Overlook Film Festival

When you host a film festival at the actual location that served as the outside of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you don’t need to do a whole lot to provide atmosphere. But the snowstorm sure didn’t hurt.

That’s what travelers to the inaugural Overlook Film Festival were greeted by last Thursday as they made their way up the treacherous mountain pass to the iconic lodge. The Timberline Hotel is an utterly gorgeous location, a still-functioning ski lodge on top of a snowy mountain about 60 miles outside of Portland. To say it’s picturesque would be putting it mildly, but we didn’t see much in the way of anything on the way up. Whiteout conditions and a driver using tire chains for the first time led to a harrowing journey up the slippery road. We made it intact, but later on, I heard from more than one person who had fishtailed all over the place, or even ended up in the snow.

It was one helluva way to kick things off a weekend filled with horror movies, haunted houses, and an immersive “game” that thrust me into an actual horror story, that’s for sure.

Overlook Hotel

Location, Location, Location

While the Timberline Hotel served as the exteriors for the Overlook, the interiors were shot in the The Stanley Hotel in Colorado, the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write the novel in the first place. But even though there’s no hedge maze and the interior isn’t recognizable, the Timberline’s rustic interior was still appropriately spooky…and it has the requisite ghost stories you’d expect from a hotel this old.

I was staying in room 215, which was next to the infamous room 217 from the book. The film changed the number to 237 because the owners feared that guests wouldn’t want to stay there, even though, of course, the opposite is true. Sadly, the only strange noises were those of neighbors talking through the paper-thin walls and walking in the room above me – the hotel provides free earplugs for your stay because it’s got nothing in the way of soundproofing.

I got to my room with enough time to take a quick nap (it’s a long trip from the other side of the country) and then attend orientation for the Immersive Horror Game that would be going on all weekend. And this is where things start to get a little creepy.

Overlook- Security

The Game is Afoot

Continuing from the same organizers’ Stanley Horror Film Fest years ago, the immersive game is an interactive experience that tries to place you inside a real-life horror movie. In signing up for it, you could choose one of three tiers; Lurker, which would just provide you with story recaps via emails; Player, which I chose, which allowed you to attend game events and receive puzzles and player interactions; and Hunter, which would consume your life, allowing them access to your room, personal belongings, and require your consent for…physical interaction. The Hunters were often seen roaming in a pack, trying to piece together clues, but it’s a good thing I chose the lesser tier because I didn’t have the time to really dive deep into the story provided, although the people that did were certainly rewarded.

At the orientation we were told of the few rules to follow…and were warned that an “escaped killer” was on the loose. Signs up all over the hotel guided players to inform the security team of any strange interactions and certainly must have confused any guests who were just staying there just to ski.

Later on, we would receive a frantic email from a researched who claimed to have clues to what was going on. It was just the first of a number of events set up for players.

Overlook- Goldsman and Blum

First Blood

But first, it was time to kick off the fest with Akiva Goldsman’s Stephanie, a movie about a kid left alone during an apocalypse who has a lot of issues. After the screening, Goldman and producer Jason Blum (the film is a Blumhouse production) came out for a Q&A, and to inform the world that they were working on a remake of Firestarter.

Sadly, this is where we learned that the screening presentation was less than optimal. It’s really no fault of the organizers, who did the best they could by propping up great screens and ensuring wonderful image quality, but the Timberline simply isn’t equipped for theatrical screenings.

As such, they ran into some major issues in the two impromptu cinemas. One was the chairs, which are the typical kind you find in any hotel meeting room. They were not comfortable and when you’re sometimes watching four-to-five movies a day, it wasn’t easy on your butt. Plus, it was just a regular room, which meant that sightlines were tricky for the shorter among us, who had to try and look between people’s heads to see the screen.

Another issue was the projector itself, which was loud. In both screening rooms, it was located at the back of the room and the fan to keep it cool was so noisy that it drowned out quieter dialogue in the films, and led to a screening of Capture – an interactive movie that’s made to work in conjunction with a mobile phone app – not work as intended. The room also became stifling thanks to ventilation issues!

Hot, noisy, uncomfortable…there are not good words to associate with your screenings, but the programming was worth it and it ran seamlessly. I’ve attended famous festivals that have run for years that weren’t run nearly as smoothly as this, and it’s to the Overlook team’s credit that they nailed it their first time at this location. I have faith in them to see what was done here and only improve it in future years.

The numbers of films being screened was fewer than most fests, but with the caveat that the ratio of solid entries was far greater. I think I speak for most festival attendees that they’d rather a manageable amount of great films than dozens of middling quality. (A full report of the films is incoming, a number of which you’re going to want to track down.)

That opening night party involved a satanic burlesque crew, which was as good as it sounds. And it frightened away all the ski bros staying at the lodge. So, bonus.

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