Guts, gore and so much more: hello Fantasia!
Ever wonder what it would look like if Jumanji and Natural Born Killers had a film baby?
Game of Death, a movie that's as playful as it is diabolical, is a close approximation according to director and Concordia grad Laurence “Baz” Morais Lagacé (BFA 06).
The kill-or-be-killed teenage bloodbath — replete with exploding heads — is just one of more than 130 genre titles screening at Concordia and elsewhere in the city during the Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs from July 13 to August 2.
Fantasia is one of Montreal’s most popular cinematic extravaganzas and the largest genre film event of its kind in North America. This year — which marks the festival's 15th on campus — features an eclectic and bold mix of movies from Asia, Europe and the Americas, with a focus on the imaginative.
“We’re going back to basics,” promises Fantasia programmer Ariel Esteban Cayer.
“Our lineup and guests really harken back to the cult roots of the festival.”
A raw, frenetic opening-night
Fantasia’s 21st edition will kick off at Concordia’s Sir George Williams University Alumni Auditorium (H-110) in the Henry F. Hall Building, with a screening of The Villainess, which epitomizes the adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
The film, which received a four-minute standing ovation at Cannes, tells the story of female assassin Sook-hee, who is bored by her new gig as a sleeper agent until her past suddenly finds her.
“It’s a great Korean revenge thriller in the tradition of Oldboy, and it edges on experimental in the way it conceives action,” says Cayer, who was particularly taken by the opening 20-minute point-of-view action sequence.
Back with a vengeance
As tradition dictates, opening night is a double header, which also features Takashi Miike's Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable, a highly anticipated live action adaptation of the famed manga series by the same name.
“There’s a lot of expectation in terms of how Miike will adapt the material to his own very energetic, eccentric style of direction,” Cayer explains.
Other Fantasia feature screenings — as well as shorts — will take place at Concordia in H-110, the J.A. DeSève Cinema and the D.B. Clarke Theatre.
A glimpse of the gore
Co-directed by fellow Montrealer Sebastien Landry, it tells the story of seven delinquent teens who happen upon a strange game while partying. Things take a dark turn when they realize the rules are literally “kill or be killed.”
Morais Lagacé describes the film as unconventional. “We wanted to try new things within the gore universe," he says.
"Throughout the film there are many shifts in form and style, from reality TV vibes to cinematic shots to animated sequences. We continually remind our audiences that they’re here to have fun even if they’re watching a movie about exploding heads and homicidal teens.”
Morais Lagacé graduated from Concordia with a BFA in Design over a decade ago. He says things have come full circle for him now that Game of Death is slated to premiere on campus.
“Nothing happens without a reason!”
'A deeply personal story of self-discovery'
Another Concordia graduate, Arshad Khan (BFA 12), will be hosting the Canadian premiere of his autobiographical documentary Abu at Fantasia.
In the film, Khan recounts his story of emigrating to Canada from Pakistan with his family and, soon after, realizing he was gay.
“With charming lyricism and a dash of good humour, Khan shares a deeply personal story of self-discovery and familial reconciliation,” writes Sudeep Sharma, a programmer for the LA Film Festival.
The film was well-received at screenings earlier this summer in the US. “We had a thrilling world premiere at the LA Film Festival followed by an even bigger splash at Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco,” says Khan, estimating that there were at least 1,000 people at the Castro Theatre screening.
"This heartfelt doc should speak to anyone who has struggled with their sexuality, spiritualism, and family, and finding a sense of peace," writes Gary Kramer, critic for the San Francisco Bay Times.
Simon O’Reilly wins the Fantasia Award
Film production student Simon O’Reilly received this year’s Fantasia Award, presented annually to a Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema student in partnership with the festival. The award comes with a $1,000 bursary and a screening at Fantasia.
“I feel honoured and touched to have been considered, and to have received the Fantasia Award after my very first year at Concordia,” O’Reilly says.
“It came rather unexpectedly and I think it highlights the importance of the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the efforts and faith we all put into this program and our films.”
This year, O’Reilly will have not one, but two of his shorts screened during the festival’s Fantastique week-end du cinéma québécois.
Pulsar tells the story of a young man suffering from anxiety. Hoping for a cure to his ails, he agrees to partake in a brain synchronization clinical study, but things quickly go awry.
“This film is a bit of an aesthetic exploration and was inspired by LED and neon colour lighting schemes that can be seen at electronic music festivals and in such films as The Neon Demon and Enter the Void,” O’Reilly explains.
“I wanted to create in-camera visual effects as opposed to run-of-the-mill computer-generated ones, and discover what was possible. By using many pieces of broken glass, I was able to distort the light and create a series of vibrant lighting streaks.”
