It’s only at the best horror festivals in the world that the next generation of the genre lurches forward.
At these bustling events, the past, present, and future of horror collide and converge. Ravenous fans and industry vets flock to see the buzziest films on the circuit, screen stars fly in to celebrate the films that made them icons, upstart independents announce their artistic arrival, and everyone in attendance forms unbreakable bonds at rowdy midnight screenings—and even rowdier parties.
Across the globe, festival directors and filmmakers continue to serve as the connective tissue of this vital scene, even as the pandemic has threatened (and failed!) to break it apart. And now, for the second year running, we at Dread Central have meticulously mapped out the horror hubs that showcase the best of what that scene has to offer.
Each festival on this list was selected by a panel of industry experts. (Meet our 2022 panel here.) No festival qualified for selection unless it received votes from panelists who are not associated with that festival. Once the list was locked in, we surveyed our selected festivals to help us paint an accurate and vivid picture of what goes on at each event.
We hope our guided tour through the dark heart of the horror festival circuit will inspire the genre’s future stars to submit, and open fans’ eyes to uncharted territory.
A “smaller, cozy genre film festival” praised by a panelist for its “passionate, dedicated staff,” Abertoir has cemented itself as a premiere destination for horror in Wales. For the past 16 years, the Aberystwyth-based fest has drawn legends and rising stars of the genre from around the world to join for its top-shelf premieres, repertory runs of cult classics, and filmmaker-focused special events.
Last November, Abertoir’s guests included Linda Hayden, star of Taste the Blood of Dracula and Blood on Satan’s Claw, and Piano Bailey-Bond, the Welsh native whose audacious feature debut, Censor, branded her a must-watch horror helmer. Hayden joined attendees for a screening of Blood on Satan’s Claw, where she shared her wild experiences acting in video nasties, and productions from Amicus, Hammer, and Tigon.
Abertoir 2021 attendees were the first horror fans in all of Europe to feast their eyes on Severin’s 4K restoration of Blood for Dracula—that deliciously delirious vampire film directed by Andy Warhol acolyte Paul Morrissey and starring an immortal Udo Kier.
Under the relatively new leadership of Bryn Tilly, who joined as festival director and programmer in 2020, A Night of Horror International Film Festival “continues to move forward and champion indie horror films as one of Australia’s most well-known horror festivals,” says a panelist.
The same panelist also appreciates that “most of its program consists of cold submissions from indie filmmakers, as opposed to being sourced from distributors and agents.” In 2021, standouts from that program included the retro slasher My Cherry Pie, which won the fest’s award for Best Australian Feature Film, and the Filipino supernatural chiller Sunod, which was named Best International Feature Film.
For yet another year, Panavision Australia partnered with ANOH to present the winner of its Audience Award with an equipment rental of $3,500 in value. Fest-goers voted for “The Writer”—director Margaret M. MacDonald’s short about a writer who confronts his literal demon—to take home that coveted prize.
One panelist dubs Arrow Video Frightfest “London’s ultimate horror party—where every screening is packed with die-hard horror lovers and the parties go until the sun rises every night!”
Another panelist says Frightfest’s balance of indie and larger productions in its UK premiere slate is “not to be missed.” The fest often hosts numerous events annually, spreading its action out across multiple months.
Last October, Frightfest hosted a two-day Halloween “mini-fest” at Cineworld, Leicester Square, which included the UK premieres of Amulet, Barbarians, Pennywise, and The Possessed. The fest’s main event—a five-day affair held at the end of last August—featured the European premiere of Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic; the UK premiere of Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland; and the world premieres of “Shadowprowler” and “Mask of the Evil Apparition,” two horror shorts from Scott Derrickson and Alex Proyas, respectively.
For 2022, Frightfest has three events scheduled: Frightfest Glasgow (March 10-12), Frightfest London (August 25-29), and Frightfest Halloween (October 28-29). Accepted filmmakers will fly in and shack up courtesy of the fest, and additional events will continue to increase as COVID restrictions allow.
“Beyond Fest is the festival Los Angeles needed, but doesn’t deserve,” jokes a panelist, who says its “A-plus, top-notch programming” makes it “one of the best festivals in the entire state of California and certainly the best in L.A.”
That panelist also notes that “a Beyond Fest screening is sometimes the most important and key premiere for a first-time filmmaker, and may also be the only official theatrical screening of a film in L.A.” In 2021, the fest hosted the west coast premieres of The Black Phone, Lamb, and Titane, the U.S. premiere of Halloween Kills, and the world premieres of Antlers, New York Ninja, and South of Heaven.
A who’s who of horror heavyweights—among them, Fede Alvarez, Jason Blum, Jamie Lee Curtis, Guillermo del Toro, Julia Ducournau, David Gordon Green, and Malcolm McDowell—attended Beyond Fest last October. All guests, from fledgling independents to A-list icons, had their airfare, lodging, transportation, and meals covered by the fest.
Still, Beyond Fest isn’t content to coast on its programming and star power. Last year, the fest achieved its goals for expansion by switching from one theater to three. And in one of those theaters, it made over 30 films—about 60% of the fest’s total slate—100% free for fans to attend.
Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival used to screen Canadian horror films exclusively. But one panelist notes that now, “it also accepts international co-productions which include Canada and foreign films with Canadian cast and crew, and has become one of the most respected and sought-after genre festivals in the country.”
BITS returned in 2021 as a hybrid event for the first time in its history, hosting in-person screening at its flagship venue, The Royal Theatre, and broadcasting parts of its program in over 400,000 homes across Canada with the help of its streaming sponsor, Super Channel.
The fest marked its 10th anniversary with the world premieres of Michael Pereira’s revenge-laced horror-comedy The Chamber of Terror and Adam Reider’s backwoods horror Woodland Grey, and the Canadian premiere of Peppergrass, which follows a pregnant restauranteur’s plot to steal a precious truffle from a reclusive war vet in the throes of the pandemic.
The latest edition of the fest also introduced a brand new Horror Development Lab, designed to create opportunities for scripted genre projects and shorts by traditionally underrepresented BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ+ Canadian filmmakers and content creators. The three-day lab, presented by Telefilm Canada, helped develop short-form concepts into full-fledged features or web/TV series.
Whether you’re lucky enough to screen your own horror at the fest or just checking out its lineup as a fan, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival is a guaranteed good time.
