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September 14, 2011

H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival celebrates author’s legacy

Posted in: Fans,Movies

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"The Whisperer in Darkness" (H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society)

An Art Deco Los Angeles theater and a spooky short story are both celebrating their 80th anniversary this year. San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theatre and Rhode Island-born H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” may have never crossed paths, so to speak, in the days of their 1930s origins, but this weekend the two will be celebrated together at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, haunting its way into Los Angeles for a second year.

Kicking off Friday night, the festival is a celebration of the stories by the sci-fi/horror icon and adaptations of his work. This year’s festival will include screenings of short and feature films with many of the filmmakers in attendance, readings by Lovecraft-inspired authors and an exhibit of props and costumes from that timely adaptation of “The Whisperer in Darkness,” which was first published in “Weird Tales” magazine 80 years ago.

The festival has run annually in Portland, Ore., since Lovecraft enthusiast Andrew Migliore founded it in 1995. L.A.-based filmmaker Aaron Vanek organized a Los Angeles edition of the fest last year after having attended nearly every one in Portland, where he has screened some of his own Lovecraft adaptations.

“After 15 years of Portland, I can sort of sense there was a lull in energy, and I think we needed another spark,” Vanek said of bringing the festival to L.A.

HPLFF-LA 2011 will be “bigger and better” than last year, Vanek said, with two days of events to expand on last year’s single night of programming. About 200 people turned up for the 2010 fest; Vanek expects double that number this year.

Anticipated to be a highlight of the festival, “The Whisperer in Darkness” will screen Saturday night. It is the first full-length feature produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, which also brought “The Call of Cthulhu,” based on the author’s 1928 novella, to the festival in 2005.

Andrew Leman, the film’s co-writer/producer and HPLHS’s co-founder, pointed out that screening “Whisperer” in the Warner Grand creates “a unique opportunity to see a movie set in 1931 in a theater built in ’31″ and allows viewers “to imagine they’ve gone back to Lovecraft’s own day… to feel like you’ve traveled back in time, which is one of the things about the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society – we really enjoy that time travel experience.”

The movie was also shot in the style of a 1930s film, following the silent film treatment the Society gave “The Call of Cthulhu” to reflect the pre-talkies era writing of the story.

“There’s something in that beautiful black-and-white cinematography and the slightly theatrical style of [1930s films] that I think is really a good fit to the slightly overwrought, slightly hyper-intellectualized writing that is Lovecraft’s narrative voice,” said co-writer/director Sean Branney, also a HPLHS co-founder.

Branney and Leman will participate in a Q&A session after the screening, along with other crew and cast members. The exhibit of the film’s props, costumes and miniature sets will be on display in the theater’s Grand Vision Annex — attendees will be able to tour the exhibit during a VIP reception on Friday and at the closing night reception, which is open to all ticketholders on Saturday.

The short film contest will be judged by one of Hollywood’s best-known Lovecraft fans, Guillermo del Toro. The horror filmmaker won’t be at the festival as he’s currently preparing his upcoming feature “Pacific Rim” in Toronto, but a video of him announcing the winner will screen during Saturday’s awards ceremony.

The “Howie” award, an HPLFF tradition that honors filmmakers contributions to Lovecraft cinema, will be given to Roger Corman, who also will make a video appearance.

What might most excite any Lovecraft devotee, however, is the Friday night screening of the 1933 time travel film “Berkeley Square,” which Lovecraft saw four times and inspired him to write “The Shadow Out of Time.” Not commercially available  — and with only a handful of low-quality DVDs circulating among fans — the film is a rare sight. HPLFF will screen a new restored print from the Academy Film Archive.

The grandson of director Frank Lloyd will introduce the movie, which Vanek called “a holy grail for Lovecraft fans.”

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Matt Foyer in "The Whisperer in Darkness" (H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society)

“Just imagine, Lovecraft could have been sitting in a theater just like [the Warner Grand], watching this movie… This is a film that Lovecraft saw, and it inspired him. Maybe it’ll inspire you,” Vanek said.

That is what much of the festival is all about for Vanek: He hopes that long-time fans of Lovecraft and those just discovering the author will be inspired by the films, just as he was to direct several adaptations that bring Lovecraft’s works to life.

Tickets are available at Hplfilmfestival.com. Friday tickets are $11, Saturday tickets cost $16 and weekend passes cost $26. The full event schedule is also available at the festival’s website.

— Emily Rome

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