(Art by Dan Madden)
Our 2020 Festival, “Monsters at the Movies” is an occasion to build a stronger Albany community, and to create bonds between our students and the city that will be their home for four years or more. Since our first Festival in 2016, we have facilitated over thirty on- and off-campus community partnerships and have addressed themes as trendy and figurative as zombies; as diverse and impactful as science fiction; as broad and significant as food; and as personal and public as our inner demons and the outer, monstrous manifestations of cultural trauma. The Festival will take place online via YouTube on a dedicated channel from October 15-18, 2020.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,” wrote horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose own fictions were often fueled by his fears and the personal and social anxieties of the early 20th century. In Lovecraft’s writing, and in many of our fantasies, films, and fictions before and since, monsters confirm these enduring terrors. They conjure up feelings of horror and dread, images of the abject and the damned. They reveal to us our individual and cultural anxieties, and they give us something to slay when all other hope seems lost. And they do it all through the safe distance of the movie screen. As we struggle, in this defining moment, to re-examine the American identity, the metaphor of monsters becomes particularly apt.
We are planning our 2020 Festival at the height of the most pressing and global crisis facing the three or four generations alive today. Like most cultural traumas of this, or any, caliber, we will feel and see its implications in politics, the hard sciences, the arts, and the humanities for years to come. For centuries, long before cinema lit the silver screen, monsters provided a means through which societies could render, control, and therefore understand their time and experiences of trauma at the personal and cultural levels. In light of the Pandemic, it is even more important that we engage in productive discourse around our shared fears and anxieties, and the WCI Film Festival and Lecture Series provides such a touchstone for our campus and the wider community.
This year’s films include selections from cinema’s influential heyday of the monster, each of which set standards and tropes still in the minds of filmmakers and movie-goers decades later; mid-century fright-fests, which terrified and thrilled audiences by integrating elements of the zeitgeist into their monsters; and contemporary offerings by one of today’s most innovative names in political horror--Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Us (2018). Through the trajectory of these films and the introductions and open discussions that will accompany them, the power of movie monsters to encapsulate, communicate, and represent the world as it is felt and imagined inspires us to think more deeply about what monsters and heroes might best represent our time, our dreams, and our terrors.
While this year’s Festival will take place fully online, in order to keep both the university and Capital District communities central to the event, we have organized a Keynote Panel, comprised of university scholars and local theater and film personalities, to discuss the nuances, influences, and discourse surrounding Jordan Peele’s films and the future he envisions for horror cinema. The Festival will be free to students and the community and will feature a mix of live and pre-recorded events.