“I’m wracking my brain about how to make this sound ‘smart,’ but really, it’s just a lot of fucking fun,” says a panelist. “This is the place where you run into people, get caught up in a wonderful, oddball group, see some films, and get lost in the city. And it doesn’t get enough credit for it’s coolass programming, either.”
In 2021, BHFF attendees took in the world premiere of Adam Randall’s vampire horror-comedy Night Teeth, the New York premiere of Jenna Cato Bass’ psychological horror Good Madam (Mlungu Wam), and the U.S. premiere of Gaspar Noé’s metafictional genre-bender, Lux Æterna. Its retro program was as strong as ever, too: A 20th anniversary screening of Session 9 featured an exclusive Q&A with co-writer/director Brad Anderson and co-writer/actor Stephen Gevedon, and Claire Denis’ polarizing piece of New French Extremity, Trouble Every Day, also celebrated its 20th birthday with the Borough-based hotspot.
Last October, BHFF hosted a smaller-than-usual fest, with no parties or events. It also continued its streaming partnership with virtual hub Nightstream to deliver screenings to online audiences. Although creative director Justin Timms admits “this year was a weird one,” coming out of the peak of COVID, he promises that “we’re planning some big improvements for next year.”
“Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival is not only Belgium’s best and biggest genre festival, but might be the country’s top and best-known festival overall,” says a panelist. “Much like Fantasporto in Portugal, it has an inclination toward experimental fantasy and horror, but it’s a great fest for the European premiere of any genre film, big or indie.”
BIFFF screens over 150 films every years for an average crowd of over 60,000, and in years past has been joined by the likes of Park Chan-Wook, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin, Terry Gilliam, and Peter Jackson. It’s also home to a number of highly anticipated annual events, including its beginner-to-expert-level make-up contest, and its famed Vampire Ball, where partiers come costumed as creatures of the night to drink and dance into the wee hours.
The fest quite reluctantly pivoted to going virtual in 2021, but plans to return to its physical format again later this year. When it does, the team will be celebrating its 40th anniversary at its new stomping grounds, the historic Brussels Exhibition Centre.
BIFFF offers horror feature filmmakers free submissions via its website, and accepts its shorts through Festhome.
“This one is personal to me,” a panelist says of Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival—a standard-bearer of the Asian genre fest circuit more commonly known as BiFan. “So many friendships are made and bonds are formed here, with plenty of late nights, crazy screenings, and great films. But BiFan has also made itself integral with its industry outreach and ability to forge connections internationally.”
Another panelist can attest to this: “BiFan is one of those festivals that never sleeps. I’ve found myself going from industry events, to watching films, to having the most amazing all-night barbecue with fellow filmmakers, to karaoke, to a second barbecue… and then realizing that the sun is rising and I have to pitch my film in three hours!”
A third panelist says that “no other genre festival in Asia even comes close to BiFan’s reputation and size,” but doesn’t stop there—proclaiming the Korean horror hub to be “part of the world’s big six genre festivals, together with BIFFF, Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, FrightFest, and Sitges.”
BiFan’s program lived up to all that hype last year, hosting the world premiere of Banjong Pisanthanakun’s acclaimed Thai horror mockumentary, The Medium, which was named “Best of Bucheon” when 2021’s award winners were announced. The fest also introduced its fantastic genre project market, BiFan Industry Gathering (B.I.G.), and a comprehensive training program for young genre filmmakers, featuring masterclasses with Kim Eunhee, Na Hong Jin, and Tony Kaye.
The very first genre film festival founded in Latin America, Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre is credited by two panelists as being “the festival that made us think: We can do a film festival in our continent!”
“There’s an entire generation of Argentinean filmmakers that exists only because of Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre, and we hope they continue to fill their cinemas with genre love,” those panelists add.
BARS upholds that reputation with competition categories devoted exclusively to Ibero-American genre features. In 2021, the award for Best Feature Film in that section went to Los Inventados—a comedic fantasy from Argentinian directors Leo Basilico, Nicolás Longinotti, and Pablo Rodríguez Pandolfi about a former child actor who participates in an increasingly bizarre acting workshop.
The fest’s latest edition hosted a wide range of free workshops on all facets of genre, from the history of pagan rituals; to live FX demos from seasoned pros; to discussions on the real-life paranormal investigations; to deep dives into the evolution of the zombie cinema.
“The highly respected Calgary Underground Film Festival is one of the most well-known underground festivals worldwide and a top festival destination in Canada, screening various films from all over the world, from horror to experimental,” says a panelist.
Every year, CUFF kicks off by hosting a National Canadian Film Day screening of a Canadian cult classic. In 2021, that ice-breaking event featured a free, online screening of Hobo With a Shotgun, after which director Jason Eisener joined audiences for a Q&A and extended podcast conversation. The fest also programmed four nights of drive-in screenings, all of which sold out in less than 24 hours and showcased such anticipated titles as Spiral: From the Book of Saw and George Romero’s The Amusement Park.
CUFF’s most recent edition hosted a number of unique panels, including one on puppets in film; a script reading of the upcoming revenge thriller Hurt Them that featured Barbara Crampton, Andre Hyland, and Michael Ironside; an insiders’ look at the world of genre film distribution; a conversation with veteran horror helmer Darren Lynn Bousman; and a discussion on physical media entitled “Rewinding Your Mind: VHS Collecting in Modern Times.”
This fest takes care of short filmmakers, too: The winner of its Best Canadian Short Award, sponsored by Directors Guild of Canada, receives a $2,500 cash prize, a DGC mentor partner for their next project, and a $2,500 gift certificate donated by William F. White International, Inc.
For one panelist who attended Celluloid Screams, its retro run of An American Werewolf in London left an indelible mark: “The friendly, fun atmosphere and small-town audience gathered for a midnight screening with themed local beers and snacks were pretty great!”
That spirit was alive and well throughout the U.K.-based fest’s 2021 edition, from its opening and closing night parties, emceed by Steel City Synthwave DJs, to its 30th anniversary director’s cut screening of Little Shop of Horrors, where sing-alongs were actively encouraged.
Other panelists highlight Celluloid Screams’ outstanding communication and passionate staff. One example of this: Founder and co-director Rob Nevitt says that its team “frequently connects unrepresented filmmakers and projects with distributors of both features and shorts.”
