It has now been four days since the festival and I am just now beginning the recovery process. This has been an especially challenging year because of all of the changes that have taken place. All of them are great, mind you, but none of them are comfortable. We moved into a new house in March, had a new baby in June, and today is my last day as a teacher training specialist at the school district where I have worked for nearly a decade. Goodbye, San Diego Unified–I am moving to UCSD.
Of course, the change that is most relevant to this particular post is the relocation of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival from our longtime home in San Diego to our new location at Santa Ana’s The Frida Cinema in Orange County. A move to a new community is potentially the death knell of an already challenging event like a film festival. It is almost like starting from scratch, with us attempting to ingratiate ourselves with an entirely new city of people, build awareness, and foster enough trust in our programming that people would spend good money to spend all day, every day on Labor Day Weekend in a darkened room watching genre cinema with strangers. We would have to bid adieu to our sponsor base, pretty much all of whom are located in San Diego and count on San Diego exposure. The same goes for our volunteer base.
So yes, it was a risky proposition, and one that I had to try to navigate while figuring out how to conform my life to one with a newborn baby girl. The truth is that I could not have done it without the support of a number of people, and it is for them that I compose this reflection. All of these folks contributed a number of things over the months since we knew that everything would change, but I have to say this. Without volunteers, they also contributed boots-on-the-ground grunt work throughout the festival. None of this should have been their job (at most, they should be overseeing volunteers). Sometimes, this caused some major discomfort, but they were reliable, worked LONG hours, and we got through it. This was probably our single most acute growing pain of the move to Orange County. For this, I am both grateful, relived it is over, and also a little apologetic. These words are universal for the people mentioned in this reflection. Now, for the names:
First of all, Beth Accomando, who has contributed to the festival in more ways than I can name since the very first year. She lent her robust opinion as member of the programming team, particularly for the feature films, as a judge for the awards, working a convention table, and most notably as the writer and editor for our program magazine. I don’t think we can overstate the magnitude of this last task. Essentially, Beth took on the role of wrangling pictures, ads, and other content, writing original prose to lend a personal reflection on our program, editing content, and communicating with Phil, our designer. This was for a 52-page magazine, and it was done in less than two weeks. A lesser person would be dead.
Everything I said about the challenges of that program book applies to the design work, as well, so we have to profusely thank Phil Haxo, who received all the assets to create the design at the 11th hour and worked like a machine to turn them into an object of beauty. So clean and strong is his design that I was approached by one of the producers who was a guest at the festival. He said he worked in marketing and had to oversee countless magazines where design was of key importance, and ours was as good or better than any of them. That was a testament to the talent and success of Phil Haxo.
Sterling Anno faced an extremely challenging year. These challenges culminated in his own moment of change: he stepped down from his longtime position at Oceanside International Film Festival. That festival happened in August. Then San Diego Underground Film Festival, another film event he helps run, also happened in August. That ended about three days before we started. Needless to say, working all of these fests in such a short span of time was absolutely draining, but Sterling never showed it. He was on 110% throughout the weekend, checking in guests, acting as a true face of the festival for filmmakers, interviewing people, and announcing awards. There is no unbridled enthusiasm to match that of Sterling’s, and I can think of no greater asset. In the months leading up to the festival, he also worked as a programmer of films. Also, those Facebook posts you keep liking? That is all him.
Joshua Sutton has been irreplaceable in the last several months. He has helped with things as grand as programming the festival and working tables at conventions, to as mundane as making sure we are within budget and helping with logistical details. He has rented vehicles to help transport festival material and staff from San Diego to Santa Ana or Los Angeles, and even drove back and forth from Long Beach twice in one weekend in order to work at a convention table. Josh’s reliability is truly off the charts. He spent a huge chunk of the weekend doing hospitality and travel, which is one of the most important and challenging roles for someone to take on. He truly gives more than he gets, but I hope he can start getting more.
Laura Vasquez single-handedly ensured one of the coolest and most fun industry networking events in the form of our Friday night after party for filmmakers and special guests. In more ways than one, she helped this year’s festival become a reality. She also put in time at convention tables, as well as hoofing it around Santa Ana and filling shops with our fliers. A festival should have a street team. For us, that entire team was Laura. Her strength is in outreach to that community and the businesses there–I think we can make that work to the benefit of everyone in the years to come!
Jon Condit has also braved a challenging year as he grows and maintains his own company and distribution label. He has a real passion for independent film and the promotion of independent filmmakers, and that passion is evident in the work he puts in during the festival. He helped revamp the website and come up with marketing strategy ideas. The tables and exterior of the Frida was put together by him. He also stepped up in a huge way this weekend as a center of hospitality for our special guests, especially Barbara Magnolfi. She had nothing but love and admiration for Jon after spending so much time in conversation with him, and her enjoyment of the festival is largely thanks to his efforts.
