Welcome fellow readers to the first Morbid Moments, an exploration into the unknown where we interview people who will definitely satisfy your morbid curiosity!
This week, Morbid Planet sits down with Craig Hooper, the director of The International Vampire Film and Arts Festival. Without further ado, Mr. Craig Hooper…
Erin Chapman: Can you explain to our readers what The International Vampire Film and Arts Festival is about?
Craig Hooper: IVFAF is a festival celebrating everything we love and everything that scares the crap out of us about vampires. We wanted it to be more than just a film festival so we added the word ‘arts’ to pretty much cover everything else. We’ve got the Vampire Academic Conference (VAC), curated this year by the State College of Florida, looking at the latest research into vampire films, literature, history and just about anything that needs a forensic look at vampires and the way they interact with our world and our realities. There’s the films, obviously – and I should point out here that, since our first year, we’ve been in Film Freeway’s Top 100 film festivals in the world (and there are thousands and thousands of them), showcasing the best in new indie vampire features and shorts and hearing from filmmakers, funders, fans and critics. Literature is probably our next biggest strand. We focus on new, up-and-coming writers but we also showcase work from more established celebrated vampire authors. This year we’ve got Chris Golding (Buffy, The Shadow Saga), Tim Lebbon (30 Days of Night) and Rio Youers (Everdead) doing readings, along with dozens of new writers, all aiming to bring a new bite to the genre. We also feature games. This year we’ve got a panel examining vampire in tabletop roleplaying games, featuring probably the two biggest names in vampire RPGs: Mark Rein•Hagen, the creator of Vampire: The Masquerade, which arguably went on to directly inspire True Blood, Twilight, Underworld and many, many others, and Kenneth Hite, creator of Night’s Black Agents, The Dracula Dossier and many others and probably the most prolific horror RPG writer ever. We’ve also got the unveiling of the new Fury of Dracula digital board game, based on the classic tabletop board game. It’s amazing. We’ve got other talks that maybe should’ve been in the VAC but we just couldn’t fit them in, including from Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram and the custodian of the Stoker estate and one that promises to unveil the hidden history of the Slavic vampires. On top of all of that, we’ve got some vampire cocktail masterclasses, courtesy of the Libertine Bar in Cardiff (support your local vampire cocktail bar!), a vampire disco and probably lots of things that I’ve forgotten about and things that will happen completely unexpectedly as this will be streamed live…!
EC: What inspired you to create something like this? What is your personal interest in vampires?
CH: I’ve been fascinated by vampires ever since I was a child. My uncle had a paperback copy of Dracula which I found at my nan’s house with a terrifying painting of Christopher Lee on the cover. I was torn between fascination and terror just by looking at the image and it’s pretty much stayed that way ever since. I finally got the courage to read it when I was 14 and it hit a chord with me, as it has with countless others. Since then, movies, stories, history, legends and just the general idea of vampires are things I’m drawn to. Sometimes it’s the horror, sometimes the action, sometimes the idea of immortality and the moral challenges of humanity and monster presented in the vampire. That said, I can’t claim to be much of a vampire enthusiast compared to many of those who attend the festival. My knowledge pales into insignificance compared to some of them. But it’s not a competition…The idea for the festival came when I took a real trip of a lifetime to Romania and Transylvania with my family. It was everything I hoped it would be. When I got to Sighisoara citadel, I thought ‘what a great place for a festival’. I make documentaries when I’m not coming up with nutty ideas for the festival so I knew it would really work well as a venue. And one of my friends, Peter Phillips, is actually in the business of running nutty niche festivals around the world (he runs the two biggest Elvis festivals in the world, in Porthcawl in Wales and Benidorm in Spain, as well as the original TedFest in Ireland). I came back from Romania, mentioned the idea to him and he took it and set it up straight away.
EC: How long has the festival been around and where has it been held in previous years?
CH: This is year five. The first three years were in Sighisoara citadel in Transylvania, the birthplace of the real Vlad Dracula. It’s a stunning location, with great hotels and bars. That’s really the spiritual home of the festival. Last year, we decided to pack up our coffins and try branching out to different locations, the first being London. We chose Highgate because it’s again a great location with a real village feel in the centre of London and close to a great cinema (where they filmed parts of Interview With The Vampire) and cool bars and clubs in Camden. It’s also got the legend of the Highgate Vampire. That was great fun. We’re also looking at continuing the ‘vampire world tour’, while never forgetting Transylvania and always going back there when we can.
EC: What kind of activities are normally held each year at the festival? Can you explain about the film and literature contests? How many attendees do you normally get?
