Blizzard of Gore: A Q&A With Blood in the Snow Programmer Kelly Michael Stewart

While it’s becoming more common to see retrospective screenings of classic Canadian horror and cult films, the options for seeing contemporary Canadian horror in a theatre setting are few and far between. Fright Nights film programmer and Fangoria writer Kelly Michael Stewart is trying to change that with his latest screening series, The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. This three-day festival, happening this weekend at the Projection Booth-East, celebrates the best of today’s Canadian horror filmmaking, and will feature many directors and cast members in attendance. More details and advance tickets are available online. To get the lowdown on this new series, we talked to Kelly about getting local recognition for our homegrown talent, the importance of seeing these films in a theatre, and why Toronto is about to explode as a horror film capital of North America.

Why did you decide to start this series?

The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival evolved out of my monthly Fright Nights film series that I’ve been hosting and programming at the Projection Booth for the past year. Fright Nights focuses on all types of horror films, but there has been amazing amount of genre/horror filmmaking to come out of Canada in the past few years. The feedback I received from filmmakers was that they were getting plenty of attention all around the world, but that they tended to be overlooked by the Canadian film festivals. This was interesting to me, because whenever I showed a Canadian film at Fright Nights it always drew bigger crowds than my non-Canadian programming.

So Blood in the Snow really came about from seeing a large hole in the marketplace that needed to be filled. Toronto in particular is a hotbed for horror talent right now. It reminds me very much of the Seattle music scene 20 years ago where it feels like things are about to explode.

What kind of selection criteria did you use when programming this festival?

Well, what made this festival unusual for this first year was that the content came first. So it wasn’t like “Hey, let’s start a festival and see what’s out there!” It was more that I had this wealth of Canadian films available and I just needed to fill a few extra slots to get a festival going. In the end we ended up with nine premieres, two of which are world premieres. So for a first year festival it has already been quite an achievement having so many high-profile Canadian films.

What will audiences have to look forward to in this year’s festival?

Our six feature programs are quite diverse. The festival has a wide selection of horror-related films including SICK, a zombie film, IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES, an intense psychological thriller, and BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, a dark sci-fi film. We have everything from the grindhouse of FAMINE, more art-house fare like Fangoria editor Chris Alexander’s BLOOD FOR IRINA, and DEVIL’S NIGHT, a classic ’80s style slasher film. We also have a shorts program called “Fright Nights: Class of 2012” that focuses on some of the short films we have shown over the past year. Since premiering at Fright Nights, these films have been racking up awards all year at different festivals–they are really worth checking out. Plus, we have  many of the directors and stars in attendance, so it’s going to be a great opportunity to meet filmmakers and to network with people in the film industry.

Do you have a favourite in the films that you are playing?

Well. I couldn’t pick a favourite but let me talk about some of the lesser known films at the festival. FAMINE is directed by Ryan Nicholson (of GUTTERBALLS and LIVE FEED) from Vancouver, who’s a special effects wiz in the industry. So the gore effects are much more high-end for such a low budget film, it’s going to be a fun midnight movie. Also I’m looking forward to seeing BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW on the big screen. It’s actually my only feature that isn’t a premiere, but not many people got to see in in the theatres when it was released last year. But it’s the type of film that begs to be seen on a big screen with great picture and sound.

Why do you think no one has tried to do a film festival like this before?

As Canadians we tend not to embrace our own cultural works until someone else from another country does it first. I think perhaps programmers find it easier to get more excited about a film from Dublin, Ireland than Guelph, Ontario. But just because it’s from far away, does it make it better? Many of the filmmakers I’m showcasing have won buckets of awards from  around the world but that recognition has been slower on the homefront. But I hope Blood in the Snow is a big step in changing that attitude.