Interview With Rabia Sitabi, Laura Vasquez, and Lauren Cupp Of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

Established in 2009, Horrible Imaginings Film Festival has become a genre fave. According to their website, HIFF “showcases the newest voices in horror, sci-fi and fantasy genre cinema.” From September 2 – 5, 2021, the festival is not only going virtual for those of us not in the Santa Ana area, but will also welcome attendees in person at The Frida Cinema (purchase tickets HERE.) To celebrate the upcoming season, I chatted with Project Director Rabia Sitabi, Director of Human Resources and Production Laura Vasquez, and Director of Marketing and Content Creation Lauren Cupp about how they became involved with Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, what movies sparked their passion, and diversity among the filmmakers.

PopHorror: How did you become involved with the festival?

Rabia Sitabi: It’s an amazing story actually. I met the Founder/Director Miguel [Rodriguez] on a social media app called Clubhouse in March while co-running a horror club. Due to the pandemic, I was spending a lot more time online, and some platforms such as drop-in audio ones really opened doors for me regardless of my geographical location. I pride myself on my pop culture and specifically my horror rich knowledge and have programmed for other festivals in Europe prior to the pandemic. Miguel saw/heard something in me and asked me to join the team. The rest is history.

Laura Vasquez: I started off as an audience member in 2010. At the time, the festival’s venue was at The 10th Street Market Place in San Diego. It was a little rough sitting in fold up chairs and bleacher seats, but the programming was amazing. I would attend every year and watch the festival grow and change venues. In 2015, Miguel asked me if I would help him behind-the-scenes to prepare for upcoming events. 

Laura Vasquez

Lauren Cupp: I had been a frequent festival-goer for a few years back when Horror Imaginings Film Festival was in San Diego and I had gotten to know Miguel. I remember Horrible Imaginings being my first real exposure to independent horror cinema. Last year when the festival went virtual, I emailed Miguel offering my assistance in order to make the event happen. I am a jack of all trades when it comes to digital content—thank you, new media companies!—so I figured whatever needed to be done, I would be more than willing to do it if it meant another year of Horrible Imaginings. I fell in love with the team and the community of filmmakers and genre fans, so I’m here to stay. 

PopHorror: What was the movie you watched that made you fall in love with film?

Rabia Sitabi: That is a difficult question! I am Egyptian Indian, so I grew up with a lot of movies as a kid. For me, the big spectacles when I was small were Bollywood movies, and when I was six, I saw the movie, Hum Aapke Hain Koun, in a cinema in India. The audience reaction and the colors and emotions hit me so hard. I was sold for life. That same year I “accidentally” saw my first horror film, The Thing, and it awoke the horror geek in me.

Laura Vasquez: WOW! Such a loaded question. One film that pops up immediately is The Way We Were. It has moved me throughout my lifespan. 

Lauren Cupp: The Goonies. I watched it non-stop with my brother growing up. Those kids were everything I wanted to be, and I remember this being the movie that truly took me out of reality and put me in an adventure with baby Sean Astin. I also showed it at a sleepover to my friends when I was eight, and half of them thought it was too scary and ran out of the room. I found out who my real friends were that night thanks to this movie. 

PopHorror: What are some of the biggest challenges faced preparing for and executing a festival?

Rabia Sitabi: Building and keeping enthusiasm long enough before the festival takes place and finding the perfect titles. More specifically, choosing from the immense pool of submissions and combining that with relevance.

Rabia Sitabi

Laura Vasquez: Fundraising and finding committed volunteers.  

Lauren Cupp: I’m not the first to say that the past two years have been difficult for film festivals. My experiences working with Horror Imaginings Film Festival have exclusively been in this COVID environment, and I believe that the future of any and every film festival is going to look very different from here on out. One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen is accessibility. We’ve been able to offer a virtual experience in a time where we cannot meet in person and have ultimately found success in that and want to continue pushing for a virtual component in the future. The challenge is, how do we provide excellent cinema experiences alongside in-person, in an effective way, without taking away from the community aspect which makes Horrible Imaginings so successful? There’s a way to do it for sure, it just takes some finagling. 

PopHorror: When you’re selecting submissions and/or judging, what are you hoping to find within these films?

Rabia Sitabi: Does it tell something we want our audience to see? I hope to get audiences to emote, to be touched, whether that is by fear or laughter or shock or amazement or tears. I want them to feel something that will stay with them.

Lauren Cupp: While I am not a programmer or judge for the films, I love it when I see a feature or a short that completely takes me by surprise. Something that makes me think that the impossible has just happened. I love subverting the genre like in Scream or Cabin in the Woods, and I am particularly impressed when short films do this in under a 10 minute runtime. Quick, clean, witty filmmaking, done by absolute film wizards.

Lauren Cupp

PopHorror: Are you satisfied with the diversity among the selected filmmakers, writers, etc.?

Rabia Sitabi: Definitely. As I mentioned I am European from Asian and African descent, and I always look for representation in the festivals I work with. There were a lot of choices this year, and we got some interesting perspectives.

Laura Vasquez: Yes!

Lauren Cupp: It has been especially exciting to see the map of where our films are coming from this year. Part of our mission statement is to explore our deepest fears, desires, and anxieties, and to foster a community of acceptance through this exploration. I believe that we best accomplish this by hearing from voices all over the world, which is what we’re able to do especially in a virtual format in the past year. 

PopHorror: What’s your favorite scary movie?

Rabia Sitabi: Of all time? Oh, that is a Sophie’s Choice. I have so many, and it changes each season. I guess The Thing might be one of my all-time favorites, together with Bulbbul, and Survive Style 5+.

Laura Vasquez: Night Of The Living Dead (1968).

Lauren Cupp: Re-Animator. The first horror movie I remember actually enjoying after being so anti-horror growing up. I immediately took to the practical effects, the wild humor, and the heart put into this movie. It’s what opened the doors to horror, the community, and ultimately to Horrible Imaginings.

Thank you so much, Rabia, Laura, and Lauren, for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival from September 2 – 5, 2021.

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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