HellaCon, a film festival and pop culture convention hybrid taking place this year Nov. 5 at the Harmonic Brewing brewery and taproom in San Francisco, was born squarely into the space left behind in the Bay Area following WonderCon’s relocation to Anaheim.
The absence of a comic convention space post-WonderCon made HellaCon “both a need and a nice-to-have,” according to Chad Liffmann, co-founder of the event alongside partner-in-crime Christina Kishpaugh.
The founders of HellaCon pride themselves on the diversity the event showcases. “Whether it’s the art medium or ethnicity,” Liffmann said, “we want to kind of set this unique standard for a really, truly diverse and eclectic event.” It is this eclectic nature — and its name — that marks the convention a distinctly Bay Area event.
This wide variety of works includes concerts, panels and an open mic storytelling event organized by StorySlam Oakland. But the highlight of the convention is its short film festival, set to take place in the evening after the buzz of panels, presentations and other traditional convention mainstays have died down for the day.
The presenters and performers also fall across a wide, locally sourced spectrum of artistic mediums.
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, organizer of the weekly film series MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS at the Roxie Theatre and a presenter at last year’s HellaCon, is coming back this year with a new, updated presentation on how to watch movies. “Everybody loved his presentation last year,” Liffmann recalled.
With the inaugural convention held last year at the New Parkway in Oakland, HellaCon is still an underdog in the wide arena of arts events in the Bay Area, something that Liffmann is very cognizant of. Given that each weekend presents its own calendar of exciting happenings in the area, it is no surprise that a new event looking to find its way into this calendar can be something of an uphill battle.
The funding model that Liffmann and Kishpaugh have used for the past two years is a testament to this — and to the fact that it has been a winning battle so far, even with some minor roadblocks. “Actually last year, our Kickstarter failed,” Liffmann admitted. “We still took it on because we were passionate about it.”
Following this passion seems to have been the right answer for Liffmann and Kishpaugh, whose Kickstarter campaign this year met its goal of $9,000. In doing so, HellaCon has become both a community-funded and a community-driven event by providing HellaCon with valuable feedback on what worked for last year’s festival and what new things attendees wanted to see.
Liffmann and Kishpaugh’s hard work in organizing the event is the ultimate culprit in its success — a level of success which is all the more astonishing given that neither of the two have had any previous experience with organizing events on such a large scale.
“Every single task has been a learning curve,” Liffmann said. Still, he feels that organizing the event is nothing less than rewarding. “I lost a lot of sleep. And some money. But it’s been worth it,” he said. “If a presenter or an attendee says it was awesome and they want to come back next year, that means we’re doing it right.”
Moving forward, HellaCon is looking to expand its cultural sphere of influence. Liffmann hopes that HellaCon sets a higher standard for conventions — both with regards to diversity and with regards to bringing the local to the limelight.
“Even if there’s another (convention) that comes along and gets a lot more people going to it, if they stick to that standard and are really focused on the local,” Liffmann said. “I think that will be a win for everybody, even us.”
HellaCon is set to take place on Nov. 5 at Harmonic Brewing.