Watching a movie at the Montreal Fantasia International Film Festival can be a little different from the typical theatrical experience.
“People meow before screenings,” said Ariel Esteban Cayer, one of Fantasia’s programmers this year. He says the community experience is what makes the festival special.
“It’s very vocal,” he said. “I think you feel part of the community pretty quickly.”
The 26th edition of Fantasia, which bills itself as North America’s largest genre film festival, wrapped up on Wednesday. It featured films from a wide range of genres and countries, including 15 Canadian films feature films and 78 Canadian short films.
Belgian horror film Megalomaniac won the Cheval Noir as the best feature film of the festival and South Korean director July Jung won the award for best direction for her closing film Next Sohee, a drama about a high school student and a mysterious death. Jung’s film was also screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a seven-minute standing ovation.
Next Sohee is based on a true story that came to Jung’s attention through an investigative TV show, she told CBC News. She said she was motivated to create the story to keep the memory of the victim alive.
“I thought it wouldn’t be enough to present this incident as an investigative show or a documentary,” she said. “I felt that the victim…can be alive through the story, through the film.
“Even though I didn’t make my film thinking that I should make this film with this kind of genre or not, I think the public can consider my film as a kind of horror film because it deals with very desperate, miserable and difficult,” Jung said.
Watch | The Next Sohee trailer:
Canadians make their mark
There were also Canadian talents on the bill. Aristomenis Tsirbas grew up in Montreal attending Fantasia, and this week he got to see his own film make its world premiere at the festival: the science fiction youth adventure Temporal landscape.
The director called the experience a dream come true, noting that he’s still processing it a few days later. Temporal landscape follows the story of two strangers who discover a spaceship and are transported to the Cretaceous period.
“It was just an absolutely amazing, overwhelming, joyful experience,” Tsirbas said.
Temporal landscape is set to hit Canadian theaters on August 19.
Another Canadian recognized this year is filmmaker Kier-La Janisse, who won the festival’s Canadian Trailblazer Award. Janisse has been writing about horror for decades, with works like Psychotic Women’s Houseand a recent popular horror documentary, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched.
Acceptance of genre films
Janisse said she felt there had been a bigger shift in the acceptance and recognition of genre film in North America.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t have brought in a sales agent for a genre film,” she said.
There have always been fans of horror and other genres in North America, she said, but it took a long time for the press, the sales agents, the studios, the buyers of the industry and others to “understand how bad it really could be”.
Watch | The Timescape trailer:
However, festival programmer Cayer said he thinks the distinction between genre and other festivals is harder to understand today than it would have been 25 years ago.
“Of course, festivals show all genres, but then the missions of genre festivals became a kind of presentation of the weird and the eccentric… [those] who are maybe a bit underestimated or looked down upon,” he said.
As the genre has become more accepted, Cayer notes that Fantasia has grown to include social dramas and goofy comedies.
“We have kept over the years this … propensity for things [that] are a bit off the beaten track and a bit weird but have good energy,” he said.
Originally, Fantasia focused specifically on Asian cinema, and today it remains an important part of the festival. This year, Hong Kong director John Woo received a lifetime achievement award.
keep things weird
Among all the premieres, prizes and applause, there were also pickles. One of the festival’s short programs, hosted by DJ XL5, featured four entries on the subject, including Anette, by Joe Lebreux of Montreal.
The short film tells of an animated adventure aboard a California convertible with a pickle. This was Lebreux’s thesis project at Cégep du Vieux Montréal. As part of the experiment, she attended a rooftop party on one of Concordia University’s buildings last weekend.
“It was like I was in Hollywood with big celebrities,” she said. “I saw actors that I had known from childhood, and it was like, ‘Whoa, OK, I’m at the same party.'”
She was also struck by how she was received.
“Everyone was really nice and really proud of me,” she said. “I told one person that I had been chosen for two categories, and they started telling everyone.”
“I think it’s a special audience.”