The 2013 Fright Night Film Fest and Fandom, Louisville, Kentucky

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Fandom Fest 2013

Fandom Fest 2013 (Photo credit: PureGeekery)

Where are horror movies, sci fi celebrities, anime, comics, and gaming mixed up into a pot? Try the Fright Night Film Festive and Fandom which is held in Louisville, Kentucky every year. I needed to be there this year since my screenplay, “Obedience,” was an official selection of the film festival, something I consider to be a great honor. This is the first big general horror convention I have attended, so take my observations in that light.

First, on the positive side, almost all the movies I saw that were finalists were quite good to excellent in quality. I was amazed at the available talent in horror and the fact that Hollywood has not always paid sufficient attention to some of the most creative film producers. One film I saw, Lucid, is a fascinating exploration of lucid dreaming with well rounded characters and a stunning performance by the lead actor–she played her part like a master, especially the strong emotional element of the film. The shift between appearance and reality was interesting to me as a philosopher, and in the future this will be one of the movies I show to my Introduction to Philosophy class. Another fine movie, Mr. White, is an exploration of bullying and the terrible revenge one bullied boy meets out. Having been bullied myself as a child (though not as badly as many unfortunate children), I found the movie disturbing. The acting was high quality.

Attending Gillian Anderson‘s question and answer session was a positive experience. She is quite lovely and charming, and she is comfortable in dealing with audiences and their questions. Seeing her as a human being rather than as a character was an interesting experience–one sees that she is a human being who is trying to get by in this world like everyone else, one who is very good at her job. She did not come across as arrogant, which is all too rare for celebrities.

Unfortunately the line was too long for William Shatner‘s appearance, and I am sure the same was true for Stan Lee‘s. I am glad many of their fans were able to see them in person.

The vendors sold a variety of diverse products, and I spent way too much money. Much of it was anime and comics, which are not really my interests, but there were enough movies, music, and horror props to make any horror fan’s day.

No matter how well staff plans, a conference this big is a logistical nightmare, and this led to some problems with scheduling. Some rooms were double-booked, and if rooms changed for an event, there was no way to find out where it was held except via word of mouth. Some events started later than scheduled. The schedule was flawed to the point that a printed schedule was not available–I missed an event on Friday evening because I was not aware of it. I do not have an I-phone, so I was unable to scan the schedule. It was finally available for all online on Saturday. A preliminary schedule should come out in advance so people can make adequate plans. I should have driven in Friday instead of Thursday, for example–I’ll be paying $700.00 plus for a hotel bill when I could have saved a great deal of money by coming a day late.

I realize that sounds more negative than it should be, but I hope that the things I mentioned will be taken as suggestions to improve the experience of the convention for fans, filmmakers, and writers.

by adequate plans–I shouldSome rules should have been more clear–for example, the schedule said that the vendor area would be open at 10 a.m. on Sunday. What the schedule did not make clear is that it was open at 10 for VIPs, etc., and at 11 for smucks like me who paid general admission. It was an embarrassing experience being turned away by a staff member.

Another thing that was not clear to me, as a recent author of a book of horror poems, is that books could be displayed at the Fandom desk in the Kentucky Convention Center. Discovering this after the fact and after it was too late was quite annoying–it is difficult enough to sell books as it is. Although there were authors in the vendor section, the literary workshops were not well-announced. John Carpenter may not be happy about screenwriters not being welcome enough at the Horror Writers’ Association, but fairness is a two-way street. The literary sessions seemed to be an aside, and an unimportant one, which is unfortunate.

Marketing my screenplay was also a frustrating task–another finalist told me I could talk to some of the celebs, and if a judge was interested specifically in my screenplay, that judge would contact me. Making a pitch was virtually impossible in such a format–the small production companies among the vendors have their own writer and are unable to take on another writer’s work. The same is true with some of the better know directors. It took quite some time after the festival was over for the winners to be announced. Since I did not receive an e-mail to attend the (later cancelled) awards ceremony, it was no surprise I did not win. I was pleased to see Biting Pig Productions win a general award–they make excellent films which I highly recommend. Overall the judges seemed to prefer more violent films to subtle horror–that is not a surprise among current horror fans–my students in my Philosophy of Horror class prefer slashers to supernatural horror. I am glad that the most popular recent box office hits have been supernatural horror, which still has an appeal to the general public. I am not disappointed–each contest has its own quirks and judges have every right to prefer the kind of films they enjoy the most, as well as considering overall quality.

All in in, this was a mixed experience. Given the low yield of benefit to cost, I will not attend again, though I am sure some hard-core fans who enjoy meeting celebrities and getting autographs will be back next year.


Hostility to the Hereafter and the Movie “Hereafter”

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Clint Eastwood at the 2008 Cannes Film Festiva...

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I have seen the Clint Eastwood-directed movie Hereafter and have been surprised by the extremes in reviews. Roger Ebert gives the movie four stars and an “A” rating. On the other side of the spectrum is Peter Ranier of The Christian Science Moniter who accuses the movie of “quackery” and gives it a C- rating. Other ratings ranged anywhere from a numerical rating ranging from a low of 56 to a high of 100. A similar phenomenon was seen with the initial release of Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, which is almost universally recognized today as an innovative classic of the horror genre.

Hereafter is the story of a dissatisfied medium, George Lonegan (played by Matt Damon), a French journalist, Marie Lelay (played by Cecile de France) who has a near-death experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and an English schoolboy, Marcus (played by both Frankie and George McLaren), whose brother Jason (also played by both Frankie and George McLaren), who come together at the London Book Fair in circumstances that seem almost providential, but which could also be attributed to chance. A similar ambiguity is found in the movie Grand Canyon. Hereafter explores the issue of whether we survive death through the characters, and the screenwriter, Peter Morgan, whose previous credits include The Queen and Frost-Nixon, clearly has done his homework. As Roger Ebert notes, the movie does not say that an afterlife is proven by George McLaren’s genuine abilities; as parapsychologists know, veridical evidence from honest mediums can be due to telepathy from living persons or from clairvoyance. The ambiguity of the NDE is also noted, as well as Marie’s being absolutely convinced that her experience is real (what William James calls “noetic quality). The emotions the movie evokes are genuine, and though the movie veers perilously close to sentimentality, it does not cross that line. It is one of the best movies I have seen.

What accounts for some of the hostility toward Hereafter. I cannot read reviewers’ minds, but I would speculate that some reviewers are so hostile to any notion of survival of death that they are offended by a movie that is open to the possibility. Some of the evidence for survival is indeed suspect, but the movie recognizes this and shows Marcus visiting a number of fake mediums. But there are people in the world who would not be convinced of survival of death even if their mothers returned from the dead and hugged them. Survival of death is not possible in their world view. Thus, even though Hereafter can be interpreted as open to the possibility of life after death without affirming it, that possibility is too much to admit for the radical secularist.

On the other side of the issue would be individuals who want the movie to be less ambiguous on life after death–to affirm an afterlife without reservation. Morgan, who personally opposes an afterlife, and Eastwood wisely avoid reaching such conclusions. In real life they go beyond the evidence, but I think the ambiguity makes a better story–the audience begins the movie with wonder and ends the movie with wonder. This is a movie I definitely plan to purchase when it comes out on DVD.