A Bloody Virtual Good Time at the 2020 Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

With the pandemic still very much interwoven into our lives, so has it affected film festivals around the world as they had to adapt quickly and either convert their screenings to drive-in theaters or go completely virtual. And for folks like myself and my fellow NOC writing & real life partner, Josephine Chang, our timing couldn’t be any worse as our short film Make A Wish started its festival circuit run right when the U.S. shutdowns occurred in March (or at least it did for us Californian folks at that time).

But we’ve been very fortunate to be accepted by so many wonderful genre/horror film festivals that took a chance with our fun little project. And along the way, one in particular stood out and it is here that I want to bring a special spotlight to a horror film festival that’s coming up virtually on September 1 and running till September 7th (available only for the West Coast and South West United States areas as it is geolocked). That festival is the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival which is located in Santa Ana, California.

As we’ve been through numerous genre festivals, we couldn’t help but notice that not only aren’t there a lot of BIPOC filmmakers but even lesser so when it comes to genre festivals founded by BIPOC individuals. This is where Horrible Imaginings not only holds a distinction as one of MovieMaker’s 30 Bloody Best Genre Fests in the World but their founder who I’ve come to quickly find out is a true mensch and champion in discovering new voices that would otherwise be passed aside from other more mainstream genre festivals. These new voices, more often than not, tend to be BIPOC filmmakers as I quickly realized that their lineup for this year’s programming had more diverse storytellers than I encountered with the other festivals this year. But let’s hear a little from the myth, the legend, and the awesomeness himself, the wonderful Miguel Rodriguez:

WHO ARE YOU? Tell us about yourself!

My name is Miguel Rodriguez, and I founded the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival back in 2009. Since your question was super open-ended, I guess I should talk about how I came to create this festival. I have volunteered for and programmed for festivals in the past, but this was the first one I created myself. I will talk more about the festival itself in the next question, so here I will focus on my genesis wanting to share stories like this. 

I come from a generation of Latinos — particularly Mexicans — who were raised speaking English exclusively. This monolingualism has followed me my entire life, which made having meaningful conversations with my mostly Spanish speaking grandparents a bit difficult. One of the things that bridged that distance was the act of watching scary movies or telling ghost stories. When I was four years old, my mother left me in the care of mi abuela for a night, only to return later that evening and catch her telling me and my infant brother a story about a killer who chopped off people’s heads. It is fair to say I grew up with scary stories of a Latino flavor, while absorbing classic and contemporary American horror films regularly. 

Starting at age 11, we moved to Baltimore, Maryland where I grew up. I still survived on a steady diet of pop culture, and I remember visiting a friend’s house. His dad had a room that was just filled with VHS tapes, and we could watch so many things. This was around 1989 or 1990, so those tapes were super expensive and nobody had a collection like that. To this day, I remember thinking to myself how I would one day have a library like that, and I could share awesome movies with other people. 

I am an educator now, so I still love sharing information with people, and that desire has bled into not only sharing films, but HOW I share films. 

How did Horrible Imaginings come to be?

In 2009, I moved to San Diego, California and got a job with the San Diego Unified School District as a teacher trainer. I really knew nobody, so I started a podcast called Monster Island Resort as a way to connect with people who liked monsters — particularly tokusatsu and daikaiju eiga from Japan. I discovered the San Diego Asian Film Festival and the San Diego Latino Film Festival, both of which I now collaborate with regularly, but there was no film festival dedicated to genre fare. Los Angeles had several, so I made the trip a few times before deciding to just make one myself in the city where I now lived. 

What separates Horrible Imaginings from other horror film festivals?

This is a tough question because I regularly collaborate or communicate with other genre festivals, and I love many of them dearly. I will talk here about some of my thought processes when creating the festival, our mission statement, and how that might seem a little different. Honestly, it has been 11 years now, and even in that decade the festival world has seen some rather seismic shifts. My experience with film festivals at the time was that they could seem alienating to audiences. I remember surveying people, and you would be surprised how many people don’t even realize that a film festival is open to them. It seems at times like an elite industry event for red carpets and bright lights, and not regular people. My first aim was to break that down entirely. 

I should say here that my true love of horror — defined by me as any story that expresses fear or anxiety as its main purpose–comes from my view of it as a genre that is distilled emotion. Horror is relegated to the gutter, largely stigmatized by most people, thought of as trash. The benefit of the gutter is it offers a chance for a storyteller to shed pretensions and deliver an honest look at the darkest recesses of their minds. These stories are primal and base and often admit to some uncomfortable neuroses that we have. This expression can be both liberating and enlightening. A lot of times I hear horror dismissed as largely illogical, but even that is something I love. Fear can be useful, but most of the time it is averse to logic. It is unreasonable. These stories give us a chance, if we let them and approach them that way, to not only reveal the absurdity of our own neuroses or anxieties, but also to discover that we may not be alone in those feelings. They give a chance to share vulnerabilities with other people.

