- Courtesy of Brent Campbell
- Green screen shoot for "Listen"
She was warned. "Stay on the trail," said the man carrying a shovel and passing her on the path. "Stay on the trail, you'll be fine." A sign along the way reminded her. The whispers of the forest cautioned her. But she didn't listen, and the ground swallowed her.
"Listen," by Brent Campbell and E3 Productions, won best picture at the Northwest Nightmares Film Festival in St. Albans in 2018. Now in its seventh year, the horror film fest invites amateur and experienced filmmakers to "compete for gory glory." This year's first screening and awards night is Monday, October 28, at the Welden Theatre. A second screening is Tuesday, October 29.
Zach Scheffler is in his second year of organizing the festival for Franklin County's Northwest Access TV. It began in 2013, when executive director Elizabeth Malone asked staff for ideas to get more people interested in using the equipment and engaging with the station.
Kris Hoyt, program director at the time, had always loved scary movies. "On top of the work he was doing for NWATV, Kris advocated for this horror film festival that also had an education component to it," said Scheffler. The station provided use of its filmmaking and editing equipment, as well as classes on using the equipment, script writing, directing, special effects and all that goes into making a film.
"Elizabeth gave us the freedom to really go after it," Hoyt said. That first year, they expected four or five entries and were surprised to have 13 films.
"It's a very human thing to be scared," Hoyt said. "When I was about 13, my parents told me I was too old for trick-or-treating. So, instead, I invited my friends over and rented a bunch of scary movies. That feeling of excitement and fear, and the camaraderie of everyone freaking out at the same time, is a cool dynamic."
That dynamic will be in play when festival entries are projected at cinema scale on the Welden's largest screen. Filmgoers are encouraged to dress in spooky costumes and bring appropriate props.
To be entered in the competition, films must be original, horror-themed or a horror subgenre, rated PG-13, and less than 10 minutes long. The online submission portal closes at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, October 21. A panel of judges makes its selections before opening night and then will present Oscar-like trophies for best picture, horror, acting, cinematography, costume design, film editing, production design, screenplay, sound design and special effects at the awards party following the premiere. The best-picture winner will also receive a cash prize. Audience members will vote for their favorite on opening night.
Renée Laroche-Rheaume and her husband, Dave Rheaume, entered the festival its first year, winning best picture for "Come With Me," a film about a haunting involving a fictional 1920s train wreck in St. Albans and the star-crossed lovers just dying for someone to figure out what happened to them.
"Two years after our win, Elizabeth asked if I would like to coordinate the festival, as Kris Hoyt was moving on to other endeavors," said Laroche-Rheaume, who owns Spotlight Vintage, an apparel, costume and accessory boutique in St. Albans. "Each year the film fest has grown in popularity, and it has become a staple event in Franklin County." She and Rheaume, who heads marketing and design for 14th Star Brewing, now serve as judges.
"When it comes to making a film, great character development and a solid story can easily outweigh big-budget special effects," Laroche-Rheaume continued. "Use what is available to you and have fun."
St. Albans-based filmmaker Campbell said there were two catalysts for his award-winning film "Listen."
"We'd seen this really cool effect of somebody getting pulled into the ground, and we developed a story around what would put someone into that situation," he said.
Second, his crew wanted to use the monument-shot technique. "In The Shining , for example, it's the two little girls standing in front of the elevator," Campbell noted. The monument shot becomes a moment in the film when the visual itself becomes iconic. "It worked out for us as the last shot of our film."
Campbell, too, is a lifelong horror film enthusiast. "I've had a love of horror film ever since I was a kid and my dad took me to see my first one, The House That Dripped Blood ," he said. Campbell first entered Northwest Nightmares in 2017 with his film "Legend of the Hanging Tree," which also won best picture. He dedicated it to his dad, who died in 2013.
The festival organizers never imagined how much their event would evolve. "It's an amazing way to be part of the community and see how much creativity we have in this area," said Hoyt, who teaches creative technology and civics at Richford Junior Senior High School. "It's grown from a St. Albans event to a northern Vermont event."
A second screening night was added because the first kept selling out.
"The folks who are working on the festival treat every film as a jewel and have great respect for all the filmmakers and content creators," said Campbell, who with his E3 team is putting the finishing touches on this year's yet-to-be-named entry. "They put everybody's work in the best light possible. It's fun for everyone."
Organizers use the week between the close of submissions and the screenings to produce movie posters for each film, which are displayed in the theater. "It makes it look like a legit Hollywood film festival," Scheffler said. He praised Welden's manager and projectionist Rob Bliss for his enthusiastic support: "He loves this thing."
"This festival gives people of all ages a chance to flex their creative muscles and try something new," Laroche-Rheaume said. "In an age where we are all consumed by our technology, it's important to keep the arts alive.
"We've had previous contestants go on to star in large theater productions, and others go on to pursue audiovisual courses in college, after discovering their love for filmmaking during Northwest Nightmares," she said. "It's really inspiring to see what people dream up as a result of this event."