With Christmas right around the corner, the Blood In The Snow festival 2018 (BITS) wants to get in on the spirit of giving: giving moviegoers jump scares, nightmares, and reasons to sleep with the lights on. Taking place at Toronto’s Royal Cinema from November 22 – 27, BITS 2018 offered “Canada’s largest celebration of Canuck genre film.”
After a successful 2017 run, BITS came back bigger, better, and bloodier than ever before. The festival expanded from four to six days and from ten to thirteen programs – including a web series program. Festival attendees can mix things up and check out one of the chilling features and then sit in on a medley of creepy delights in the shorts program. Those seeking to break into the entertainment business, network, or just learn how the sausage gets made, can sign up for the “Deadly Exposure” industry sessions.
In The Seats attended media day with the people bringing you BITS 2018’s thrills, chills, and kills. Here is who they are and what they had to say.
Hammer of the Gods — Feature
EP & Cast member: Samantha Carly
SYNOPSIS: Hammer of the Gods is the story of falling-from-grace rock group half a decade after the release of their hit single, as they travel deep into the Canadian wilderness on a spirit journey.
Carly describes Hammer of the Gods as a psychological horror movie that centres around the rock band Sled Dog, one hit wonders desperate to regain relevance. Carly told me she was attracted to the film by, “How it explores the role of the artist, what they’re willing to sacrifice, and what their idea of success is.” Carly says her idea of success involves, “Being able to do what you love and feeling like you’re sharing what you have to say with the world.” She enjoys festivals like BITS because they draw together local film talent and people interested in independent film. “There’s nothing better than that. Just feeling that energy is a very cool experience,” she tells me.
ALLIE AND LARA MAKE A HORROR MOVIE — Web Series
Writer/Director/Producer: Larissa Thomas
SYNOPSIS: Two horror fan screenwriters, Allie and Lara, leap into directing their first creature feature with their fame-hungry roommate, Becca.
Larissa Thomas’ web series tells the story of two genre screenwriting women who decide to make their own horror film, and then their lives turn into a horror movie. “And so did ours,” Thomas laughed. What started out as fun writing sessions turned into “A runaway train,” and they ended up producing and editing the project as well.
Thomas bonded with her writing partner Alicia Faucher over their shared love of Scream 3 and Alien: Resurrection. I asked her about the benefits of working with a writing partner. “People who are really introverted and embarrassed of their work, finding a collaborator who is motivated is a good idea, and then it’s about just doing it,” she told me. “Committing, and even making a teaser, making something to get people excited, getting some actors, doing some table reads, even the steps you can do for free will start getting momentum for your project.”
Binge — Short
Writer/Director: David J. Fernandes
SYNOPSIS: A mysterious envelope arrives at Jen’s door, sending her on an increasingly dangerous hunt to discover its intent.
The idea for Binge came to Fernandes years ago and he worked it into a feature that he ended up not making. We live in a binge-obsessed society and Fernandes wanted to explore, “Modern storytelling methods and how a really good hook can keep us watching and watching it well past our own limits.” He says he wanted to play with classic suspense film techniques. “I’m very influenced by suspense films and psychological horror and I wanted to make something that was sort of in that world.”
Fernandes told me that he thinks BITS is a great showcase for indie films and indie horror films and he loves meeting people in the festival’s intimate setting which helps give filmmakers more exposure. He shared some advice for young filmmakers looking to enter the festival circuit. “Make something that you love,” he said. “If you’re not doing something that you’re excited about its going to be hard to find people who will like it as well.”
LEVEL 16 — Feature
Writer/Dir. Danishka Esterhazy
SYNOPSIS: Sixteen-year-old Vivien is trapped in The Vestalis Academy, a prison-like boarding school, keeping to herself and sticking her neck out for no one. Until she is reunited with Sophia — the former friend who betrayed her. Together the girls embark on a dangerous search to uncover the horrifying truth behind their imprisonment. Soon running for their lives, the girls must save themselves or die trying.
Esterhazy made her dystopian thriller for slightly selfish reasons. “I’m a huge sci-fi fan but I haven’t seen a lot of sci-fi that’s been female-driven,” she told me. “When I graduated from film school, I really wanted to write a dystopian story with a cast that’s almost entirely women.” Like all the best sci-fi, Level 16 addresses timely themes through the lens of genre. Her film, “Explores the power of friendship and the power of young women when they come together and support each other. It’s also a critique on the education system and the authoritarian natures of educational systems and how they can brainwash young people into being disempowered.”
Getting a smart, female-driven sci-fi story off the ground is no easy task. Esterhazy credits the support of producer Judy Holm. “Having a producer who really has your back, believes in your vision, and won’t stop fighting for you, because it’s very hard to continually go to funders and broadcasters and to pitch and be turned down,” Esterhazy said. She also added, “It can be extremely disheartening. If you have somebody else who believes in your project, then it’s easier to keep fighting.”
Despite the tough start gaining support for Level 16, Esterhazy sees her experience as a filmmaking story with a happy ending. We ended our conversation on a positive note, with her telling me, “Sometimes the story that nobody believes in can be the story that you have the most success with.”