The Overlook Film Festival is more than a film festival. It is a festival honoring the best storytellers from around the world. Whether it’s through film, virtual reality, an immersive experience, a radio drama, or the spoken word, The Overlook Film Festival’s strength is in its ability to tell a damn good horror story. Welcome to horror summer camp.
Enter Government Camp, an otherworldly town with a population of 193 people, and cherry pie and coffee that would rival Twin Peaks. Then begin the 1,500-foot ascent up Mt Hood to reach the Timberline Lodge. The frozen road weaves back and forth as a forest of snow-tipped evergreens tower above. The wind howls and more snow bounces across the windshield. At the summit, you are greeted by the warm glow of the top windows. Mounds of pearly white snow rise up, covering the second-floor windows. You pinch yourself to prove this isn’t a dream. You’re in front of exterior of The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
While the location is more than enough to bring out the inner fanboy/fangirl in each of us, The Overlook Film Festival is so much more. For a film festival, it is truly wonderful how much emphasis and appreciation Overlook has for immersive entertainment. Bottleneck Immersive hosted a four-day long immersive horror experience that occupied the majority of time for players willing to fully immerse themselves in the world. A strong community formed to solve puzzles, interact with characters that fleshed out the narrative, and solve a series of murders that tied back to a massacre from twenty years back. For those who don’t want to spend the whole festival tracking down a killer, Dark Corner let players choose whether to be cremated or buried in their death-defying VR experience, Mule. Forerunners of immersive entertainment, Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor, challenged guests to face true fear in Blackout. Annie Lesser of ABC Project left patrons emotionally raw in The Overlook’s rendition of A(partment 8), entitled The Chalet. Clay McLeod Chapman led people into the dark corners of the lodge for intimate retellings of his famous The Pumpkin Pie Show stories, which included silly voices, intense moments, and extremely animated movements. And, Tales from Beyond the Pale wrote a live radio play specifically tailored to this unique location.
“Storytelling is the heart of this festival experience,” Landon Zakheim, co-creator of the festival, explains as a large fire crackles behind him. Michael Lerman, the other co-creator of The Overlook Film Festival, watches as players carrying nerf guns rush by, hunting “campers” as part of The Killing Ground’s immersive entertainment of the day. “There are so many forms of horror storytelling—and you have to include them if you want to showcase a complete package. We’re very lucky in that we have come to know and find voices that have incredibly refreshing ways of telling old stories in unique ways—it’s all experiential. There is a tradition of live story telling that feels essential to this festival.” He looks back at the fireplace—a centerpiece of the lodge. “We even have a camp fire that this hotel is built around.” Each of these events are tailored to the location. These are stories in which the location is integral to the story. “It’s great to hear the Pumpkin Pie Show and Tales from Beyond the Pale, but it’s even more special to make the journey up this long road, enter this haunting location, and see a radio play that was written just for this, just for today, and you’ll never be able to see or hear it again—except for right now.”
The Overlook Film Festival approached the curation of its immersive and interactive elements much like it would with its film programming, which is focused on finding a diversity of tones, storytelling, and storytellers. “For our live installations, we wanted to program in a few key experiences. If you’re going to have a focus on immersive experiences, Blackout is a forerunner of what many call the modern immersive experience.” Zakheim explains. “Much like how we have a Master of Horror Award, where we honor a living legend, Blackout is our way of honoring their contribution to the immersive history. Annie Lesser’s piece is a nice complement to Blackout because it demonstrates a different way of experiencing immersive entertainment while still fitting into the horror genre.” When you experience both, you get a huge variety of tone, emotion, and themes. These experiences offer guests two different ways that an artist can use their tools to elicit an emotion from their audience.
These immersive events were in high demand this past weekend. Both Blackout and The Chalet both had all slots fully reserved in under two hours after registration opened. As word spread of how emotionally charged both shows were, participants were eagerly signing up for waitlists, hoping someone wouldn’t show up. Thus, The Overlook Film Festival would love to expand and offer a home for more artists working in any kind of live form in the horror genre. “We have a wonderful site specific space and venue to accommodate those needs—whether it is a curated show or an original show. It is a big desire of the festival to support artists working in these fields.” Lerman continues, “I would love have more pieces build specifically for this space. We want this to be an inspiring experience whether you see a piece that inspires you to make something or if you meet another artist to collaborate with. I hope this festival becomes a campus for work and inspires people.”
So whether you’re here for the thirty-nine different films (twenty-two features and seventeen shorts from sixteen countries), for the immersive experiences, for the spoken word, or for the community, there’s plenty of stories to be told—and plenty of mysteries to be solved. Mystery has always been important to horror movies and is central to the Overlook Film Festival. Seeing someone half naked run out of a hotel room filled with two masked men is a mystery. Seeing a beautiful woman in a red dress standing alone outside a ransacked room is a mystery. Seeing a coffin in a dark corner of the Timberline is a mystery. Finding the burnt remains of a body in a shed behind the cultural center is a mystery. This is one of the most magical experiences I have ever done, but it’s all a mystery until you experience it yourself.
I urge you to plan a trip to The Overlook Film Festival next year. Drive up that evergreen-lined road and approach that snow globe that is the Timberline Lodge. Spend four days playing the immersive horror game and get lost in the other immersive experiences hidden throughout the corners of the lodge. Watch terrifying horror movies, eat the best huckleberry pie you’ve ever had in your life at the Huckleberry Inn, stay up until 3 AM playing board games in the hotel lobby, compete in horror trivia against all your new new friends, and sing karaoke at the top of your lungs. The Overlook Film Festival is a festival celebrating story tellers—but in doing so, it created some of the most memorable stories in my own life. I can’t wait to go back next year.
Afterall, I’ve always been there.