even if there’s gore, I like some element of psychological manipulation,” Vargas said. “I think that adds a lot of depth to a horror film.”
Submissions that Scare
Giving younger filmmakers a chance to have their films reviewed was a key reason for the creation of Bleedingham, Washington said.
“I try to look at it from the perspective of a 16-year-old filmmaker at a lunch table with his friend, saying ‘Hey man, we’re going to enter Bleedingham and take that $500,’” Washington said.
This year a team of Sehome High students, dressed in suits among a crowd of masked faces and costumed moviegoers, entered their film with that very goal.
This year the club submitted their creation, “Encounter.” Brady Mcatee, who created the club, teamed up with Joseph Mueller and a team of student filmmakers to make the short film.
“Encounter” was created over the summer and tells the tale of a bank robber who crashes into the woods to find that he isn’t alone. The film was Mueller’s second submission ever to Bleedingham, he said.
“I entered the first Bleedingham,” Mueller said. “I made a short little movie with my family. We had a $0 budget, blood was ketchup, things like that.”
Mcatee had never entered a film to Bleedingham before, and was looking forward to receiving input from the judges about his cinematography.
“The only feedback I’ve ever really gotten is from my parents, other people’s parents or kids from school, and they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Criticism from them is like, ‘Oh man you should have had more explosions,’” Mcatee said.
Vargas’ advice for new filmmakers like the Sehome Film Club is to keep it simple and fight the urge to follow the typical high-budget Hollywood model.
The filmmakers hope Bleedingham will remain immortal and become an October tradition. The tradition dies when they die, Mcatee said.
It’s young cinematographers, like Mcatee and Mueller, Washington hopes to influence most, they may have the title of “Bellingham filmmaker” to saddle one day and Bleedingham provides the feedback and accolades that’ll get them there.
“At the end of the day they get this feedback,” Washington said. “That’s the biggest part about Bleedingham.”