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Film festival returns to Richmond for spooky season

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Film festival volunteer Darren Wallach poses at the 2021 Magic of Horror Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Lowrie Fawley

Karyn Cook, Contributing author

The Magic of Horror Film Festival will return to Richmond for its annual festival November 5 and 6 at the Firehouse Theatre.

The festival has become a celebration of the horror genre itself, with the first live festival being in 2019 in the form of an online screenwriting competition.

The festival started as an online-only event in 2018, according to Lowrie Fawley, the festival’s co-creator. The festival aims to give screenwriters and producers recognition and the chance to see their work shown, while praising the field of horror. According to the website, a variety of media is allowed, such as movie trailers and artwork. MovieFreewaywhere all submissions are received.

Fawley is a film and theater producer. As an actress, she also leads ghost tours around Richmond. Fawley said she met business partner Shiva Rodriguez at a movie audition years ago.

“I auditioned for a feature film she was making in Florida. I had worked in theater up to that point, but wanted to try my hand at filmmaking,” Fawley said.

Fawley said the only past she had in horror was working at a New York-based haunted house from 2005 to 2007.

“Horror has always been one of my favorite genres, and I’ve worked in live haunts at several locations, most notably Blood Manor in New York for three years,Fawley said.

After seeing their chemistry, the pair decided to start their own business and then a festival, according to Fawley.

“We ended up working well together, forming our own horror film company Rogue Chimera Film, LLC,” Fawley said. “As a result, after screening a number of our films at other festivals, we decided to launch our own festival.”

The festival has a variety of benefits for attendees, other than just showing their film, according to Fawley.

“We wanted to not only give filmmakers an opportunity to screen their films and win awards, but also a chance for them to get valuable feedback,” Fawley said. “Our panel of judges gives detailed feedback along with the scores they submit on each film, and that feedback is shared with the filmmakers whether or not they are accepted into the festival.”

Rodriguez is a director, practical effects artist and screenwriter. The best part of the experience for Rodriguez is the opportunity to help and promote filmmakers, she said.

“I really love helping these independent movies get attention, especially since a lot of them don’t have the ability to do a lot of promotion,” Rodriguez said.

Hundreds of film submissions are sent out each year, with only 40 films accepted to screen at the festival, according to Fawley. Tickets range from $10 for a day pass to $15 for a weekend pass, with a variety of sessions included such as a mix and mingle event and photo shoot on the mat red.

The judges are made up of a variety of people with film experience, but they remain anonymous to the contestants, so no hard feelings will arise in the future, according to Fawley. She said the winners of the festival receive a trophy in the form of a skeleton and promotion on the festival’s social media.

“Horror is often seen as an ‘easy’ genre for filmmakers, which I honestly disagree with,” Rodriquez said. “I love seeing unusual stories they come up with and appreciate how creative they have to be to produce their films on extremely low budgets.”

Filmmaker Jordan Selander has said horror is his favorite genre, with its roller coaster aspects. His film “No Grave for the Dead” premieres at the festival on Saturday. The film was originally a music video and contains no dialogue — instead, it features a dancing phantom ballet, according to Selander.

Selander said he had some ideas, but all of them were shot down, so production was halted.

“For the idea, all I saw was a ghost in ballet slippers dancing in a graveyard. I pitched this idea to almost every local group I spoke to, and they all kindly said that the story didn’t fit their band,” Selander said. “So we had the idea for almost 10 years.”

The idea came to fruition in 2021 when he decided to get a group together and make a short film for fun, according to Selander. He said he submitted it on FilmFreeway and received great feedback.

He submitted it to Magic of Horror, and it should be happening this weekend, according to Selander. He said he looks forward to the festival, with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

“At the end of the day, you have to enjoy the moment after all the hard work of the crew. If I had to pick one, I’d say I’m more excited right now, but that might change on the day of the screening,” Selander said.