The organizers of the 2014 Stanley Film Festival have concluded another incredible year at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. And trust me when I say this: This is a genre festival for genre fans. I'm not easily impressed by fests, so that is saying alot.
When I spent a brief amount of time during the Stanley Film Fest's inaugural year in 2013, I saw ambition, reverence for horror, a sense of community and a ton of promise.
This year, I saw all of those qualities, but above all…growth.
I took the trip this year because the event asked that Rebekah McKendry (of Fangoria) and I bring our popular L.A. event, Dead Right Horror Trivia, to Colorado. But this, of course, was a work trip in more ways than one – as you can see from the film review coverage I've been slowly rolling out here at Shock.
For the four days I spent at the famous hotel – where Stephen King got his inspiration for "The Shining" – I was wrapped up in the film program (where I finally got to see some great films like What We Do in the Shadows), the panels and other activities that the Stanley Film Fest crew organized to break up the flow of the film program. And I think that's what makes this event so special.
(Photo: Starry Eyes scribe Kevin Kolsch crashes and burns during the Big Wheel Death Race.)
In addition to Dead Right Horror Trivia, the fest offered a live performance of Tales from Beyond the Pale, a zombie crawl, a late-night seance, a pretty damn fun Danny Torrance-inspired Big Wheel Death Race, various on-site parties, a whiskey tasting session, ghost tours and – in a rather mind-blowing turn – an immersive game that spanned all four days. What did it entail? Think David Fincher's The Game. This immersive experience begins with an e-mail from a desperate father asking you to help him find his missing boy. Throughout the festival, you gather clues (the doors of my room had strange symbols painted on them) and meet other characters involved in the mystery as you become a key player in a story involving the occult.
I popped into this game every so often. Since I was on the clock most of the time, it was hard for me to commit, however, I attended the "end game" scenario and met a very eager crowd…they were all festival attendees who had been playing. The turnout was amazing. I had never seen anything like it.
If merely planting your ass in a theater for all four days and never leaving the glow of the big screen suits you just fine, then the festival has you covered. There was a ton of great stuff playing, including revival screenings of Gremlins, Sleepwalkers and Eyes Wide Shut (the Stanley prides itself on The Shining and Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King legacies). Select screenings were followed by Q&As with the filmmakers, too.
Panel-wise, there were two industry-driven discussions: One on the nature of film distribution and another about indie filmmaking (the latter hosted by yours truly). Elijah Wood and his SpectreVision team had a panel all their own as well. It served as a perfect "company spotlight."
If you stay at the Stanley Hotel, three television channels are dedicated to Stanley Film Fest programming. So, before passing out in bed, I'd regularly see what was playing. Films like The Brood, Dawn of the Dead, Magic, Room 237 and both versions of The Shining were on constant rotation along with video of last year's panels.
(Photo: A placemat for the Stanley's Horror Brunch.)
Closing day activities feature a horror brunch where the festival's jury announces the winners of the fest. What We Do in the Shadows took "best feature film." Attendee Joe Dante, meanwhile, received the Stanley Film Fest Master of Horror Award.
Now, here's the good news. The Stanley Film Festival is going to return to Estes Park for a third year. The buzz is already strong for 2015. I'm hearing they're already planning some terrific events. So, if you plan on going, you now have one year to plan for the trip. I love this event's communal vibe (the location helps keep everyone together) and its aspirations. The Stanley Film Fest is one of the good ones, folks. I recommend checking it out if you can.