If you’re a horror short filmmaker eager to tour your latest work, it’d be wise to make room in your itinerary for Celluloid Screams. Year after year, 100% of its shorts slate has been comprised of submissions, and horror shorts streaming platform ALTER has acquired a number of standouts in the days following their screenings at the fest.
“Honestly, just hell yeah.” When it comes to Tennessee’s Chattanooga Film Festival, those four simple words are the first that come to one panelist’s mind.
“This is maybe one of the best all-around festivals in the entire country,” that panelist continues. “The programming is impressive, tight, and truly supportive of provocative, independent voices. There’s a real love of the city itself at Chatt, and anyone that attends comes away promising to attend again.”
Chattanooga’s 2020 edition garnered praise for being an early pioneer of all-virtual festivals, and it built upon those efforts in 2021. “One of the biggest things we noticed in 2020, and saw again as a pattern in 2021, was the amount of comments we received about accessibility,” says PR and guest services director Rebecca Feldbin. “Folks who would have never been able to attend a festival were able to not only attend, but participate with the online community via Discord and Twitter. As the world slowly comes out of the pandemic, we want to remain accessible for all and are working to make sure we do so in 2022.”
The fest is equally committed to supporting promising young horror helmers: During its most recent edition, first-time filmmakers connected at a networking forum of their own, and took part in a screenplay pitch workshop. Attendees also enjoyed deep dives into essential genre-centric topics, with panels like “Mental Health and Horror” and “The Nights that Panicked America: A Brief History of the Golden Age of the Made-for-TV Genre Movie.”
“Great communication and enthusiastic staff” are the pillars of this two-day horror showcase, says a panelist. The Dead of Night Film Festival’s line-up is smaller than most—last year had just six features, 18 shorts, and four Q&A events—but its slate of regional premieres allows horror fans in Liverpool to see some of the buzziest titles in the genre for the first time.
In 2021, those titles included Werewolves Within, Josh Ruben’s horror-comedy adaptation of the video game of the same name, and Sound of Violence, Alex Noyer’s slasher about a formerly deaf girl who enacts a vicious killing spree. All told, about 20% of The Dead of Night’s most recent program came from submissions.
The fest also found a brand new venue to host its screenings in The Bijou Cinema, where audiences were joined by the directors of the cult web series Zomblogalypse for an in-person Q&A. Though panels and parties are not yet fixtures of this weekend-long affair, festival director Stu Jopia says, “We’re forever growing. When COVID is over, we want to do even more for filmmakers at our event.”
“Etheria Film Night is an extremely competitive showcase of women-made genre film,” says one panelist. That’s no joke: Of the 1,457 submissions Etheria received in 2021, just nine were accepted. But the fest’s hands-on involvement with its accepted filmmakers makes the experience especially rewarding. “They don’t just showcase your film, they champion your whole career once you become an alumni,” the panelist adds.
Etheria’s judges often share detailed notes with competing filmmakers. Its Inspiration Award recipients—last year, the honor went to The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang—will also take care to watch films from the program. Judges actively seek new talent to represent, develop, and hire, so if your stuff is screening at this fest, you can be sure it’ll be shown to to industry pros who are seriously interested in working with you.
Award winners come away with at least $500, but Etheria offers equipment rental packages and software from sponsors for honorees in its competition categories, too. And in 2021, the fest instituted an online voting system for its Audience Award for the first time in its eight-year history.
Standouts from Etheria’s 2021 program included foreign horror shorts “Polvotron 500” and “Who Goes There.” Due to COVID restrictions, they did not screen for a live audience, but the fest’s monthly screening series continues to showcase features in partnership with its flagship venue, American Cinematheque. Most recently, those included a 4K restoration of Stephanie Rothman’s Terminal Island, the Blu-ray release of Anna Biller’s Viva, and an early look at Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders—all of which were joined by their directors in person.
“Traveling solo can be a little stressful, so I really enjoyed the ease with which I made friends right out of the audience at L’Étrange,” one panelist says of this . “Out of the cinema, straight to the bar with a crew of enthusiastic horror fans. This is why we travel across the world to these things, right?”
L’Etrange’s latest edition continued its tradition of giving curatorial carte blanche to its special guests. One of those guests, writer-director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here), programmed David Lynch’s lesser-seen 1970 animated black-and-white horror short, “The Grandmother”.
The fest also paid tribute to underground filmmaker Fred Halsted, who pushed gay porn to new transgressive and experimental heights, with a screening series of his X-rated works that inspired the likes of Gaspar Noé and Bruce LaBruce.
And for yet another year, Canal+ partnered with L’Etrange to present its coveted Great Prize Nouveau Genre—the winner of which has their title bought and released by the network. In 2021, that honor went to The Innocents, director Eskil Vogt’s horror drama about four children who discover that they have supernatural powers during one strange Scandinavian summer.
For one panelist, Fantasia International Film Festival’s influence is so important to their career that they swear they wouldn’t have become a filmmaker without it: “It will always be at the top of my list because I first discovered it as a fan. It introduced me to extreme cinema beyond what could be found in most video stores at the time.”
Another calls the Montréal horror mecca “my favorite film festival in the world,” and says that its welcoming atmosphere makes it “an incredible place to make connections that could change your life.” Other panelists applaud the fest’s “varied and expansive line-up,” its robust genre press presence, and its complete lack of pretense: “You feel like family the second your film is accepted.”
In 2021, Fantasia again opted for a hybrid format, combining geo-locked virtual screenings with in-person events at the historic Cinéma Impérial and the Cinéma du Musée. Mark O’Brien and Henry Czerny, director and star of The Righteous, were among the guests of the fest at the film’s world premiere, and South Korean director Hong Eui-jeong’s grim crime thriller, Voice of Silence, came away with the Cheval Noir Award for Best Film.
Even as a virtual attendee, one panelist was blown away by its renowned Frontiéres film market, and saw enough from Fantasia’s 2021 edition to call it “the top genre film festival—a super unique and venerable force that has something for everyone.”
“Fantaspoa is the biggest and most well-known genre festival in South America,” says a panelist, who salutes the Brazilian horror hub’s steady growth and commitment to excellence over the past 17 years it’s been on the scene.
Usually, Fantaspoa has achieved that growth through its sprawling physical festival, but in the age of COVID, co-directors João Fleck and Nicolas Tonsho have made its online reach a priority. While its last in-person event in 2019 brought in some 10,000 attendees—the most for a genre fest in Latin America at that time—its 2020 edition elevated those numbers to about 65,000, and its 2021 run raised the bar yet again, showcasing fresh horror for approximately 85,000 online attendees.
