By JESSICA BUCK
Embracing the chill of November, FOGFEST (www.fogfest.ca) rolled into downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, for the third consecutive year. Engulfing the newly renovated Majestic Theatre, the independent horror film festival has built on last year’s “official” launch and expanded into six days of screenings, live performances and panel discussions. While the fest is still in its infancy, it’s already becoming the place to be for independent horror creators.
From the striking artistry of the merch, posters and program guide to the Siren’s Song Purple Sour Ale (created in partnership with Dildo Brewing) and the festival trailer that raised goosebumps before every screening, what stands out about FOGFEST is the level of detail and heart poured into it. It’s hard to believe that such a small team from the horror collective Grind Mind is behind such exceptional output. At the same time, this homegrown approach (and the legendary Newfoundland hospitality) gives the event a distinctly intimate feel missing in most big-city film festivals.
Speaking of Grind Mind, the festival founders took a much-deserved opportunity to screen their new docu-series, The Hag, in front of a packed house. Linked to sleep paralysis, the “hag” is a phenomenon that involves a sleeping victim waking up to find a terrifying crone pressing down on their chest. With input from local folklorists, researchers and physicians, the series focuses on individuals who have experienced profound “haggings.”
Adding to the focus on East Coast creators, the Atlantic Apparitions program was packed to the gills with seaside shorts, including Bad Carbs, a hilarious and innovative product of a children’s theatre group; Remnants, which captured the pain of caring for an aging parent; Blueberries for Iris, a nightmarish exploration of self; and the ominous Sea Salt which left a plodding sea shanty stuck in viewers’ heads for the remainder of the evening.
The short films peppered throughout the festival provided many of the high points. Static explores the real-life horror of postpartum depression. The young female lead in Cereal shocked and delighted. Brenda and Billy took several chuckle-inducing turns. Deadline sees two grannies fighting off Death in the most badass way possible, while Gnomes and Fungus showcases SFX magic.
That’s not to say that there weren’t any standout features. The Shade boasts incredible writing and performances –especially lead actor Chris Galust, who will surely be a household name soon. Black Mold mixes grief, the supernatural and “ruin porn” to create a gorgeous cautionary tale. Oddball hit The Hyperborean pairs the wacky relationships of a wealthy family with… a laser-shooting ice mummy, and somehow, it ends up being pretty heartfelt.
The programmers made sure to include breaks from screentime with performances by local horror punk legends The Satans and drag troupe The Phlegm Fatales, who kicked off the weekend with their Fright-Day the Thirteenth (on the Seventeenth) production, featuring songs from horror movies. New this year were two panels moderated by RUE MORGUE’s own Andrea Subissati: one discussing women in horror with filmmakers Lisa Ovies and Becca Kozak, followed by an industry roundtable on distribution with Avi Federgreen (Red Water Entertainment), Michael Paszt (Raven Banner) and Pasha Patriki (Hangar 18).
Aiming to create a festival they would want to attend themselves, the Grind Mind b’ys could often be heard asking attendees if they were having a good time – and meaning it. Not interested in following the hordes to Hollywood, they’re intent on making Newfoundland a place for film to thrive. Showcasing and collaborating with local talent is their chief goal, along with demonstrating what their province has to offer. And it’s working. Filmmakers are starting to place FOGFEST into their autumn schedules, with cast and crews making the pilgrimage to the island from across Canada and the U.S.
Want to be part of the magic next year? Keep an eye on the horizon. Film submissions will be opening up in January for FOGFEST 2024. But before we get ahead of ourselves, here is what won the jury over this year. Congratulations to all the winners!
Best Short: Every Time We Meet For Ice Cream Your Whole Fucking Face Explodes
Best Short Film Director: Tyler Mckenzie Evans (Diaspora)
Best Acting Performance in a Short Film: Sarah Stiles (Brenda & Billy)
Best Atlantic Canadian Film: Sea Salt
Best Feature: The Shade
Best Feature Film Director: Tyler Chipman (The Shade)
Best Acting Performance in a Feature Film: Chris Galust (The Shade)
Best Writing: Tony Burgess (The Hyperborean)
Best Score & Sound Design: Michael Dilauro and Katherine Wilson (Blueberries for Iris)
Best Cinematography: Black Mold
Best Production Design: The Blue Rose
Best Special FX: Fungus