Well, the Fantasia International Film Festival is about to roll into town and as per usual, I will be there every day with a Red Bull in one hand and a Spicy Pinto Burrito from Burritoville (my favorite restaurant in Montreal) in the other, watching anything and everything in sight. Usually, I have the stamina to put in anywhere between 30 and 40 screenings over the three-week run of the festival. But this year, as I’m officially covering the festivities for Exploitation Retrospect and Rogue Cinema, I may have to break out the ol’ morning coffee with an energy drink chaser to get through the 60 films I’m planning to see.
For those of you who may not be aware of what Fantasia is all about, this is essentially North America’s largest genre film festival, with the key word here being, "largest." This year, there are 160 feature films being shown with at least twice as many shorts peppered throughout the festival in various blocks of programming. While the sheer volume of cinematic goodies may seem overwhelming to navigate through, fortunately, many of these films are divided into spotlights focusing on genre, director and even country, making it a little easier to decide what you ought to see this year.
Fantasia began in 1996 as a festival focused exclusively on Asian programming with an emphasis on action-adventure and anime and while the event has since gone on to be more inclusive of other countries and especially of other genres (as evident by the "artsy-fartsy" Camera Lucida section, for example), Fantasia fans of yesteryear will be very happy to learn that this year, there is a renewed emphasis on Asian action cinema vis a vis two very exciting spotlights – "40 Years of Kung Fu" and "Action!"
The celebratory purpose of "40 Years of Kung Fu" should be pretty self-evident. What you may not know is that the crown jewel of this block of programming is a special 35mm screening of Lo Lieh’s 1980 classic, FISTS OF THE WHITE LOTUS starring the incomparable, Gordon Liu! Another 35mm offering comes in the form of one of the two official closing films of the festival, PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION. The trailer for this looks absolutely fabulous and can be viewed on the Fantasia website (http://www.fantasiafestival.com). Other highlights include: DRAGON (from Hong Kong), THE KICK (from Thailand), and REIGN OF ASSASSINS (from China).
The "Action!" section features a plethora of "Fuck Yeah!" excitement primarily from Asia, though there is an anomaly from the Netherlands in the form of a NEW KIDS TURBO and NEW KIDS NITRO double-feature. I’m personally looking forward to seeing David Wu’s COLD STEEL as well as an 2-hour plus offering from India called SINGHAM.
But perhaps the spotlight that I’m looking forward to the most is "Axis: The Fantasia Animation Showcase." Since the beginning of the festival, animation has always had its little corner that seemed to draw more of the Otaku crowd than your typical Fantasia audience. But one thing remained constant with these screenings and that’s the fact that they always seemed to put butts into seats and offer some of the more genuinely mind-blowing content of the festival, even bettering its live-action brothers and sisters. So this year, it would appear Fantasia has woken up to this fact and decided to go all out and devote an entire block of programming to animated films from around the world. Nowhere is their confidence in this spotlight more evident than on Day Two of the festival where with the exception of the Cuban zombie film, JUAN OF THE DEAD, virtually every film playing in the Hall theatre (a.k.a. the major theatre where all the big films are usually screened) is an animated one. On that night, you’ll be able to catch CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES FROM DEEP BELOW, BLOOD-C: THE LAST DARK and GYO: TOKYO FISH ATTACK. Other animated films I’m planning to see are: WRINKLES (from Spain) and of course, the official closing film of the festival, PARANORMAN which will also be shown in 3D.
However, if your tastes veer more towards the esoteric, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of interesting films that cater to that side of the film-going public pendulum.
First off, there’s the aforementioned "Camera Lucida" spotlight, which boasts its most impressive line-up to date. Fans of the Mondo shockumentaries of the ’60s and ’70s will cream their pants over MONDOMANILA, a 2012 entry in the long-going series shot entirely in the Philippines. There’s also the Gus Van Sant-esque TOAD ROAD, which promises to be an experimentally appealing piece for fans of the genre. ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY from Germany and ISN’T ANYONE ALIVE from Japan are on my "Fantasia Watch-List" as I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Rik Mayall (of THE YOUNG ONES and BOTTOM fame) in the former and the latter’s comparisons to Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT seem intriguing enough to warrant checking it out.
Secondly, there’s the "Documentaries from the Edge" spotlight which is always a Fantasia favorite and almost always features a film that ends up in my top 10 of the festival. This year, the highlight has to be MY AMITYVILLE HORROR, which chronicles the affairs of Daniel Lutz, who was 8 years old at the time of the alleged happenings in the "haunted house." Some other recommendations include: the LOST IN LA MANCHA-esque, DESPITE THE GODS, THE MECHANICAL BRIDE and TOY MASTERS. There’s also going to be a very special screening of EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70S that unfortunately isn’t playing at the actual site of the festival per se. It will be screening at the Cinematheque Quebecoise alongside several gems of Italian genre cinema such as STARCRASH, Lucio Fulci’s THE NEW GLADIATORS and more. Though keep in mind, the majority of these are screening in French without English subtitles. I say this is a shame because the CQ is nowhere near the vicinity of where the majority of Fantasia action takes place, so if you want to check that out, you may run the risk of missing out on some key titles being shown this year.
Finally, there are spotlights on two very distinct countries and cultures – "Denmark-Norway" and "Philippines." The latter is a very interesting bit of programming in that for us Italian horror fans, particularly of Italy’s ’80s output, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing so many of these pictures shot in the Philippines but never thought to consider what films shot by Filipino filmmakers might be like. Well, thanks to the advent of digital technology which has finally found its way down there, Fantasia is proud to present several fine examples of a cinema you never thought you’d ever live to see. I’m pretty much planning to check out everything, including: the action-adventure, AMOK, the crime-thriller GRACELAND, the comedy THE WOMAN IN THE SEPTIC TANK and possibly even MONDOMANILA, despite my intense dislike for Mondo films.
I can go on and on about what I’m planning to see this year. With 60 films on my plate, I think it’s safe to say I’ll be seeing a little bit of everything this year. I’ll be providing week-by-week coverage of the festival, which will include: reviews of all the films I’ve seen, general notes of festival happenings and quite possibly some interviews with guests and other Fantasia personnel.
One thing I have to say, even without having seen anything yet is that there seems to be a genuine sense of discovery this year that has been lacking in previous editions. One of the major critiques Fantasia gets from some quarters is the fact that a lot of the films that are shown have either been released on DVD, are about to be released on DVD or have an imminent theatrical release, thereby killing the "must-see" vibe of these screenings which is critical for the success of any festival. After all, why pay x amount of money for a ticket to see something that for a few dollars more, you’ll be able to own on DVD a week after it’s shown at the festival? I knew things were different this year when with the exception of V/H/S and a few other select titles, I couldn’t recognize any of the films being shown this year. I almost feel like I’m back in 1997 where many North American genre films were introduced to Italian horror films for the first time, or to the works of John Woo and other acclaimed Asian filmmakers.
Fantasia may be turning sweet 16 and as per tradition, is prime and ready to do some experimentation that it may or may not regret the next morning, but it’s good to see that it’s also remembering how it got to be 16 in the first place and as such is offering its most diverse and challenging programming to date.
Oh, and Luke Skywalker’s going to be at the fest this year.