Harvest, O’Reilly’s second short, is about a father and daughter on an ice-fishing trip whose lives are threatened by a sudden meteor shower that unleashes an infectious pathogen.
“The idea behind this film started with my interest in B-movie science fiction films and wanting to create something that was mostly improvised visually,” O’Reilly says.
“I was also interested in exploring and depicting an emotional parent–child relationship to see how it might enhance an action narrative.”
Concordia grads make their mark
Seven shorts produced by recent Concordia grads will also be screened during the Fantastique week-end du cinéma québécois.
In My Invisible Mother, Film animation alum Pascal Huynh (BFA 16) tells the story of a man who recalls the reason his mother put him up for adoption. The film was made using raw materials such as cardboard and newspaper and was inspired by both a friend’s true experience as an adoptee and Malvina Reynold’s song “Little Boxes.”
“The idea was to use these materials to embody the home and explore how the family unit can be oppressive to those who don’t fit the mould,” Huynh says.
Tia Joseph’s The Leaf Story depicts the journey of a joyful and naive leaf as it sets out to explore the wider world.
“My work is usually characterized by my own experiences and feelings, which embody a comedic approach,” says Joseph (BFA 17), who graduated from Concordia with a degree in Film Animation.
“I wanted to make a film that satirized naivety but it unintentionally became a reflection of my own fears of heading out into the unfamiliar animation world outside of university.”
Hi, It's Your Mother is a stop-motion short about Lisa, whose strained relationship with her mother comes to a head after an unexpected phone call. Meanwhile, Adam just wants to have his boyfriend stay over without mom noticing.
“The audience can expect to laugh, be shocked and hopefully a bit touched,” says creator and Concordia film animation grad Daniel Sterlin-Altman (BFA 16), noting the film explores the dynamic relationships between mother and child.
“The fact that two generations from seemingly opposite worlds can coexist in such natural companionship is very interesting. This film explores the relationship between trust and independence amongst family, and into that a queer narrative is also woven.”
The film is narrated by six-year-old Ryan, who was given free rein to come up with his own story.
“I like the idea of giving people who don't usually get to tell stories — in this case a really young guy — a microphone and place to say what they want to say, even if turns out a bit goofy,” Brett says.
In keeping with the youthfulness of the storyteller, the film’s aesthetic incorporates childlike drawings made with crayon.
The three other short films created by recent Concordia grads being screened at Fantasia are
Pomegranate Tree by Anna Maria Mouradia (BFA 17), Wake Up by Yu Qian Huang (BFA 17) and The Hoopoe And The Owls by Narges Haghighat (BFA 17).
A Lifetime Achievement Award for Larry Cohen
Independent American filmmaker and screenwriter Larry Cohen will receive this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at Fantasia. Best known as an auteur of horror cinema, Cohen produces films noted for their creative incorporation of social commentary, exemplified by such works as The Stuff, Q, Bone and It’s Alive.
After Cohen receives his award, audiences will be treated to the world premiere of Steve Mitchell’s King Cohen, a documentary that explores the filmmaker’s work and history, with special appearances from Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, John Landis and the like.
See it first at Fantasia
Two new features by Japanese anime legend Masaaki Yuasa will also premiere at the festival.
“The 2005 showcasing of Yuasa’s Mind Game remains one of the all-time highlights of the festival’s history, so we are happy to once again premiere his works,” Cayer says.
“He’s one of the best anime directors and is known for being completely unconventional and wild.”
The film networking event of the year
As the official home of Fantasia, Concordia also hosts the festival’s premier industry event, the Frontières international co-production market.
The genre-cinema networking platform, which runs from July 20 to 23, partnered with the Cannes International Film Festival last year. It is expected to connect at least 400 participants from across Europe and North America in Montreal.
“When Fantasia first started out it was a bunch of cinephiles who wanted to see their favourite films up on the big screen,” says Donato Totaro, part-time faculty member at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. He was instrumental in connecting Concordia with Fantasia back in 2002.
“But over the years, it grew into an influential international festival, and at some point, we realized it could actually help genre movies get made.”
What started as a small, one-day market in 2012 is now a sophisticated, professional, three-day networking event that connects filmmakers in genre cinema with potential funding and production opportunities.
‘A big screen in your living room’
If you’re still not sure what exactly Fantasia is all about, take it from Totaro:
“It’s pretty much like having the luxury of a big screen in your living room.”
One of the biggest perks of the festival is that major players in the industry (directors, actors, presenters) often sit amongst the larger audience at any given screening.
“Cinephiles still run the show and I think because of that they’ve been able to maintain a special intimate feel that is unique to Fantasia. If you’re courageous enough, you can even go out for a beer afterward with one your favourite genre movie icons!”