A reputation for being America’s most haunted city lured the Overlook Film Festival to New Orleans.
“The city captures the hearts and imaginations of our fans and our filmmakers,” said Landon Zakheim, co-director of the horror film festival. “It’s a place some in our audience always love visiting and others who’ve never been want to visit.”
In its second year, the Overlook Film Festival — featuring 40 films, appearances by actors and filmmakers, virtual reality events, live performances and parties — runs Thursday through Sunday at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, Le Petit Theatre and Regal Cinemas Cinebarre Canal Place 9. Passes and tickets are available at overlookfilmfest.com.
Festival highlights include Thursday’s opening night film “Unfriended: Dark Web,” a story about a cybercafe attendant who borrows a laptop from the cafe’s lost and found and suffers the consequences; centerpiece film “St. Agatha,” a world premiere in which a woman is held captive by a coven of evil nuns; and closing night film “Hereditary,” a Sundance Film Festival favorite about a cursed family.
The Overlook Festival also will present its Visionary Award to Australian actor and filmmaker Leigh Whannell. Known for the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises, Whannell is screening his latest film, “Upgrade,” at Overlook.
“Leigh Whannell helped create the modern horror franchises,” Zakheim said last week. “His infusion of sci-fi and action into horror in ‘Upgrade’ showcases new ways to approach genre-based storytelling.”
Following last year’s inaugural Overlook Film Festival at the Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mount Hood, Overlook co-directors Zakheim and Michael Lerman picked the 200-year-old Bourbon Orleans Hotel for this year’s festival headquarters. The hotel meets a prerequisite for the site-oriented festival — it’s said to be haunted.
The hotel’s ghostly legends include a Confederate soldier who haunts the sixth and third floors; children and nuns (the building once housed the Sisters of the Holy Family convent, girls school, medical ward and orphanage); and a ghost who dances alone in the hotel’s ballroom.
Last year’s festival headquarters, the Timberline Lodge — reputed home for the ghosts of climbers and skiers who perished on Mount Hood — inspired the Overlook Film Festival’s moniker. Director Stanley Kubrick cast the Timberline Lodge as the exterior for the fictional Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.”
New Orleans and its distinctive locales also provided backdrops for horror movies, including “Interview with the Vampire,” “Angel Heart” and “Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh.” The city also was home to TV’s “American Horror Story.”
Although Overlook Film Festival co-directors Zakheim and Michael Lerman work with several film festivals — including the Toronto, Philadelphia, Palm Springs (California), Sundance and Denver festivals — they co-founded Overlook.
“We started the Overlook Film Festival out of a passion for genre storytelling and interactive and immersive live events,” Zakheim said. “It’s a labor of love for us.”
“Horror can lead to one of the purest moviegoing experiences,” Lerman added. “It’s a genre that exists only to make you feel something, which, at its core, is the basis of cinematic communication. It can also address so many things, from politics to race to adolescence.”
Lerman and Zakheim launched the Overlook Festival during high tide for horror. In 2017, the genre scored big with audiences and critics. Last year’s remake of Stephen King’s “It” is the highest grossing horror film in history ($376 million domestically).
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is both a commercial hit ($176 million) and the second highest-rated movie of 2017 at the movie website Rotten Tomatoes.
“We wouldn’t be doing this festival if we weren’t in an excellent period for horror,” Lerman said. “Between ‘Get Out’ and ‘It,’ horror is booming. And it’s is one of the few genres in Hollywood that produces original content, as opposed to pre-existing film properties.”
Zakheim and Lerman haven’t decided if they’ll stage next year’s Overlook Festival in New Orleans, but they’re delighted with the tourist-ready city so far. Last year’s Overlook location at Mount Hood proved challenging. Aesthetically correct though the site was, the Timberline Lodge’s remoteness and limited number of rooms forced many festivalgoers to commute up and down the mountain.
“We think of ourselves as a horror summer camp,” Zakheim said. “But as much as we love the isolation at the Timberline Lodge, it’s hard to get people to travel from distant places to a mountainside.”
New Orleans, with its thousands of hotel rooms and many movie theaters, is a much easier destination city for a film festival.
“It has everything we need,” Zakheim said. “We can introduce so many more folks to these extraordinary films and live shows. We’re grateful for all the people who have been so supportive of us at the New Orleans Film Society, Court 13 Arts and the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus.”