Jay Kay is just tireless. He was a programmer for the festival, sitting through countless submissions and offering thoughtful feedback. He provided coverage and interviews on his highly-regarded podcasts, and he made the trek all the way to California from his home in New Jersey to work the festival itself. Jay’s Facebook live feed brought the festival Q&As and interviews to a wider audience, and gave filmmakers who couldn’t make it a change to experience the festival from afar. Many of them lamented their absence even more after following Jay’s coverage. He also acted as a order of psychologist for me in my early morning anxieties. Not an easy job!
Zeshaan Younus more than anyone straddles both the Horrible Imaginings and Frida Cinema teams in this reflection. He has significantly grown the Horrible Imaginings Instagram, organized schedules and meetings, helped me learn the art of delegation (something I am still figuring out), provided both positive feedback to keep me going and critical feedback to help benefit the festival. In a lot of ways, his strengths are some of the hardest part of running a festival: organization, operations, professionalism. Most of all, he has shown a dedication to a successful and ever growing event that rivals my own. It is no wonder The Frida Cinema has grown so much under your tenure as board president!
Logan Crow has created something very special with The Frida Cinema. It is almost scary how similar our stories and personalities are, but it is also something we can use in an incredible partnership moving forward. The Frida is by far the best fit for us in a venue, and Logan’s desire to see this fit thrive has helped us traverse some of the early bumps in the road. Despite a full schedule of films in a fully operational theater, Logan was always a text away when I needed him. As someone who has immersed himself into his community, he is my access point to our new home, and I appreciate how much he has welcomed us.
Alissa Quinn Flores. If you guys had any idea how much work goes into making the films play, then you would join me in a singing chorus of praise of Alissa. She spent a month receiving films, downloading films, preparing films, and testing films. In this way, she saw the entirety of our festival before anyone else did and ensured that it would look great on a huge screen without the countless hiccups that can so easily plague a festival like this. She is one of those truly behind-the-scenes roles that render her invisible, but nothing would exist without her.
Lauren Counts flew all the way from Florida TWICE to discuss how to transform The Frida Cinema into a festival showspace. She made magic with a tiny budget and a truckload of dead flowers. She and Brett Allbritton not only made this happen, but helped on the floor, as well. Any film would be lucky to have he on as a production designer!
Jonathan Young put in way more hours than anyone intended by making sure we had working microphones and sound throughout the festival. He ensured our Q&A discussions were recorded for posterity, and with quality. The infrastructure to record large panels was not really in place, but he worked damn hard to put something in place at the last minute. These were Herculean tasks, and we thank him!
Christine Schindel has had to greatly reduce her contributions to the festival, but that didn’t stop her from attending conventions and festival alliance round-table events in my absence. These events and her notes not only helped me to learn valuable information, but she helped keep Horrible Imaginings present an visible to other festivals and filmmakers from around the country. It really helps us to have that presence.
Huge thanks also to James Coker and Michael Foster for their tireless work as festival programmers. They watched countless films, a difficult endeavor, and help narrow the options down to the program we had. It is a program that we have gotten a lot of praise for, by the way, so thank you! James, thank you also for your enthusiasm in helping throughout the weekend!
And what would this weekend have been like without Christopher Olson? You may have recognized him–or three of him, anyway! Your Serpent and the Rainbow-inspired characters were full of creativity, skill, and outright creepiness! It is such a benefit to the festival to have you there!
Our judges Beth Accomando, Cathy Alberich, Kirsten Elms, Cody Goodfellow, John Skipp, Max Weinstein, Frank Woodward, and special guest judges Taylor Martin and Kyle Daly had a monumental job in watching our program and choosing favorites. I don’t envy them. Thank you all!
Thanks also go to Brian, Stephen Deemer, Andy Conner, and all the workers, extraordinary volunteers, and anyone else I am forgetting at The Frida Cinema. That place is so special specifically because of all of you. Thank you!
Finally, no festival would be long surviving without press to support it, filmmakers to attend it, panelists to enlighten it, and an audience to give everything meaning. Special thanks to Rebekah McKendry of Shock Waves Podcast for reaching out to me about appearing at the festival, and extra special thanks to John Jennings for delivering a completely engaging one-man presentation on race criticism and horror, hopefully creating an on-going conversation for future festivals! Thanks also go to Barbara Magnolfi for experiencing our little festival with us! We love you! Also thanks to Kevin Tenney for joining us for a bonus screening of Night of the Demons on Thursday! What a treat!
There was much to learn from for this year, but the survey feedback has been outstanding. I don’t think I can be happier than when reading comments like: “it was all very, very well planned and executed,” “the quality and variety of films was outstanding,” and “If this was the only film festival that any of my films have or will ever have gotten into, I would be happy.” Wow!
Keep your ears and eyes on our social media feeds in the next week as we blast photos, soundbites, video clips, and more from the festival! Until then, as always, stay scared!
Founder and Director