That is all very important to me. The other thing that is very important is that, from day one, I wanted to make sure we were exploring different points of view. Even back in 2009, I wanted to make sure our storytellers were as diverse as I could find them. This was not just because of the very real need to mirror a representative population of our country or our world, but also because it was essential to the mission statement. One can not truly explore human fears or anxieties by exploring only those of straight white men. The fears of women, people who are BIPOC, people who are LGBTQIA, exploring those anxieties are just as (I would say more) important. What is best about this is twofold: it shows where our deepest and based fears diverge, but also where they might unexpectedly merge. This is an awful fundamental way to find common ground, and even build empathy. It is largely what has kept me going, even though I know we could do a lot better. 

Sometimes what we select doesn’t necessarily jive with the audience’s expectation of what is a “horror” film, and I am fine with that. That expectation, more often that not, seems to be scantily clad people running in the woods from a machete-wielding killer. Personally, I am happy to go very far beyond that.

It goes without saying that Miguel puts a tremendous amount of love and inclusive thought into this festival and thus it is a huge honor that he and the HI programming team included our Make A Wish short film as part of the lineup. But before we vainly talk more about ourselves, I want to take the time to highlight a few of the fantastic short & feature films that have BIPOC filmmakers (whether as director, writer) or have BIPOC actors as the main characters. To distinguish us amazing folks, we will be highlighted with a special *. The film titles will be linked to guide you to the Horrible Imagings Eventlive link where you can watch the films! With that being said, we’ll start with ourselves because we are vain as f***:

Make A Wish
Director: Dinh Thai*
Screenwriter: Ivan Tsang*, Dinh Thai*
Producer: Diane Foster, Edward Hong*, Josephine Chang*
Cast: Edward Hong*, Josephine Chang*, Roman Moretti

A light-hearted comedy about the sweetest fiancé giving her boyfriend the best birthday present ever.

Director/Co-Writer: Dinh Thai is an Asian-American writer/director by way of commercial directing based in Los Angeles. Born in Vietnam, fled to France, and finally settling in Los Angeles, the 80s and 90s nurtured a fascinating cultural mix that strongly informs Dinh’s filmic approach and aesthetic.

Dinh’s narrative work has aired on HBO and Cinemax. Specifically, MONDAY, a short film he wrote and directed has garnished over 50 festival awards and nominations, including first place in the inaugural HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries competition, Outstanding Director, Outstanding Actor and Next Generation Filmmaker Award at the prestigious NBCU Shorts Festival, Best Direction at the New York Television Festival and The One Screen Festival, Best Short Film at CATALYST, and Best New Filmmaker of the Year at NFMLA.

Along with being in the Disney|ABC Director Program, Dinh has shadowed on American Horror Story (Ryan Murphy’s Half-Initiative), MAYANS M.C. (Fox 21 TV), and directed an episode of New Amsterdam (218 ‘Matter of Seconds”) through NBC’s Emerging Director Program. He is also actively pursuing film and TV directing assignments as well as developing a show based on his short film and other multicultural ideas.

Director: Christina Raia*
Screenwriter: Kelsey Rauber
Producer: Christina Raia*, Kelsey Rauber
Cast: Nabil Vinas*, Briana Swann*

Two coworkers contemplate the aftermath of an encounter.

Director/Producer: Christina Raia is a New York City based Writer/Director and the Founder of CongestedCat Productions. She focuses on character-driven narrative projects that explore social issues through horror and humor.Her work, consisting of over a dozen short films, a web series, and two feature films, has screened at film festivals around the world and gained a large online following through multiple crowdfunding campaigns and coverage on press outlets such as Indiewire and BuzzFeed. Through a desire to support other filmmakers, she works for Seed&Spark as the Head of Education, teaching and empowering creators to build their audience and get their work made and seen.

Director: Goh Ming Siu*
Screenwriter/Producer: Goh Ming Siu*, Scott C. Hillyard*
Cast: Gerald Chew*, Amy J Cheng*, Sivakumar Palakrishnan*, Rachel Wan*, Matthew Loo*

50-year-old Jim (Gerald Chew, “Apprentice”, Cannes Film Festival 2016 Un Certain Regard) loses his high-flying job in status-conscious Singapore, but his ego and pride compel him to hide this from his wife (Amy J Cheng, “Crazy Rich Asians”) and daughter. His only confidante is his best friend (Sivakumar Palakrishnan, “A Yellow Bird”, Cannes Film Festival 2016 Critics’ Week). Desperately clinging onto the material symbols of his past success, he unlocks a hibernating malevolent force, with sinister roots in long-buried secrets. As his dream life crumbles around him, worlds collide, the lines between then and now become increasingly blurred, and Jim descends into a waking nightmare… REPOSSESSION is a bold, genre-bending film, with an ever-evolving, haunting soundscape from Golden Horse Award-winning composer Teo Wei Yong (“A Land Imagined”).