Fantaspoa 2021’s eclectic line-up featured the Latin American premieres of Black Medusa, a Tunisian genre-bender with shades of noir, giallo, and serial killer horror, and Post Mortem, a World War I-era ghost story that was selected as Hungary’s official entry for the 94th Academy Awards.
Fantaspoa’s epic parties and enlightening masterclass sessions have remained on hiatus since the fest was forced to go all-virtual in 2020. Unfortunately, there’s no word yet as to whether they’ll be made accessible to the public again this year. Still, fans and filmmakers can count on discovering many more hidden genre gems when its 2022 program is eventually unveiled.
For over four decades, Fantasporto’s “incredible city and very well-curated selection” have been staples of the horror scene on the Iberian Peninsula, according to one panelist. Last year, the fest presided over a competition between 50 features, and programmed horror cinema from a combined 59 countries.
As was the case in 2020, the fest’s 2021 Best Film Award went to a genre gem from Japan. Suicide Forest Village, the latest from modern master Takashi Shimizu, took home the honor, for its supernatural story inspired by a real forest near Mount Fuji known for its frequent suicides and strange disappearances.
Fantasporto’s most recent edition was postponed twice due to the pandemic, and co-directors Mário Dorminsky and Beatriz Pacheco Pereira tell us they ended up putting it together in less than 10 days. “We adapted with no foreign guests, no weekend screenings, fewer seats, and juries working online, but managed to keep the same program intact,” they explain.
Dorminsky and Pereira also found a new home for Fantasporto in an iconic building of the Industrial Age: The Hard Club, a food market-turned-concert hall near the riverbank and in the center of Porto. The place “had all the appropriate facilities for Fantasporto 2021,” they say, and it rightly reaffirmed the fest’s footing in Portugal’s World Heritage Site.
“There’s a reason why the saying ‘Chaos reigns’ holds strong at Fantastic Fest,” says a panelist, whose memories of the Austin-based extravaganza include “jumping off a three-story scaffolding structure into an inflatable sea anemone, meeting a human taco who gave me breakfast burritos, and feeding carrots to a donkey inside the cinema.”
“The events are wild, and build a real sense of camaraderie among industry members and fans,” a second panelist adds. “Still, the thing that will always carry the day is the programming. “This is one of the few genre festivals where you can see Son of Saul playing in tandem with El Gigante and a rep screening of Belladonna of Sadness. It’s one of the first tests to really push the limits of the mantra, ‘It’s better if you don’t have a plan of what to see.’”
Fantastic Fest 2021 hosted the world premieres of The Black Phone and V/H/S 94, and the U.S. premieres of Last Night in Soho, The Innocents, Lamb, and Titane. Naomi Rapace, RZA, Malcolm McDowell, Alice Krige, and Scott Derrickson were just some of the genre vets who joined the action, rife with classic Texas BBQ and a cinema-centric bingo blowout.
Other panelists laugh as they recall how festival director Tim League once went so far as to hire detectives to track down a film… and also, for some reason, ate dozens of live crickets. “There’s no other way of putting: This is the most unique festival experience we’ve had,” they say. “The memories we have of our first Fantastic Fest are among the best we’ll ever have in our lives.”
“Feratum has quickly become one of the coolest and most important genre festivals in Mexico,” says a panelist—so much so that it’s “now on par with much older Mexican fests such as Morbido and Macabro.”
That panelist praises the now 10-year-old fest’s “diverse selection of genre films from all over the world.” Last year, its slate of Mexican premieres included Carro Rei, a Brazilian horror feature in the vein of Christine about a young man who can talk to cars, and Johan, a co-production between England, Italy, Spain, and Argentina inspired by German expressionism and Frankenstein.
Since 2020, the Tlalpujahua-based hub opened a new headquarters in the strange and enchanting town of Pátzcuaro—known worldwide for its traditional Night of the Dead celebration. Under normal conditions, Feratum brings out about 30,000 spectators each year for its extravagant “The March of the Beasts,” where some 8,000 participants rove the streets dressed as monsters. That much-anticipated event was cancelled in 2021, but attendees still enjoyed a number of free, open-air activities—from book presentations, to crash courses on developing genre features, to genre animation workshops where children learned green screen techniques.
“Did you know that you can watch indie horror movies and premiere your own in the best climate on Earth?,” one panelist asks, highlighting Isla Calavera’s idyllic fest-going conditions.
“Spain’s Canary Islands are a climatic paradise. Its summers are never too hot, yet hot enough for fully enjoying the ocean and beaches,” the panelist continues. “And its winters are quite warm as well—never too cold to take a walk in a T-shirt. That’s perfect for when the festival happens in November. The waters might still be hot enough for a swim!”
Last year, Isla Calavera’s gorgeous setting lured a long list of esteemed guests to its nine-day celebration of horror, including Carolina Bang, Lucas Figueroa, Álex de la Iglesia, and Neil Marshall. Marshall came to show his latest witch hunt horror-adventure, The Reckoning, but stuck around for a repertory screening of his modern masterpiece of cave-bound claustrophobia, The Descent.
The fest’s 2021 edition also achieved an important goals for expansion, adding one more theater to its list of venues. This enabled the programming team to regularly run three screenings simultaneously.
“FilmQuest has risen fast to become of the coolest genre festivals in the U.S., with a fair selection and judging process that allows for indie discoveries in numerous categories,” says a panelist.
In 2021, FilmQuest went the hybrid route, adding a virtual component to its in-person event. Festival director Jonathan Martin says that doing it this way was especially beneficial for creators of genre shorts: “We were able to take more shorts that played exclusively, yet still in competition,” he explains. Genre distributors ALTER and DUST were in attendance to pick up shorts out of the fest.
The fest showcased many genre features, too, including the regional premieres of the acclaimed exorcism horror The Old Ways, the psychological thriller The Free Fall, and the workplace dark comedy Keeping Company.
Every one of FilmQuest’s nine days hosted a special event or workshop, including a Halloween costume all-nighter on opening weekend, a hatchet-throwing event, and a speed dating-style filmmaker meet and greet. Horror filmmakers honed their skills at screenwriting labs, pitch sessions, and even a lab dedicated to “Creating a Franchise,” led by A Quiet Place creator and writer Bryan Woods.
