The darkening days of October are host to jack o’ lanterns, costume parties, and all manner of spooky yard decor.

But in Whatcom County, the time leading up to Halloween also means a new round of ghoulish films debuting at “Bleedingham,” the annual horror short film festival held each year at Pickford Film Center.

Taking place each year on the weekend before or of Halloween, the film festival provides creative opportunities for local filmmakers and horror enthusiasts to bask in gore and jump scares, among other creepy delights.

“It’s fun,” says festival co-founder Gary Washington. “We don’t like real-life horror…we just like scary movies and making them.”

A Decade of Thrills

Washington — a Western Washington University graduate, videographer, and film editor — co-founded Bleedingham in 2011 with Bellingham special effects artist Langley West.

The event’s formation occurred after another out-of-town festival took place at the Pickford and got a bit out of hand. Rowdy event patrons even stole things from the theater, Washington recalls, and local filmmakers later congregated at a nearby alehouse to commiserate over the lack of respect shown to the Pickford.

If they had their own festival, they reasoned, they’d do it respectfully and make it a true community event. A horror film festival also didn’t exist locally, and Washington — studying visual communications with a focus in social justice — was excited by the idea of an outlet to tell creative stories without the burden of a serious message.

Once the group had sobered up the next day, the idea still sounded tremendous to those who’d discussed it.

Bleedingham was founded in 2011 by local videographer Gary Washington (left) and special effects artist Langley West (right). Photo courtesy Bleedingham

Though Bleedingham is undoubtedly fun, Washington says it also intended to generate interest in filmmaking while providing opportunities to practice the skillsets associated with it, whether in front of or behind the camera.

The festival was also inspired by local predecessors like “Trailer Wars,” the annual Pickford-held event in which local filmmakers produced all manner of movie trailer.

Over the years, Bleedingham has grown from receiving a handful of sub-15-minute, Washington-based horror films to sorting through more than 100 submissions a year from across the globe. Budding filmmakers have used their Bleedingham experiences as a launch pad for further success and networking in the industry, and chosen award winners now receive hundreds of dollars in prize money up to the $1,000 grand prize.

Any money the festival makes goes right back into the next year’s budget, says Michelle Barklind, Bleedingham’s events manager and Washington’s wife. Langley, the other festival founder, is a host, poster artist, and trophy maker.

The festival is also judged by a diverse panel of creatives — from writers and filmmakers to effects artists — who have professional story-telling experience and particular expertise in the horror genre.

“We’re really proud of our spread of judges,” says Washington.

The film festival isn’t just fun; it provides a very public opportunity for locals to practice and showcase their filmmaking skills — whether behind or in front of the camera. Photo courtesy Bleedingham

Even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Bleedingham still took place as a virtual event.

The principal hosts took COVID tests before gathering in a studio to record award segments, which were played between the festival’s film screenings. With help from the Pickford, Bleedingham remained a ticketed event, livestreamed from the theater’s website.

Getting Gory

Bleedingham is now a three-day weekend festival, with three primary submission categories.

This includes feature films, of which one is chosen by judges for its own Pickford screening. This year’s selection, yet to be announced, shows Friday, October 27 at 8 p.m. A pre-festival pre-funk will precede the screening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Grand Avenue Ale House.

Saturday, October 28 will showcase Washington-made films in the other two main categories — 15- to 30-minute films and those less than 15 minutes in length — at the 8 p.m. awards ceremony. All films entered have been made in the last two calendar years and are either horror or thriller in genre.

Awards are divided between in-state and out-of-state production, with the grand prize of $1,000 only eligible to a Washington-state entrant. Despite the expansion of participants, Bleedingham’s heart still remains in its shortest block of locally-made movies.

Bleedingham features locally- and internationally-made short films in the horror and thriller genres, with no shortage of special effects makeup. Photo courtesy Bleedingham

“That’s where we started,” Washington says. “We want to make sure there’s a place where a Washington filmmaker can go and tell their story, be judged by their peers, and receive accolades for their work and recognition in their own community. We feel like that builds a more confident, stronger filmmaker.”

An afterparty with drink specials will follow Saturday’s screening and local awards ceremony at 11:30 p.m. at The Racket Bar & Pinball Lounge.

On Sunday, October 29 at 4:30 p.m., Bellingham’s “Creepy Cornucopia” will take place, screening Washington and international films at the Pickford. The winner of the festival’s “Five Minute Film Challenge” will also be shown, with the winner receiving $200. The event will also showcase a Student Film Challenge winner, with the chosen filmmaker getting $250.

Creepy Cornucopia audience members will be eligible for prizes provided by dozens of local businesses who support the festival.

At 7:30 p.m., Bleedingham concludes with more international selections. It’s often regarded as the festival’s most frightening block of films.

So, if you’re looking for some spooky socializing and film-watching this Halloween season, Bleedingham might just be the ticket for you.

“It’s just a wonderful way to bring our community together,” Washington says.

Tickets for this year’s festival go on-sale October 16 and can be purchased from the Pickford website.

Now in its 12th year, the Bleedingham Film Festival takes place at Pickford Film Center October 27 through 29. Photo courtesy Bleedingham
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