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A new film festival in Akron, Ohio, kicks off the spooky season on Sept. 16, but The Akron Independent Horror Short Film Festival is less about grisly visual effects and jump scares. It’s about community, says festival director Neil Sudhakaran.“It’s community building,” Sudhakaran explains. “It’s about giving artists a stage and an audience to showcase their work.”As if to underscore the festival’s commitment to community, films will unspool at The Akron Civic Theatre, which has a rich tradition of funding and producing local programming led by local artists.
“We want to give these filmmakers the most eyeballs and exposure to their work as we can - and horror brings in eyeballs,” Sudhakaran says.
We sat down via email with Sudhakarn recently to learn more about the new film fest.
Q&A with Neil Sudhakaran, director of The Akron Independent Horror Short Film Festival
Midwest Movie Maker: How important was it to showcase diversity, from age and gender to ethnicity and origin?
MMM: The selected films vary in length from 18 seconds to 15 minutes. How did you approach curating a lineup with such a diverse range of runtimes? What do you believe each film's length brings to the overall viewing experience?
NS: Runtime was a secondary consideration to entertainment value and production quality. A film could have been 40 minutes long, as long as it was compelling. Our first goal is to create an entertaining experience for festivalgoers and increase the amount of "butts in seats." The more butts and the better the experience, the more exposure for our filmmakers.
We felt the best tactic was to have a one-night festival, as opposed to a traditional 3 to 4-day festival. By limiting the time frame, we are able to keep the quality of films high in both production value and entertainment. We hope the fast-paced, multi-screen experience will build this event and the quality of submissions year after year.
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MMM: The Akron Civic Theatre is a historic venue with a significant presence. How does showcasing these independent horror films in such a space contribute to the filmmakers' and the audience's experience?
NS: The Civic is beautiful and historic - and debuted as a Cinema House in the late 1920s. It's more than a theatre and event space. Our guests and filmmakers will literally be enjoying their work "under the stars," since The Akron Civic Theatre is one of the only five remaining atmospheric theaters left in the U.S. It's our hope that the Civic’s majesty will convey to these artists that their work is majestic, as well.
MMM: Could you elaborate on the micro-film concept and how they add a unique element to the festival?
NS: We want art and film to play no matter where you are in The Civic, and we want to have the maximum amount of viewers for each film. So, the Micro Screen playing micro shorts was born out of a need.
We have two 25-minute intermissions built into the main screen of the festival at The Akron Civic Theatre. During these intermissions, people can network, go to the bathroom, get refreshments, or see these amazing micro shorts. We want people to feel like this is the biggest cinematic event to hit Akron because to us and these filmmakers, it is.
MMM: Q&A sessions with local film experts will be a part of the festival. Could you provide more insight into the topics that these sessions will cover, such as low-budget filmmaking, fight choreography, and low-cost special effects?
NS: All three of the filmmakers chosen for Q&A's are area legends, Sarah Smith, Johnny K. Wu, and Ron George. Their content will be helpful and informative to both new and veteran filmmakers. I don't want to spoil too much.
MMM: Independent filmmakers often struggle to get their work on the big screen. How do you think the festival's platform can impact these filmmakers and their careers?
NS: In today's filmmaking climate, audiences are thinner, and screens are getting smaller. Generally, people go to the Cineplex to see what I like to call "Event Cinema." The Akron Independent Horror Short Film Festival is "Event Cinema."
I hope it not only inspires filmmakers to keep making films but also encourages additional area vendors to invest in these opportunities for filmmakers outside the Cineplex. Banning together, we can create more opportunities for ourselves than hoping, wishing, and praying to be discovered.
MMM: Can you share some insights into the selection and judging process of the submitted films? What criteria did you use to choose the final 20 films for the festival?
NS: Each film was assigned to two judges, and based on those scores, the films that scored highest were also judged by the remaining two judges who didn't view the film previously. Each film was rated on a 5-point scale across 12 different categories, including creativity, direction, writing, cinematography, performances, among others. Without bias or judgment, the films selected into the festival scored the highest rating out of all submissions.
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MMM: The event kicks off with a filmmaker mixer and concludes with an awards ceremony. Could you give us a glimpse into what attendees can expect during these segments of the festival?
NS: Don't forget about The Killer Karaoke After Party! We also have two live performances during the festival. Attendees will see art, they will meet people. It's our hope that all attendees will make some new connections and leave inspired.
MMM: How do you hope the festival will contribute to the local arts and cultural scene in Akron, Ohio, and beyond?
NS: Filmmaking is more accessible today than it has ever been, from iPhones to TikTok; anyone can make content. We hope to inspire others to say, "I can do that," because they can. Art is subjective. Whether your film/art makes a billion dollars or loses a billion, all art is good art. All creativity is good creativity. Live. Create. Inspire. Repeat.
MMM: As the AIHSFF Director, what message would you like to send to aspiring filmmakers, horror enthusiasts, and the general audience who will be attending the festival?
NS: Be weird. Be you. Be kind. Love one another and MAKE ART.
MMM: Anything we missed?
NS: Huge thanks to our team, Francine, Sarah, Charlie, Abbey, and Kate. Thank you forever to Howard and The Akron Civic Theatre for investing in local events for local artists. September 16th at The Akron Civic Theatre, AkronCivic.com.