“In the end, FilmQuest is about finding your new best friends and collaborators, so there’s something for everyone—filmmakers, screenwriters, and cinephiles,” Martin adds. That communal spirit was alive and well during the fest’s closing night last November, which he says raged until 7:30 a.m.
“Isn’t this one of the coolest titles anyone could come up with for a women-focused horror festival?,” asks a panelist, who praises its “top showcase of horror cinema directed, written, or produced by women and non-binary filmmakers, making it one of the very few of its kind in the world.”
Another panelist adds: “Final Girls Berlin champions its filmmakers’ work. Going beyond a one-time festival, it also tours its selections around to other countries.” And in 2021, those selections comprised a program that included more features and special events than ever before, increasing the fest’s visibility in Germany and abroad.
About 30% of the features and shorts in Final Girls Berlin’s most recent lineup were programmed from submissions. Its robust slate of regional premieres included the German premieres of Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift and Kier-la Janisse’s Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, and the Berlin premiere of Rose Glass’ Saint Maud. Fans also sunk teeth into a retro screening of Stephanie Rothman’s 1971 cult gem, The Velvet Vampire, to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary.
Other panelists commend the fest’s “excellent panels, super-cool directors and staff, and intelligent crowd.” Last year, attendees engaged in discussions sparked by such forward-thinking workshops as “Rethinking Women’s Horror Filmmaking,” “Autonomy, Sexuality, and Resistance in Representations of Young Women in Horror Films,” and “The Lesbian Vampire and Queer Immortality, Suicidality, and Codependency.”
One panelist calls Full Moon Horror & Fantasy Film Festival “a hidden gem in the literal sense of the world,” arguing that even many native Romanians wouldn’t know how to reach Biertan, its little-known hometown isolated in the country’s mountains.
“Taika Waititi attended some years ago with What We Do in the Shadows and survived… but he was a celebrity guest and also a vampire, so that doesn’t count. Attend at your own risk,” that panelist jokes.
One of only two genre festivals in all of Romania, Full Moon is hosted in a rather improvisational way, with open-air screening venues. It also happens to be organized by the same folks behind the Transylvania International Film Festival—but unlike that much bigger fest, this one is the first in the region devoted exclusively to showcasing classic and modern horror and fantasy cinema. Outside of its film program, attendees embark on a number of unique adventures each year, from dinner concerts, to cycling tours, to ghost-hunting, to tastings of traditional Transylvanian treats.
In 2021, Full Moon leveraged its partnership with Transylvania IFF to launch the brand new Full Moon Script Contest—a screenplay competition for writers of horror, fantasy, thriller, and black comedy. Eight projects were handpicked as finalists by a jury of industry members, and two of those eight went on to receive a €1,500 cash prize.
“Grimmfest had some really great films in 2021,” says a panelist. “But more importantly, they have the coolest award statues of any horror festival. For me, that goes a long way.”
Grimmfest’s award statues, which depict a gaunt skeleton peering through a black cloak, are given out in 12 different competition categories each year. And in 2021, the 13-year-old U.K.-based fest was pleased to present them in person—returning to its regular venue, the Odeon Great Northern, to host its event after more than a year of virtual screenings and online activities.
Last October, attendees were joined by genre icon Dee Wallace, who accepted the Grimmfest Lifetime Achievement Award for her 50-plus-year career that includes star turns in Cujo, The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, and most recently, The Nest, which had its world premiere at the fest.
Plenty more esteemed guests also got in on the action, including A.J. Bowen, star and co-producer of the pitch black noir Night Drive, PJ McCabe, star and co-director of The Beta Test, and Pierre Tsigaridis and Maxime Rancon, the co-writer/director and co-writer/producer of the hallucinogenic Eurohorror Two Witches.
According to some panelists, this Utah-based horror hub’s “incredible location on the edge of Paradise Canyon” and “super friendly, accommodating” atmospheremake it a hidden gem of the circuit.
Set against the red cliffs of the Mojave Desert and headquartered in the historic Electric Theater, Horrorfest International Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Since 2002, it’s championed fledgling horror filmmakers, and its most recent edition included a quick turnaround program called The Guerrilla Filmmaking Challenge.
“Filmmaking teams are given a Halloween-inspired topic and a limited amount of time to put together a five-minute short film,” explains festival co-director Adam Mast. “We then show these shorts on the big screen during a HorrorFest International film block.”
Attending filmmakers’ travel, lodging, and meals are all covered by the fest, and horror fans can expect the unexpected each year—like 2021’s surprise 40th anniversary screening of The Howling, which was given a special introduction by screenwriter Frank Dietz.
HorrorHound Weekend has long been a staple of the fan convention scene, but its affiliated event, HorrorHound Film Festival, also delivers a high-quality experience for filmmakers. According to some panelists, H2F2 boasts a “wonderful staff and a terrific party atmosphere. They love what they do.”
At its 2021 edition, Robert Englund, Robert Patrick, Michael Rooker, and Billy Zane didn’t just come for autograph sessions and photo ops, but Q&As, panels, and sneak peek screenings, too.Attending filmmakers competed for awards in over 10 categories, and participated in the fest’s first-ever virtual film market, where completed projects were brought to the attention of horror distributors.
Two scrappy slasher sequels—Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2 and Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2—both had their world premieres at H2F2 2021, alongside Fresh Hell, a COVID-era horror story about old friends connecting via Zoom that won the fest’s award for Best Feature Film. Since then, all three films have been acquired for distribution.
“Horror-on-Sea is a little-known genre gem in the UK,” says a panelist of the 10-year-old horror hub harbored in the seaside resort town Southend-on-Sea. “After my movie screened there, I was pleasantly surprised when lots of people messaged me in the following months telling me how impressed they were watching it there.”
Following a pandemic-induced hiatus in 2021, Horror-on-Sea came roaring back last January under the leadership of festival director Paul Cotgrove. Held at the Park Inn by Radisson Hotel, the latest edition of the fest showcased some 36 horror features—including 10 world premieres—programmed from submissions from the UK, Canada, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Russia, Finland, Ukraine, India, Ireland, and the U.S.
Seasoned horror helmer Pat Higgins joined Horror-on-Sea 2022 attendees for a unique masterclass on the making of his latest film, Powertool Cheerleaders vs. the Boyband of the Screeching Dead. Higgins’ batshit horror-comedy musical began as a tongue-in-cheek Twitter joke, but ended up becoming a “go” project soon after it was tweeted. At the fest, he offered insight to aspiring independents on how his new movie was made possible with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.
