Attending film festivals really hasn’t been an option for most of this year due to…well you know. Film makers have had to find other ways to bring their work to the masses such as streaming services or VOD. I was pleased to hear that one of my favourite annual events, Blood in the Snow Film Festival (BITS), which showcases “contemporary Canadian horror, genre and underground cinema” would be proceeding this year, broadcasting their diverse range of feature length and short films on the Super Channel Entertainment Network.
Not being able to watch films with other horror fans in the unique ambiance of the Royal Cinema, the historic Art Deco theatre in Toronto where the festival is normally held, is certainly a drawback but the festival organizers did a commendable job bringing as much of the festival experience as possible in this new format. Each screening is followed by interactive Q&As with the filmmakers and cast which adds some intimacy to the at home festival experience.
The festival kicked off on October 28th and runs until November 7th with at least one feature length film each night along with short films from a diverse range of Canadian filmmakers. I had the opportunity to watch a few of the films so far and continue to be impressed by the assortment of original stories told. Here’s a quick overview of three of the films I’ve caught so far:
Anything For Jackson (directed by Justin G. Dyck) kicked off the festival on a high note with a unique tale of a “reverse exorcsim”. Grieving grandparents, played by veteran actors Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy, try to bring the spirit of their deceased grandchild Jackson back using a ritual they discovered in an ancient book. Richings plays a doctor in the film and kidnaps an unsuspecting pregnant patient (played by Konstantina Mantelos) with the plan to bring Jackson back using her unborn baby as a vessel. The couple get more than they bargained for when they bring back something else in the process. The unique story and acting make this film worth a watch and was a great start to the 2020 BITS festival.
Shall We Play? (directed by Ann Forry) was featured on the second night of BITS and centres around a teenage girl (Matreya Scarrwener) and her group of “friends” who use an app to conjure up spirits with deadly consequences. Besides the technology meets evil entity aspect of this film there’s a lot of other things going on including bullying, sexual assault, and mental illness as well as a large cast of characters that made the film a bit confusing and disjointed, never quite delivering on its interesting premise of tech as a gateway to the spirit world.
Hall (directed by Francesco Giannini) is a timely story of a family who check into a hotel in Montreal just as a pandemic begins to overtake the city. The character development is quite good as the film builds towards an intense, climactic spread of the virus in its second half. Carolina Bartczak and Mark Gibson play a troubled married couple with a tense relationship that peaks once the terror of the pandemic takes hold in the halls of the hotel. Bartczak’s portrayal of an abused wife who tries to simultaneously protect her daughter from the hidden terror of their family life and the monstrous creatures the virus turns the hotel guests into makes Hall an interesting watch from start to finish.
In addition to the films, I’ve also really enjoyed the BITS Q&As. Hosted by Robert Bellamy, who also hosts the BITS Radio podcast, the Zoom style Q&As allow viewers to get insights from the filmmakers and cast on their experiences working on the films, even to a greater degree than the in person Q&As did back in the days when we could attend these events in person. In the Q&A for Hall it was interesting to hear from the cast what it was like making a film about an apocalyptic plague overtaking people in a real hotel full of guests who had no idea what was going on.
One perk of the virtual format of the festival this year is that I can actually catch more films than I normally do. Since I live outside of Toronto I can usually only attend a couple days of the festival but the virtual format allows me to watch the entire festival from the comfort of my living room. Not sure it’s an equal tradeoff for experience attending a festival in person but in 2020 you have to look for any silver linings you can find.
BITS continues until November 7th so there’s still time to catch some great Canadian horror films. The festival is known for its focus on innovative and eclectic short films and there are several programs showing this week including the Funny Frights collection which provides some laughs with its focus on the “lighter side of death”. Notable features still to come include Parallel Minds about a scientist and detective who team up to stop a deadly shapeshifter and Come True, which tells the story of a girl who is plagued by nightmares and joins a sleep study group that plunges her into a disturbing reality.
You can attend the BITS Film Festival virtually on Super Channel in Canada. If you’re not a subscriber, a 30 day free trial is available through the BITS website as well as the full festival film schedule. Learn more at bloodinthesnow.ca.