Director: Goh Ming Siu graduated with a BA in Radio/Television/Film from Northwestern University’s School of Communications (Illinois, USA). He has since been working in Singapore’s media industry for over a decade.

Co-Director Scott Chong Hillyard graduated with a diploma in Mass Media Management from Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management in Singapore. He is a seasoned actor with over a decade of roles in Singapore, from the age of nine. Their first feature film is psychological horror REPOSSESSION.

Director/Screenwriter: Jacob Burghart, Ben Burghart
Producer: Holton Witman, Josh Doke, David Gim, Tristian Barr
Cast: Jelani Talib*, Robert Coppage III*

Having survived a harrowing plane crash, an army pilot finds himself suspended from a canopy of trees high above the forest floor by his parachute. After making contact with his co-pilot on the ground, they realize that something is stalking them in the dark.

The Purple Iris
Director: Arif Khan*
Screenwriter: Arif Khan*
Producer: Tanita Dejsiriudom*, Lareina Joelle, Dan Funes
Cast: Ksenia Nesterova, Astrid Vineyard, Hana Wu*, Hans Christopher

In the near future, a refugee with a purple iris attempts to cross the border to start a new life, but is kidnapped by a doctor obsessed with collecting the rarest eyes.

Director/Screenwriter: Arif Khan is a British writer & director, based in LA and San Francisco.

He previously held roles at Airbnb Creative Studio and Warner Animation Group before joining Oculus Story Studio, the Emmy award-winning team within Oculus VR dedicated to the research and development of virtual reality storytelling.

His USC thesis film, The Silent Scream had its world premiere at the 50th Sitges International Film Festival. He is also an alumni of the New Blood Writers Workshop at FrightFest, the UK’s leading genre film festival.

Prior to studying Film Production at USC — School of Cinematic Arts, he earned his Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. He is currently a VR Producer at Wevr, an interactive film studio based in Venice, CA working on an unannounced project led by Jon Favreau.

Director/Screenwriter: Sumire Takamatsu*, Jorge Lucas
Producer:William Nawrocki III
Cast: Claudia Fabella*, Shio Muramatsu*, Daisuke Suzuki*, Sherry Q*

When young Ayumi (Claudia Fabella) refuses to eat her food, a family dinner reaches a boiling point when her mother(Shio Muramatsu) warns of an evil spirit to appear upon unsuspecting children who are sent to bed on an empty stomach. When Ayumi learns that the entity is real, she decides on a more strategic form of interaction with the otherworldly being.

Director/Screenwriter: Sumire Takamatsu coordinated commercial shoots in NYC before joining Blue Sky Studios, a feature animation studio. She currently helps produce marketing materials and promotional content for an upcoming feature, Spies in Disguise. Outside the studio, she likes to work with a diverse group of talented artists and filmmakers to produce animated and live action shorts.

Director: Ariel Zengotita*
Screenwriter: Ariel Zengotita*
Producer: Tu Do*, Mikhail Howell, Ariel Zengotita*
Cast: Nate Pringle

Richie, a reclusive young man, wants nothing more than to just sit back and watch movies all day. But with college courses piling up, and a nagging mom calling him every two seconds, peace may be further out of reach than imagined. Not to mention the booger stuck on his finger.

Director/Screenwriter: Ariel Zengotita is a Latin American filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA. Co-founder of Squid Valley, a creative super-team with over a decade of experience in Narrative, Commercial, and Digital Media. Ariel has written and directed a number of commercials for brands like Gillette, Pepsi, General Mills, SteelSeries, and more. He’s also directed several award-winning short films that have screened at festivals across the country.

Ariel is the Creative Director of Squid Valley, and currently works as a Senior Editor at FaZe Clan.

Darling, Darling, Wendy
Director: Elise Robertson
Screenwriter: Katherine Sainte Marie*
Producer: Katherine Sainte Marie*, Elise Robertson
Co-Producer:Richard J. Dubin
Cast: Katherine Sainte Marie*, Ty Shelton, Drew Hinckley, Denise Nicholson, Stella Ferguson

 Fifteen years after her trip to Neverland, Wendy Darling is determined to go back for good. But Peter Pan has other ideas.