For two panelists, Imagine Film Festival has the distinction of being “one of the most interesting film festivals in the world.”
In addition to its unique programming and wealth of esteemed guests, those panelists argue that Imagine has a home turf virtually unparalleled: “Let’s be honest: You are in Amsterdam! What other place in the world would you rather be for a whole week of genre madness?”
The be-all-end-all spot for genre in the Netherlands, Imagine showcases top-shelf titles in horror, fantasy, science-fiction, anime, martial arts, and cult cinema, along with an array of panels, masterclasses, exhibitions, and workshops. It’s also home to Imagine Expanded, a program that explores the digital side of fantastic art with games, AR, VR, and installations.
Imagine’s horror scene thrives on competition, and the fest oversees a number of prestigious awards contests each year. Most recently, The Black Tulip—presented to the fest’s Best Fantastic Feature Film—went to the Argentinian political horror History of the Occult.
In 2021, Imagine made its annual pitch competition a part of its larger Project Platform program, putting selected scripts on the fast-track to development. That contest’s award for best pitch went the series project hAPPiness, a chilling parable about the pitfalls of technology steeped in the milieu of dark fairy tales.
“Thirteen years running, the Knoxville Horror Film Fest is one of the best regional film festivals in the United States,” proclaims one panelist, who adds that the Tennessee-based horror hub is “one of the most friendly and welcoming” on the circuit.
Long hosted at Central Cinema, a locally owned theater in the heart of its home city, Knoxville Horror Film Fest has moved much of its programming to Parkway Drive-in against a mountainous backdrop. “That was due to COVID-19, but it ended up being a big improvement to the festival, allowing for more attendees and for vendors to set up,” says festival director William Mahaffey. The drive-in atmosphere is such a great fit, he explains, that “we’ve decided to continue holding at least one or two nights there each year and have expanded the number of repertory films we book.”
In 2021, those rep screenings included The Fog, The Howling, Trick or Treat, Friday the 13th Part 4, American Werewolf in London, Popcorn, and Possession. But the fest hosted its share of regional premieres as well, including The Beta Test, The Feast, Hellbender, King Knight, and Mad God.
Although the fest has cut back on its parties and panels to work around the pandemic, it did host at least one party in 2021, where filmmakers and fans could mix, mingle, and go toe-to-toe with some trivia action. Attending horror helmers also competed for awards in a wide range of categories—the fest’s top honor being its coveted Palm d’Gore prize for Best Feature. Winners took home custom-made trophies and a bag filled with sponsor donations.
While it’s no secret that the country has a thriving horror scene, for some panelists, Macabro International Horror Film Festival is “the festival that started it all in Mexico.”
Those panelists describe Macabro’s director, Edna Campos Tenorio, as “one of the most passionate people you’ll meet… she goes to great lengths to keep the festival going, in spite of any adversity.” They also cherish their own experience at the fest: “Nights filled with great music, films screened in a cemetery and in great cinemas, and lots of paletas and Mezcal make Macabro one of our most fond memories!”
Working around COVID restrictions for its second straight year, Macabro managed to launch a digital platform in 2021 that made filmmaker Q&As and podcast chats accessible to horror fans on its YouTube channel. The fest also ensured that its filmmaker forums held strong—expanding the number of webinars and virtual workshops in its Macabro Lab program, and continuing its transmedia program, Macabro Coven, which hosts online chats exclusively for women in horror and lends support to the production of their shorts.
Pre-pandemic, Tenorio estimates that Macabro reached about 40,000 people in its live venues. The sooner it can bring back its rowdy parties and guided tours through Mexico City, the better for horror creators and fans around the world.
One panelist gives a nod to this Beirut-based horror hub for making history as “the first—and so far, the only—genre festival in the Middle East.”
Founded in 2016 by executive director Myriam Sassine and artistic director Antoine Waked, Maskoon Fantastic Film Festival is devoted to bringing horror, thriller, fantasy, and science-fiction to native audiences, and pushes local filmmakers to experiment, compete, and hone their craft in educational forums. In 2020, the fest launched the first Maskoon Fantastic Lab to develop Arab genre projects with the consultation of industry experts. Each year, one of the Lab’s five projects is selected by mentors to take part in Frontiéres market, the biggest genre film market on Earth.
While Maskoon’s short film competition was at first exclusive to Lebanon, it has since expanded to the rest of the Arab world: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. And alongside BiFan, it’s just one of two Asian festivals with membership in the Melies International Festivals Federation.
Sassine says that expanding the fest’s international reach is essential, but was nonetheless a “difficult decision,” explaining that in Lebanon, “cultural resilience is on the brink of extinction.” Waked adds that with the introduction of new voices outside of Lebanon, “the festival now takes advantage of the borderless online world to spread its wings and haunt the entire world.”
“The programming at Mórbido is second to none,” raves one panelist, who shouts out head programmer Abraham Castillo Flores as “perhaps the warmest and most passionate horror fan currently alive.” Another panelist praises Mórbido’s “great curation,” and a third dubs it “the premiere genre fest in Mexico.”
Last October, the vibrant and very theatrical Mexico City fest went binational for the first time, leveraging its partnership with the Santiago, Chile-based Sanfic Industria to present the 2021 Sanfic-Morbido Lab. During the lab, six promising horror projects were screened for potential co-production partners and financial backers, and participating producers received three days of mentorship from Pablo Guisa, CEO of the Mexican horror conglomerate Grupo Morbido.
From its top-shelf premiere program, to its wealth of workshops, to its party-packed atmosphere, there’s a whole lot going on for fans and filmmakers at this horror haven in Lisbon. Says one panelist: “MOTELX was one of the few festivals on my 2021 circuit where I felt there was always something to do. The outdoor industry lounge was always popping and everyone was down to get day drunk.”
At MOTELX, audiences often mingle with special guests—at post-screening Q&As, and at its opening screening cocktail party and closing night party. While those parties were cancelled by COVID in recent years, the fest did manage to welcome back international attendees in 2021 and host them in socially distanced gatherings.
“After visiting MOTELX, I also have found a new appreciation for Portuguese filmmakers,” the panelist adds. “They are among the most passionate and creative that I met on my tour.”
