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netribution > features > interview with adele hartley
Adele Hartley, founder of the Dead by Dawn film festival agreed to meet Morna Findlay in the Edinburgh Filmhouse bar. With her long auburn hair and passion for blood, it’s easy to envisage her in a velvet gown (fishtail of course), inviting the unwary back to her castle…
The annual horror fest which, for fans of the genre, has become the Cannes of contemporary chillers. Breaking on March 30 and ending with the rising sun sometime on April 2, the festival gets off to a suitably hair-raising start with an evening of story reading. Naturally these are not of the bedtime-reading variety. This year, Dead by Dawn is thrilled to be focussing on Spanish and Japanese cinema, two areas which are keeping the genre alive with exciting, innovative, beautiful horror movies.
| by morna findlay
dead by dawn
| in edinburgh

So, with a week to go, what do you have left to do?
Oh – work all night tonight on finalising the programme to get it to the printers by 8:30am tomorrow, read the proofs on Thursday and then again on Friday; The last films are due here on Monday….then I have to prepare all the posters for the Filmhouse and for the Lumiere, make arrangements for the guests, set up their sightseeing…

What will the guests at a Horror Movie Festival like to see round Edinburgh?
(Laughs) Well, scary things naturally. We’ll take them down Mary Kings Close (subterranean streets deserted since the Black Death) and Roslin Chapel (home of the Knights Templar) of course and the castle and maybe out of town to Tantallon – there are so many places!

The guests introduce their films, and attend a Q&A session afterwards, attend signing sessions and announce the competition winners.

What kind of staff do you have to help you run the festival?
Tolerant friends mostly! They do 'walker duties' to help people new to Edinburgh get around and airport runs, box-office work and more or less anything I ask! They are all volunteers.

And for the rest of the year?
Well – there’s me! Though since 1999, since Dead by Dawn hooked up with the Edinburgh Filmhouse, James Mackenzie the Filmhouse Deputy Director has helped considerably with programming and so on. But for the first eight years I was more or less on my own but with the support of many fantastic people who wanted to see the festival suceed.

How did Dead by Dawn start?
A dare. I was talking to a friend....well, moaning about how there were no decent horror films to see and no festivals to go to and he dared me to organise one. So I did and I’m now finally doing what I always wanted to do!

And how does one organise one’s own festival?
Well, I phoned the BFI and got some information from then and then phoned the Edinburgh Filmhouse and booked it for a date six months away. I then went home and had a panic attack. I showed five films that year, and had one guest. I never saw Dead by Dawn as being anything more than a one-off event until one of the punters asked me, "What’s on next year?" - and so Dead by Dawn has continued.

And it ran without any hitches?
We opened with the original Nosferatu, advertising it as being "with piano accompaniment". Then the Filmhouse phoned me the day before and said , " Err… did someone tell you we had a piano?" They had thrown it out and not thought to tell me! It cost me five hundred pounds to get a piano, and we got it in place with minutes to spare. I wonder how many film festival audiences get their first glimpse of the festival director pushing a piano across the auditorium??

What is your background?
Well, apart from experience in stage-management, my only qualification for doing this is that I loved Horror and fantasy movies. I went to a lot of other festivals, like "Black Sunday" and I knew what kind of festival I’d like to create. I wanted to watch Horror with other Horror fans so I run a festival I’d be happy to pay for myself.

Who is Dead by Dawn’s Audience?
There’s no easy answer to that. I can tell you that only 30% of our audience is local – over half of them travel more than 200 miles to get here. They come from the Hebrides, from Inverness, from the North of England, from London and I have a regular Dublin contingent. One thing that has changed is that 30% of our audience is now female: in the beginning very few women attended.

You talk about Dead by Dawn’s audience with a lot of affection:
Well, I’ve to know them over the years. We have a very high proportion of regulars. The whole idea behind Dead by Dawn was that I wanted to watch Horror with other Horror fans. So I created my own festival – one that I’d be happy to travel to and pay money for. People travel long distances, pay for hotels, attend every screening, speak to me in the bar, come year after year – even hand over next year’s ticket money before leaving. I’m determined they’re going to get good value. Last year one guy was stuck for sixteen hours on a bus with fifty rugby fans to get here. He collared me in the bar and said, "Please don’t hold this on the same weekend as the Home International rugby matches ever again." Well – sixteen hours with fifty rugby fans – can you imagine? He’ll be safe this year.

What is the appeal of Horror? It’s a mystery to me!
I grew up reading Science Fiction - the genres have many similarities - and I suppose that Horror fans like a bit of vicarious adventure. Film has the power to switch off the other senses and make the visual real. So you can really get close to the adventure while being in absolutely no danger. And the rules of the genre are very important.

The rules are?
All Horror scenarios come with a set of rules, whether that be a haunted house or a demonic possession. One of the great joys of the genre is finding a film that plays with these boundaries. Of course, in certain sub-genres like stalk ‘n slash, we can always take it as read that all sex is punishable by death! Men will insist on going into the cellar unarmed and being all macho, only to come back in six pieces, and of course the underdog always survives, but that’s not unique to Horror.

So teenagers who stay in their bedrooms and do their homework will be OK?
Oh yes...unless they don’t take the powers of darkness seriously of course!

This year Dead by Dawn is having a Short Film Competition. Why did you decide to hold one?
People kept sending me unsolicited tapes, and some were great and I wondered what to do with them all. So I decided to have a competition and put out one call for entries last year: the closing date was Halloween, but entries are still coming in. We received hundreds of tapes but we managed to whittle down the short-list to ten.

How did you select the short list?
The final ten films betray nothing about the budgets the filmmakers had or the other constraints they worked under. In all ten what you see is not dictated by the budget – but by the filmmakers’ vision and their drive to get that vision on screen.

How will the winner be chosen?
By the audience. We’ll have one winner and two runners-up and announce them at the closing movie on Sunday. There’s no monetary prize, but we’ll do our best to promote the winner in every way we can.

What are the highlights of the festival for you?
We have The Nameless as the opening film. It’s based on a story by Ramsay Campbell and directed by Jaume Balagueró. I watched this in a packed cinema earlier this year and in the last scene, there was this great collective "Ohh!" from the audience as every person sucked in their breath simultaneously. A very, very dark film. A great opener!
Our closing film, Faust is brilliant too. It comes from Fantastic Factory Productions: they are committed to making fantasy and horror movies in Europe for the European audience over the next seven years, which is great news.
Our Horror All-nighter is great fun. It’s fun to start at the witching hour and settle down for a good night’s horror. That’s what makes people keep coming back.

What is the special role of Dead by Dawn in the UK Film Festivalcalendar?
I think for Horror fans, there is nowhere better for them to go to see the very best that the genre has to offer. A dedicated festival, Dead by Dawn aims to concentrate purely on Horror - the films, the literature, the great names, the fx and indulge that in a weekend of pure, unadulterated excess"

How do you view the prospects for the genre in European Cinema?
This is an exciting time for fans as Fantastic Factory have made a commitment to produce seven genre movies in three years - the first four being Arachnid, Beyond ReAnimator, Dagon and of course Faust, which receives its British Premiere at Dead by Dawn. For a genre that suffers occasional droughts, the Fantastic Factory project gives the European future of the genre some security and longevity, and that can only be a good thing."

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