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a night of horror, international film festival

The 5th Annual A Night of Horror International Film Festival opened in Sydney on Thursday the 31st of March and closes on Friday the 8th of April. With a series of features, shorts and film premieres, the festival also offers a variety of sub-horror genres from zombies, to monsters, to ghosts, to slashers, to horror comedies. If you’re a horror film fan, or are interested in some momentary scares (or laughs) then you should check out some of the screenings. Festival Director Dean Bertram talks about this year’s films, and his thoughts on the horror genre.

How has the festival developed over the years?

We originally planned for the festival to be a one night event – hence the festival name “A Night of Horror” – which showcased locally produced short horror films. But for the inaugural festival we were inundated by hundreds of short films from all around the world. And so, even in first year, we decided to run the festival over three nights. In the festival’s second year, after requests from several feature filmmakers, we began to accept feature film submissions as well. As a result, the festival grew into the current nine-day event that screens 15 features and over 70 short films from all around the world.

Where did the initial idea come from?

The idea for the festival began when my brother Grant and I, along with festival co-director Lisa Mitchell, made a short horror film that screened at a number of genre-specific festivals overseas. We were aware that there wasn’t a similar festival here and decided that there must be other local horror filmmakers, who, like us, wanted an event that would showcase their work in Sydney.

How do you select the films that will be screened?

Often it’s just that realisation while you’re watching a film that it is something special. After viewing maybe several films in one sitting your head suddenly pops up and a film grabs your attention. If I really enjoy a submitted film, I will almost invariably screen it at the festival. But the type of questions that you ask yourself when you are forced to be more analytical include: Is it a good horror story? Is the story well realised cinematically (in direction, performances, cinematography, sound design etc)? Is it scary (or if a horror comedy, is it scary/funny)? If it’s trying to be disturbing, is it disturbing? Originality helps a lot too: Is it a story that we haven’t seen a dozen times already? Does the film do something new with the genre? Does it twist genre conventions in an interesting direction? Will the audience enjoy it?

Do you try to include a certain amount of works from emerging filmmakers? Or Australian filmmakers?

Absolutely on both counts. The festival always screens several feature film debuts, this year these include: SKEW, LULOW, WILDERNESS, MIDNIGHT SON, BLOOD JUNKIE, THE AFFLICTED and DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. We are also screening two Australian feature films: THE TUNNEL, and THE REEF, and we have actually increased our ongoing commitment to Australian short films with two separate “Australian Horror Showcases”, and a total of 25 short Australian horror films screening at the festival.

Are there any themes/issues that have been on focused this year?

I think the biggest trend that we have seen in submissions to the festival this year isn’t so much thematic as stylistic: we received a lot of “found footage” films – films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY where the characters themselves are allegedly filming the action. The festival ‘s program includes three particularly effective films shot in this style: SKEW, THE TUNNEL, and #12.

Why do you think audiences enjoy horror films?

I think the human race has always enjoyed horrifying entertainment. From half whispered ghost stories traded around campfires, through those original non-sanitized fairy tales, to bloody performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, horror has always been a part of our culture. The horror film is just the latest medium that lets audiences enjoy this spine-tingling rush of fear vicariously: they cater to that macabre aspect of our psyche that wants to look death in the face, but placate that more sensible aspect that doesn’t want the accompanying danger. Because when we watch a horror film, no matter how much we jump or cower in our seats throughout, we know that when the cinema’s lights fade back up, we’re going to be ok.

The opening night film The Tunnel, which is set under the Saint James train station in Sydney, sold out in 48 hours – but other highlights include the showcase of Australian horror shorts on Wednesday from 7pm, the free horror screenwriting forum on Thursday from 9pm, and the Australian premiere of Absentia, with the awards ceremony on Friday.  For further information visit: www.anightofhorror.com

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