Case in point: Director Joaquim Leitão and producer Tino Navarro gave a masterclass at the fest’s most recent edition on the lessons they learned when making their unfinished, genre-blending “Ultramar Trilogy.” The fest gives back to its native talent, too: Every year, the winner of the MOTELX Award for Best Portuguese Horror Short Film receives €5,000, thanks in part to charity organization Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa.
MOTELX also recognizes that new generations are the future of the genre. Its “Big Bad Wolf” section caters to younger audiences with fun educational activities, including classes on how to make your own monster, how to write a horror story, and even how to decorate cookies to look like Frankenstein’s monster or zombies. The section hosts carefully curated film programming as well, and includes contextual discussions designed to teach children to own their fears.
“A good festival lives or dies based on the community you can cultivate in a small location, or in a short amount of time, and Overlook has that attribute in spades,” says a panelist.
“Outside of the fact that it’s continued to curate an incredible program, Overlook has navigated shifting locations over the years, finally finding the ideal home in New Orleans,” that panelist continues. “And while some festivals have included VR and immersive experiences, Overlook has made immersive experiences a cornerstone of its event.”
Another panelist shares similar affection for Overlook’s engrossing environs: “The idea of taking place in ‘America’s most haunted city’ just amps the atmosphere up even more!”
For the fest’s triumphant post-pandemic return, attendees will once again get to take part in its famous weekend-long immersive game—designed by NOLA escape room creators Escape My Room—this coming June. Last year’s all-virtual event hosted such horror luminaries as Chucky creator Don Mancini, Malignant writer Akela Cooper, and Creepshow show runner Greg Nicotero; pass-holders can expect to be in equally elite company when the 2022 edition gets underway.
First branded as “Out For Blood,” Out of This World Queer Genre Film Festival reevaluated its goals shortly after the pandemic hit, and decided to adopt its new name as it expanded its curation of queer stories.
“The team changed things a bit to include other fantastic genres,” explains a panelist, who commends Out of This World for being “the only genre festival so far that’s dedicated exclusively to LGBTQ+ films and filmmakers.”
In 2020, Out of This World held its longest and largest edition to date, hosting four nights of horror happenings with 21 films screened and Halloween-themed trivia. Dr. Darren Elliot-Smith, author of New Queer Horror Film and Television, was on hand to present an academic video essay on queer horror, “Pride and Pathology: Queer Horror and Mental Anguish,” and the fest also featured a panel discussion shared by women and non-binary members of the horror community.
Director Sam Whitaker and assistant director Elicia Alison run the fest with the help of a small-but-mighty team of volunteers, and the event is not-for-profit, with all money raised going back to the queer community and toward the continuation of the festival itself. Submissions are open now, as the fest eagerly eyes a return to in-person action this year after spending 2021 on hiatus.
“It’s been amazing to see this festival grow into one of the biggest genre festivals in the U.S.,” says a panelist who hails from Panic Fest’s hometown.
Since the pandemic hit, the Kansas City horror fest wasted no time growing its all-virtual event either. In 2021, it built a digital world on Gather that mimicked its theatrical venue, and hosted two-hour happy hour blocks online where filmmakers could network and chat about their movies.
The Djinn, David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s supernatural chiller about a mute boy trapped in an apartment with a vicious monster, made its North American premiere at last year’s Panic Fest before going on to critical acclaim. Festival co-founder and creative director Tim KC Canton says he’s glad that going virtual allowed more people to enjoy big screenings like that: “It provides new opportunities for those that can’t travel to every festival,” he explains. “We know first-hand that can get expensive. This was a great new way to introduce new audiences to our fest with so many great films.”
Winners in the Panic Fest’s competition categories are decided democratically by attendees’ votes, and are awarded year-long subscriptions to Shudder. Last year, all this and more online action made for an event that enjoyed the highest social media engagement in the history of the fest—among attendees, filmmakers, and studios alike.
For six years and counting, Pumpkin Fantasy Film Festival has been a beacon of genre cinema in the heart of Beijing. One panelist fondly describes its annual action, held during Halloween season, as “independently organized by a team with passionate genre love.”
In 2021, PFF hosted the Asian premiere of Kevin Kopacka’s gothic giallo, Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes, which received the Best Feature Film Award. The fest’s repertory screening of Frank H. Woodward’s seminal 2008 documentary, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, brought in over 200 audience members, including famed Chinese directors Wang Hongwei and Lu Yang. Attending filmmakers joined horror, fantasy, and science-fiction-themed events held at the Times Chinese Bookstore, and connected with fans during the closing night cocktail party.
Last year, filmmakers were flown out to China courtesy of the fest, and were often connected with horror-hungry distributors, including Enlight Media, iQIYI, and M&H Pictures. And as PFF looks toward its future, the fest will invest even more of its resources in discovering and nurturing emerging horror creatives. “In preparation for the 2022 festival, we will add a director’s boot camp program, building on the experience of 2021 and aiming to execute the new program even more perfectly,” says event director Hua Bendu.
“Few genre filmmakers are aware that Chile is quite the destination for such films,” one panelist notes. And of the handful of genre festivals headquartered in the country, that panelist says that “Santiago Horror Film Festival is the one that caught my attention the most.”
Santiago Horror Film Festival prides itself on its filmmaker to audience engagement, and in 2021, it recorded a 300% increase in social media networking activity between its selected filmmakers, participating partners, and members of the media who covered the event.
Another area of growth this past year: expanded programming and competition categories. The fest’s brand new documentary showcase and animation contest both launched as part of its most recent edition.
As part of SHFF’s all-virtual line-up, that new doc showcase was headlined by the world premiere of Horrible Movie: A Brief History of Russian Trash Horror Cinema. Fans were also treated to the world premiere of The Devil’s Tail—a six-segment horror anthology by an all-women directing team about a strange apparition that appears in a rundown city hospital.
Some panelists describe Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival as what happens when “a seaside village is taken over by genre lovers—a cinephile’s dream set-up, mixed with a bit of Mediterranean poshness.”
Another panelist paints a picture of the legendary Spain-set fest in even more vivid detail:
“Sitges is the prestige festival of genre. The dedication and passion of the audience, who line up down the street to watch new genre films, is incredible, and the vibe of the Catalonian beach sunsets creates an entirely immersive feel. For more than a week, you live, breathe, eat, and sleep genre films, and it seems like the entire city comes out to participate.
