Watching a film at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival might be a little different from the typical theatre experience.
“People meow before the screenings,” said Ariel Esteban Cayer, one of the Fantasia programmers this year. He says the communal experience is what makes the festival special.
“It’s very vocal,” he said. “I think you feel part of the community quite, quite fast.”
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 array of genres and countries, including 15 Canadian feature films and 78 Canadian shorts.
Belgian horror film Megalomaniac won the Cheval Noir as the festival’s top feature, and South Korean director July Jung won the best director prize for her closing film Next Sohee, a drama about a high school student and a mysterious death. Jung’s film also played 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 television program, she told CBC News. She said she was motivated to create the story in order to keep the victim’s memory alive.
“I thought that it would not be enough to just present this incident as an investigative program or 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 that audiences can consider my film as a kind of horror film because it deals with very desperate and miserable and difficult situations,” Jung said.
Watch | The trailer for Next Sohee:
Canadians making their mark
There was also Canadian talent on display. 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 youthful science-fiction adventure Timescape.
The director called the experience a dream come true, noting he’s still processing it a few days later. Timescape follows the story of two strangers who discover a spacecraft and are transported back to the Cretaceous period.
“It was just an absolutely incredible, overwhelming, joyous experience,” Tsirbas said.
Timescape is set to open in Canadian theatres Aug. 19.
Another Canadian recognized this year was filmmaker Kier-La Janisse, who won the festival’s Canadian Trailblazer Award. Janisse has been writing about horror for decades, with works like House of Psychotic Women, and a recent documentary on folk horror, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched.
Acceptance of genre films
Janisse said she feels like there’s been a wider shift in the acceptance and recognition of genre film in North America.
“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to get a sales agent to come to a genre film,” she said.
There have always been fans of horror and other genres across North America, she said, but it took a long time for press, sales agents, studios, industry buyers and others to “catch on to how broad it really could be.”
Watch | The trailer for Timescape:
However, festival programmer Cayer said he feels the distinction between genre and other festivals is more difficult to understand today than it would have been 25 years ago.
“Of course, festivals show all genres, but then genre festivals’ missions became kind of to showcase the weird and the eccentric … [those] that are maybe a little bit underappreciated or looked down upon,” he said.
As genre has become more accepted, Cayer notes Fantasia has grown to include social dramas and goofy comedies.
“We have kept over the years this … propensity toward things [that] are a little bit off the beaten path and a little weird but have a good energy,” he said.
Originally the focus at Fantasia was specifically on Asian cinema, and today it remains an important part of the festival. This year, Hong Kong director John Woo received a career achievement award.
Keeping things weird
Among all of the premieres, prizes and plaudits, there were also pickles. One of the festival’s short programmes, curated by DJ XL5, featured four entries on the subject, including Anette, from Montreal’s Joe Lebreux.
The short chronicles an animated adventure aboard a convertible in California with a pickle man. It was Lebreux’s thesis project at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal. As part of the experience, she attended a rooftop party at one of Concordia University’s buildings this past weekend.
“It was like, if I was in Hollywood with big celebrities,” she said. ” I saw some actors that I knew from my childhood, and that was like, ‘Whoa, OK, I’m at the same party.'”
She was also struck by how she was received.
“Everybody was really kind and really proud of me,” she said. “I told one person that I had been chosen for two categories, and she started to tell that to everybody.”
“I think it’s a special crowd.”