Writer/Producer/Lead Actress: Katherine Sainte Marie is a Mexican-American actress and storyteller. Much of her directorial work focuses on re-imagining fairy tales and fables through a modern lens. Her adaptions are often set in the world of adolescent girls and examine social issues such as self-harm, anorexia, drug addiction, mental illness, violence, and sexual assault.

Darkness in Tenement 45
Director: Nicole Groton
Screenwriter: Nicole Groton
Producer: Crystal Collins, Simone Lapidus, Nicole Groton
Cast: Nicole Tompkins, David Labiosa, Anthony Marciona, Melissa Macedo, Casey Kramer, Keyon Bowman*

After the threat of a biological attack during the Cold War leaves the residents of a NYC tenement building trapped inside, a troubled teenager must fight against the self-appointed leader in order to save the tenants.

American Quartet
Director: Jesca Prudencio*
Screenwriter: Erin McGuff-Pennington, Adam Grannick
Producer: Adam Grannick
Cast: Yekta Khaghani*, Brian Wolfe, Ieesha Watts, Katherine Argo

In a 2030s small town bitterly divided over who belongs, a young Muslim-American woman puts herself at risk when she shares her private, digitized memories with strangers, challenging the status quo in the hope that empathy will triumph over hate. 

Director: Jesca Prudencio is a director, choreographer, and community based artist. She is dedicated to developing new theatrical works that humanize issues and explore the tension between cultures. She focuses on new plays, musicals, and dance theater works in New York, regionally, and internationally.

Director: Mischa Meyer
Screenwriter: Mischa Meyer
Producer:Mischa Meyer, Sascha Peuckert, Lily Garcia
Cast: Diezel Braxton-Lewis*, Lamel Dixon*, Tyrin Niles*, John Woods*

Police brutality protests boil in South Central Los Angeles as four teens plan a robbery and find themselves in a comic book store.

Day Break
Director: Louisa Phung*
Screenwriter:Louisa Phung*
Producer: Louisa Phung*
Cast: Yvonne Chapman*, Jaqueline Robbins

What happens when the line between awake and asleep blurs?

Director/Writer/Producer: Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but calls Vancouver, BC home, Louisa Phung has a Bachelor of Performing Arts Degree and a Diploma in Theatre from Capilano University. Louisa and team CBE recently won for Best Ultra Short for the one min horror short film Day Break at Vancouver International Film Festival’s Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon competition. Hope and Grace, Louisa’s current short film project (produced with Regina Leung, John Alvez and Co-Produced with Willan Leung) is currently in post-production.

Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Alex Montilla*
Producer: Kyle Sullivan
Executive Producer:Jessica Leone
Co-Producer:Madolyn Tipton
Cast: Amy Letcher, Will Coffin, Mike Hall, Tristin Hagen, Duane Ervin, Bud Galloway, Timothy Guion Smith, Tracy Montilla*

‘OverKill’ is a film with a comedic take on a familiar setup: when too-woke-for-their-own-good college kids are terrorized by an unstoppable masked killer, the final girl must outsmart him to survive. Only in this movie, the killer literally cannot be stopped (or killed).

Director : Alex Montilla – I’ve been making movies since high school. When my friends and I took over the morning announcements, we saw an opportunity to make short films for a captive audience…and by that, I mean an audience that literally HAD to watch; the entire school was held hostage by our silliness. Out of necessity, I learned the basics of filmmaking: acting, writing, directing, editing, visual effects, scoring…you name it; I was the Robert Rodriguez of morning announcements.

I’ve been making movies since high school. When my friends and I took over the morning announcements, we saw an opportunity to make short films for a captive audience…and by that, I mean an audience that literally HAD to watch; the entire school was held hostage by our silliness. Out of necessity, I learned the basics of filmmaking: acting, writing, directing, editing, visual effects, scoring…you name it; I was the Robert Rodriguez of morning announcements. All of these skills came in handy when I attended the University of Miami’s film school. After making the leap to Los Angeles, I’ve continued to hone my craft by working in the editing room for studio films like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “The Muppets”, on the sets of films like “The Hangover Part III” and as a Producer for ESPN. All the while, I continue to write, direct and edit my own films.

The films covered above barely scratch the surface in how much awesomeness there is to explore, especially from BIPOC filmmakers. In total, there are 11 features and 100 short films you can stream (& scream) in the comfort of your own home so if you’re a horror/genre buff, give this some festival a lot of love because this festival absolutely deserves it. You can buy your virtual tickets at https://hifilmfest.com/tickets with different awesome packages to make the experience even more memorable.

And who knows? This may be the beginning of many more genre/horror festival coverage to come as I continue to highlight the BIPOC filmmakers that continue to push the envelope in representation and film-making while providing a few scares along the way 🙂