You can go completely casual, meeting audience members in full zombie costume as they parade down the street during zombie walk… don your swimwear and catch some beach time… or get a bit fancy with a fantastic Spanish wine, dinner, and night of freaky films! Sitges is completely different and unexpected, with an audience that’s savvy about world genre cinema. They’re just as happy to roar loudly at a shark biting a surfer in half during a midnight screening as they are to hold their breaths in anticipation during an intense, deliberately paced arthouse psychological thriller.”
With little commercial support and zero from the government, this dark corner of Cape Town has proudly represented its regional scene for nearly two decades. “The 17-year-old South African HorrorFest has built a reputation for being the only genre festival on the African continent, thus the sole option for premiering genre films in Africa,” a panelist explains.
In 2021, Halloween Kills and Slumber Party Massacre were just two of many selections that had their African and South African premieres at SAH. For its premiere of the latter, the fest was joined by director Danishka Esterhazy and other cast and crew members, who shared an introduction and a post-screening Q&A.
Between its selected features and shorts, SAH programmed an impressive 40% of its most recent lineup from submissions. “With the amount of new movie submissions from around the world increasing each year, our repertory selections are shrinking a bit,” says festival director Paul Blom. Still, fans were treated to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with live participation, and also got to revisit The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with a soundtrack performed by The Makabra Ensemble.
The largest genre festival in Poland and the only one in Eastern Europe that belongs to the Melies International Festivals Federation, Splat!FilmFest “rose very fast to become an important attraction on the international circuit,” says a panelist.
That panelist also gives a nod to Splat! artistic director Monika Stolat, adding that her leadership ensures that the fest “always has a feminist vibe.” Stolat tells us that in 2021, she was especially proud to add a new award to its competition: the “This Bitch” award, which was presented by media patron Vogule Poland to the “most interesting and bossy character of all the movies shown at the festival.”
The 2021 edition of Splat! was the fest’s first as a hybrid event and its biggest yet, with screenings spread across three cities—Lublin, Wroclaw, and Warsaw—and online, over the course of nearly five weeks. During its run, many of the year’s boldest genre films—from Bertrand Mandico’s After Blue to Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s Violation—made their Polish premieres.
“Held in one of the most beautiful places in the world, you cannot miss Telluride Horror Show,” one panelist raves. Every October in Telluride—the former mining town nestled in a box canyon of Colorado—horror fans and filmmakers gather at this fest to take in the fresh Rocky Mountain air and an expertly assembled slate of horror, suspense, thriller, sci-fi, dark fantasy, and dark comedy.
Other panelists agree that THS’ “amazing location” is a major draw, but also give props to its “rabid crowd,” and further describe it as “well staffed, a terrific, intimate place to network, and very generous with lodging.” That the fest fosters such a close-knit feel among attendees is partly due to the fact that everything in Telluride is within walking distance. But the connections forged there are also the byproduct of unique interpersonal events, including an ice cream social, a pig roast, horror trivia, and a late-night party on Friday.
In addition to a trove of regional premieres that included Black Friday, The Exorcism of God, and The Spine of Night, THS’ 2021 program also hosted repertory screenings of Starship Troopers and You’re Next—the latter of which just celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. These throwbacks were part of the fest’s “Thursday Night Classics”—a new series of films free to fest-goers designed to get them primed for what the weekend had in store.
Although THS is decidedly non-competitive, it leverages its connections with production outfits to help boost horror shorts filmmakers’ careers. “We have an exciting and unique partnership with Vertigo Entertainment,” explains festival director Ted Wilson. “In addition to being considered for the festival, shorts submitted to Telluride Horror Show are eligible for review by Vertigo.”
For fans and creators of found footage horror, this five-year-old fest in San Francisco is where you’ll want to make your pilgrimage.
“The only festival in North America and one of just two in the world dedicated to found footage and mockumentary films—the other being On Vous Ment! in France—Unnamed Footage Festival is essential in supporting found footage films, which get so much hate and rejection at most other festivals,” a panelist explains.
It’s true—some horror fests haven’t selected a single found footage film in their entire history, no matter the amount of money in submissions fees they receive to screen them. But Unnamed Footage accepts entries via FilmFreeway in six features and shorts categories: Found Footage Horror, Faux Documentary, POV Cinema, Screen Life, ARG, and Hybrid Found Footage. In 2019, when UFF last held an in-person event, that niche focus led to a solid acceptance rate of about 38%. All submissions for the fest’s 2021 virtual edition came at no cost to filmmakers.
“Super-indie micro-budgeted films are welcomed and loved in this fest as much as bigger productions,” a panelist adds. Last year, one such super-indie came in the form of Murder Death Koreatown. Submitted anonymously and built around a real-life murder, the film—directed by a young man only identified as “K-Anon”—orchestrated a viral online marketing campaign on the heels of its U.S. premiere at UFF.
“If we were to pick one festival to find the most peculiar selection of genre films that play nowhere else, that would be most likely be Yūbari,” two panelists say. “This small gem of a festival in Hokkaidō is a real home for genre fans!”
Like the snowcapped city’s luxurious Yūbari King melons, Yūbari International Fantastic Film Festival has garnered a reputation over time as a staple of cultural refinement. Since the early 1990s, genre fans have flocked to the fest to discover all kinds of awesome Asian oddities. In 2021, attendees saw the world premiere of Maniac Driver, Kurando Mitsutake’s giallo-inflected horror about a psychopathic taxi driver who prowls the streets of Tokyo in search of a human sacrifice.
The fest’s intimate atmosphere and unique events, though, are what make it a truly memorable experience. “Film directors, actors, and fans are in the same space as a matter of course,” says secretariat Akihiko Kawashima. “Famous Japanese actors may be drinking at the table next to you, conversing naturally with one another. These are miraculous interactions that would be unthinkable in a big city.”
Yūbari has traditionally been held in the winter, but will move to a summer schedule starting in 2022. So, its famous stove parties, which complemented the extreme cold, will now be replaced by outdoor barbecue bashes. Filmmakers will compete for hefty cash prizes of up to ¥500,000… but for those who fall short of the fest’s Grand Prix, there are still chances to win 10 cases of Sapporo beer, 10 kilograms of Hokkaidō rice, and yes, even one Yūbari melon.
Check out our 2021 list here.
Feature illustration by Matthew Therrien.