Vendors, indie directors, panel judges and fans met on Oct. 25 at the Majestic Ballroom in Bellingham to mark the start of the Bleedingham Horror Film Festival. Bleedingham, which is in its eighth year, has brought together like-minded horror fanatics in Whatcom County and general Washingtonians since 2012.
The Limelight and Pickford Film Centers downtown showed 39 independently-produced short films on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.
Gary Washington, former Whatcom Community College student and Western Washington University graduate, founded the event shortly after receiving his degree in Visual Communications to share his love of the horror genre with Bellingham. Since then, much has changed, but the mission statement and focus have remained.
“Bleedingham provides a venue for indie filmmakers to have their work seen by industry-standard judges,” said Washington. “Interest has blown up in the past couple years, and we’ve had a 30 percent increase in number of submitted films this year,” he said. As a result, Bleedingham cut one screening time from past festivals, and entrants and ticketholders alike are encouraged to view everything that the festival has to offer.
Like past years, Bleedingham is for the community, by the community.
“The indie horror scene in Bellingham is a lot bigger than people know, and it’s a very tight-knit group; we’ve all known each other forever at this point, and this event is for our strong community of actors and directors, just as it is for the viewers,” said Washington.
He believes that independent horror addresses some of the more prominent issues with mainstream horror films. He said that there’s originality and new ideas that aren’t found in today’s scary blockbusters. Not just in terms of story, but also in ways to work around the constraints of low budgets.
He thinks that as the world changes, horror changes too, and the submissions reflect that change. For example, the short film entry “Chickens” puts the viewer in the same room as a wrongful murder of a black man by a corrupt white police officer.
Washington, an African-American man, is proud of the diversity in the local horror community, and what that diversity brings to the table.
“We have a great amount of black, Latino, Asian, and LGBTQ representation this year. This gives us a hugely vast array of what horror can mean to different people.” Despite not being a judge in the festival himself, Washington believes immersion is the key to great horror.
“I conceded to myself that I’m not the best person to judge entries, since I can be biased at times,” he said. “That’s why we focused on bringing in industry specialists.”
Some guest judges include Micky Neilson, one of the first writers at Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone) and best-selling author of the graphic novel Ashbringer; as well as James Fairley, who has worked as a special FX makeup artist on True Blood, iZombie, Falling Skies, and several DC Comics shows on the CW Network.
With the judging duties delegated to experts, Washington focuses on bringing the community together with the festival.
“It’s important that Bellingham and its community are doing this event ourselves,” he said. The Night Gallery itself is comprised of horror-themed vending booths, selling trinkets, masks, books, comics, art pieces, and even paranormal detection equipment.
Several guest panels happened during the gallery, as several judges and guest speakers shared their experiences with participating in the independent horror genre and answered questions from many enthusiastic fans and fellow actors/ directors.
Later in the night, there was a Halloween-themed fashion show, with a $1,000 cash prize, and a horror burlesque show. According to Washington, people should still give Bleedingham a try if they’re put off by horror.
“Bleedingham will change your opinion of horror. It’s been one of our most competitive years yet, and the submissions were so much harder to narrow down than in past festivals. This is our way of showing what horror means to Bellingham and its community.”