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In its 23rd year, the Carolina Theatre's Nevermore Film Festival still brings the frights

With Oscar nominations all over the media, it is easy to overlook anything film-related happening on the local front. However, the 23rd iteration of the Nevermore Film Festival, presented by Durham’s own Carolina Theatre, is a bona fide local institution that is not to be missed by anyone with a love of film — or just a free weekend. 

A juried competition festival founded in 1999, Nevermore puts up an annual display of brand-new feature and short films from around the world — all of which are centered around the themes of horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, thriller and mystery.

For people who are currently missing the spooky season or are year-round scary-movie junkies, Nevermore will satiate those cravings with a “three-day feast of the macabre” from Feb. 25 to 27. 

Jim Carl, senior director of film programming at the Carolina Theatre and founder of the Nevermore Film Festival, spoke with The Chronicle about what went into this year’s festival and what makes Nevermore so special.

During the beginning of his career at the Carolina Theatre in the 1990s, Carl worked on the inceptions of the OutSouth Queer Film Festival and the North Carolina Jewish Film Festival — both of which were identity-based and very local events. 

“When it came time to do a third film festival, I wanted to get away from [the identity focus] and do something genre-based. I've personally always loved horror, sci-fi and mystery films, so I thought, ‘Why don't we produce a horror film festival?’” Carl said. 

Two decades since that original idea, Nevermore Film Festival has screened over 1000 films and caught the attention of many publications and creatives across the film circuit. It has been named a “Top 100 Film Festival” by FilmFreeway and “one of the best horror film festivals in the world” by Dread Central. 

Carl revealed that Nevermore received over 500 submissions to the festival this year, and only 59 films made the final cut. A team of 22 volunteer jurors took three months to review all the submissions and narrow it down this year’s stellar lineup. 

“We are known among the festival circuit as one of the hardest film festivals to get into,” Carl said. “It makes it more appealing to those filmmakers who do get in because they consider it quite an accomplishment.”

“We’re just really happy that every year filmmakers come to the festival and say, ‘I have been trying to get into Nevermore for years!’” Carl said. 

Because of the pandemic, last year’s festival was in a virtual format for the first time for select states in the Southeast and Midwest regions. Unsure of how it would go, Carl ended up pleasantly surprised with virtual Nevermore’s success.

“It turned out to be our highest-attended and highest-grossing festival in 22 years,” Carl said. "People loved the idea of Nevermore being virtual.” 

With COVID cases beginning to decline in the Durham area, the Carolina Theatre decided to offer in-person viewing of the Nevermore Film Festival this time around in addition to the same virtual format as last year. allowing people to choose their festival experience at their own discretion. 

Not only will the theaters be filled with thriller and sci-fi lovers alike, but also the makers of these films themselves. Twenty-five different filmmakers are flying in from around the world to watch the festival in-person, according to Carl, because for many of them, it is the first time their film will be played in front of an audience. 

If you peruse the film guide and still cannot decide which ones belong at the top of your watch list, check out the 2022 Jury Awards — Nevermore’s own version of the Academy Awards with nearly 30 categories of recognition — to see if a particular winner grabs your attention. 

Some notable winners include “The Andy Baker Tape” for best feature film, “The Last Game” (Spain) for best international short, Samuel Dunning as Tim Travers in “Tim Travers and the Time Traveler’s Paradox” for best actor, “Jettison” for best science fiction short and Kevin Hughes with “Colossus” for best cinematography in a short.

The honor perhaps the most coveted by the filmmakers at Nevermore is the Audience Award. At every screening, audience members receive a ballot with numbers 1 through 10 which they use to rank the film. Once the ballots are collected and counted after the festival has concluded, the Audience Award is given to the film with the highest score as a measure of the crowd favorite feature. 

Whether you are tired of Netflix’s film selection, counting down the days until Halloween 2022, itching to get back to the theaters or simply wanting to support small artists, the Nevermore Film Festival will provide you exactly what you are looking for and more. With its expansive catalog of films from around the country and around the world, this year’s festival is an event you should totally check out.

For its 23rd year, the Nevermore Film Festival is offering both in-person viewing at the Carolina Theatre from Feb. 25-27 and virtual viewing via Eventive.org from Feb. 25 to March 3. For either option, you can purchase single movie tickets, a 10-movie pass or an all-access pass. More information about ticket pricing and viewing logistics can be found here

The Carolina Theatre is requiring all festival attendees to provide proof of a negative COVID  test within 72 hours or full vaccination for entry. Face coverings must be worn while at the theater except while eating or drinking. 

You can check out more about the Nevermore Film Festival on their website, Instagram and Facebook.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the title of the OutSouth Queer Film Festival. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

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