November 23, 2020 Interview – Rachel Belofsky Talks Screamfest Horror Film Festival
This year marked the 20th annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival. Screamfest is the largest and longest running Horror film festival in the U.S., and has even been coined as the ‘Sundance of Horror.’ Since its debut back in August 2001, this festival has been a celebration of the Horror and Sci-Fi genres, giving filmmakers and screenwriters the chance to have their work showcased in the film industry. Some of the biggest Horror gems have premiered at Screamfest, including Paramornal Activity back in 2007.
Recently, Rachel Belofky, the founder and director of Screamfest, sat down to chat about all of this year’s insanely creative submissions, inspiring young creatives, and the challenges of having a film festival in the middle of a pandemic.
Cryptic Rock – The 20th annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival was October 6-15th . How much of a challenge was it to make the transition to drive-thru screenings? Were there any setbacks?
Rachel Belofsky – Transitioning to drive-in screenings was a bit of a challenge in navigating the technical aspects and ensuring quality screenings, which we ultimately did. The only set back was not being able to screen at the TCL Chinese.
Cryptic Rock – It is great that you were able to still get mostly everything done. Short films were featured alongside the feature films each night. Have you always included shorts in your lineup or was that something added this year to amp up the drive-thru experience?
Rachel Belofsky – We have always screened short film programs. Due to lost daytime programming we had to screen more shorts with features, while in the past only a select few would have been screened with features.
Cryptic Rock – It seems like you adjusted well to the hand you were dealt. Has the change affected other aspects of the festival like the monthly screenings or the educational workshops?
Rachel Belofsky – Due to COVID we were unable to offer the big educational workshops for students. We are planning on continuing our monthly screenings as drive-ins.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully the bigger educational workshops can return in the future. This year’s lineup was stacked, including films like Thirst, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, and the highly-anticipated Books of Blood based on the anthology of the same name from Horror legend Clive Barker. Were there any titles in particular that you were looking forward to?
Rachel Belofsky – We were looking forward to Books of Blood. It was a fun opening night at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu.
Cryptic Rock – Awesome! Screamfest has helped launch the careers of many incredible filmmakers and premiered some of the most well-loved films in the genre, such as 2012’s American Mary, Paranormal Activity, 2007’s 30 Days of Night, and 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat. With that in mind, has the submission process for the festival become more grueling?
Rachel Belofsky – The submission process is always grueling!! (Laughs) We do feel the pressure to screen tomorrow’s big hit. We are so proud of our alumni, Brett and Drew Pierce, for their drive-in box office success with The Wretched. Super nice and talented guys!
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. With the notion of a ‘new normal’ on the horizon, what does that mean for Screamfest? Will you continue to do drive-thru screenings or perhaps offer live stream events, as well?
Rachel Belofsky – We’ve done a few live stream Q&As already and will continue drive-in screenings.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. Let us hope we can return to some sense of normalcy soon. When you founded the festival back in 2001, did you have any idea it would grow to this extent?
Rachel Belofsky – I truly didn’t have any idea how it would grow to this extent. My focus was providing the best platform to showcase new, independent genre films.
Cryptic Rock – And it has been extremely successful. What are some of the most notable moments from past festivals that have stuck with you till this day?
Rachel Belofsky – Some of the most notable moments have been the educational workshops for underserved youth. It’s really rewarding to see the smiles on their faces.
Cryptic Rock – One can only imagine how special those moments are. It is great that Screamfest is a female-run organization, helping erase the idea that Horror is a ‘boy’s club.’ Have there been any challenges being a female in this industry?
Rachel Belofsky – Have there been any challenges? (Laughs) There’s not enough time to answer this question. (Laughs) However, we just focus on our mission regardless of the obstacles.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) We definitely felt that. But just as you said, we just focus on our goals and keep it moving despite what’s in our way. With that being said, what are some of the ways you motivate other women to get involved in the genre? Are there opportunities in place with Screamfest?
Rachel Belofsky – We don’t have a specific program for women. We champion them all the same. If a woman makes a great film it will get seen just like films such as American Mary, Tigers Are Not Afraid etc. We’re very honored to have premiered these in our festival.
Cryptic Rock – That is a great outlook! Last question. What are some of your favorite Horror films?
Rachel Belofsky – Some of my favorite films are The Thing (1982), Trick ‘r Treat because it’s hysterically funny, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Changeling (1980) and 28 Days Later (2002), just to name a few.