CH: Besides the films and VAC and lit, which I’ve already talked about, we usually have lots and lots of parties. We’re allowing people to have their own parties at home this year, using the festival as the entertainment and also teaching them how to make some amazing vampire-themed cocktails to get their parties started! The contest is the Golden Stake Awards. We give actual physical Golden Stakes to the best feature film, short film and new novel and short story, so winners not only have a nice trophy but they can also be used to slay vampires, if necessary.
EC: Due to Covid19 many special events around the world have been cancelled. I noticed the festival will continue this year, but it will be virtual. Do you think this will influence more attendees compared to prior years as they can attend from the comfort of their own home? Logistically, has this made planning easier or more complicated for you? Will there be different activities for the festival this year as opposed to previous years due to the virtual execution?
CH: It’s a free festival so we’re hoping for more attendees this year than usual. With hindsight, maybe we could’ve sold some tickets to help cover our costs, but one of our aims is to also point people towards our festival in 2021, which we’re hoping will be an actual physical event back in Transylvania, maybe with a virtual element. We want to get as many people as we can this year, so please spread the word – every little helps! We usually get around 70-100 guests in Transylvania as it can be difficult persuading people to travel so far, but that means the guests we do get really invest themselves in enjoying the festival and it really is an amazing time. I often wish I was there as a delegate rather than an organiser. I don’t think it’s easier to plan and the general stresses around the pandemic actually make it more difficult, I think, but we’ve got a great core team, made up of people we first met at the festival and a few keen students from the University of South Wales in Cardiff, so it’s looking pretty good at the moment. That said, I don’t think there’s anything that can match a face-to-face physical event.
EC: Does the festival encompass all types of fandom from the vampire genre? Would this be suitable for writers, scholars, pop culture and film buffs, or historians? Is there something for everyone?
CH: Yes – that’s the whole point – it covers everything (at least, we hope so!). I would put myself in the category of being interested in all of those areas and so I look at each part of the festival and think whether I would be interested in it. If it’s yes, it’s in (as long as we can resource the ideas)! That said, we don’t just rely on ideas from the team – we’d love to crowdsource as many ideas as we can for future years.
EC: When is the event being held? How much does it cost and how can our readers get tickets? Is there a cut-off date for obtaining tickets?
CH: It’s over Hallowe’en: Friday and Saturday and ending in the early hours of Sunday. Tickets are free – BUT – if guests can spare a donation, even a small amount, that would really help the festival continue into the future.
EC: Where can our readers find The International Vampire Film and Arts Festival online and on social media?
CH: Get your tickets from www.ivfaf.com and you can find us @vampirefestival on Twitter and Instagram and on Facebook.
EC: What is a fun fact that many people don’t know about you?
CH: I interviewed Pavarotti at his home – I think it was one of the last interviews he did (maybe the last one).
EC: I am sure working on an event like this has enabled you to meet many people from around the world. Can you tell me about your most memorable moment so far?
CH: The most memorable moment, for me, at least, came in 2018 in Transylvania. We had arranged for our guest authors, including Chris, Tim and Rio, who are guesting again this year, to do spooky midnight readings at the graveyard. We arrived up there, bats began swarming around from the church and a lightning storm began in the valley next to us. When the thunder struck, the wolves in the hills around us began howling. The guests began looking around for where we’d planted the special effects and hidden speakers but it was all real. That night we coined the phrase ’so Transylf’ingvanian!’. Another really memorable moment came in the first year. We’d booked two bands to play: one called SEX (yes, that’s correct) flew in without their gear because the second band, Armonight, were driving in from Italy with all of their kit and SEX were going to use that. But they crashed in Hungary and so the gig was cancelled. The next day, they finally turn up but, of course, we no longer have a venue so they set up in the basement of an old hotel and started rocking out. Within minutes, a police officer arrived and unplugged them. One of the locals suggested another small bar on the outskirts of the citadel so they went and set up there in an underground room like a crypt, disturbing a couple of old men playing dominoes, while the rest of the crowd carried on drinking in the hotel in the citadel. I managed to corral most of them to go down to the bar and by the time we got there, we seemed to have picked up about 100 more people. About 200 of us crammed into the bar and the band kicked off and they were incredible. I felt sorry for SEX who had to follow them, but amazingly, when SEX came on, they were even better! It was truly one of the best gigs I have ever seen. The atmosphere was electric. When the gig finished and we stepped outside, the biggest shock was to find that dawn was breaking over the citadel. Somehow it was 4am!
Get your ticket online now! The event runs Friday October 30 and Saturday October 31, 2020.
If you want to be interviewed for Morbid Moments, drop us a message on our Facebook page.