Fantasia festival overview: Fantastic fore

Fantastic fore

Ken Russell directs Reed and Redgrave on the set of 1971's The Devils

Festival frontman Mitch Davis gives us fair warning for this year's Fantasia International Film Festival

Like many Montrealers, some of my most intense moments as a moviegoer have happened in July, among the screaming fans at Fantasia. My personal favourite movie moment was an instance of pure cinesthesia: During a paroxysm of abject terror at a 2007 screening of Neil Marshall’s The Descent, I involuntary bit the person next to me (I’m still buying her beers to try and make up for it.)

Hour sat down with festival frontman Mitch Davis to take stock of Fantasia on the eve of its 13th year.

Hour How do you see the festival growing up, if at all? What are your hopes for its future directions?

Davis We’ve always done what we wanted as far as programming goes, but relatively meagre budgets have limited us with regards to scale, the level we were able to do it on. What we want to evolve into is essentially an even bigger and crazier version than what we are now. Not in terms of audience, because we already have the greatest audience in the world, but in terms of the level of spectacle that we can bring to what we do here: the number of special guests, the ability to mount freaky ambitious multimedia and expanded cinema events, performances, panels, outdoor screenings, etc. We’ve always been into taking risks – like our audience – and there are some pretty outlandish things that we’d love to try if we can afford it. We’re getting there.

Hour Is Fantasia achieving some kind of legitimacy in the eyes of the funding authorities? You’re finally receiving the grants, yes?

Davis Yes! The establishment’s been coming around and now that they’re attending some of our screenings, they’ve been very impressed to see these massive crowds of mostly young people coming to see subtitled films from across the world, not to mention the unusual range of what our programming encompasses.

Hour Does this kind of success constrain the fest in any way, or do you see it as encouragement to keep doing what you’re doing, and more of it?

Davis No constraints at all. It’s like a fever dream come true for us. Having more institutional support is what’s allowed us to mount the big Metropolis event, bring Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs to town to perform their mind-blowing stage play (as opposed to just host a screening), do a Cocteau screening with Steven Severin performing a live score, invite a ton more foreign filmmakers than usual. It’s a blessing, and there hasn’t been a single compromise. The government’s been totally supportive and now that they’re looking at us, they’re genuinely interested in what we’re doing.

Hour What are you personally most excited about, if you have to narrow it down to one or two things?

Davis I can’t narrow it down to one or two things! Seriously! I can’t! Nevermore, the Serbian and Religion spotlights, Black Death, Marwencol, Centurion (and finally getting Neil Marshall to Montreal), Metropolis… Actually, I think the thing I’m most ridiculously excited about is getting Ken Russell here. That man’s work means the world to me and I think he’s criminally underacknowledged these days. He’s Britain’s greatest living filmmaker and The Devils is still one of my favourite films of all time.

Fantasia International Film Festival
Various locations, July 8-28
For full schedule, see www.fantasiafest.com
Watch Hour and hour.ca for previews and reviews!

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Hour: You have told me that certain films in the program this year are some of the most transgressive works you’ve ever seen onscreen. Care to draw the reader’s attention to some of them?

Davis: I was talking about A Serbian Film. I do think it’s the most transgressive film I’ve ever seen, but it goes beyond simple shock. It’s smart, confrontational filmmaking with a strong political undercurrent and an incredible sense of urgency. It’s an absolutely ferocious film, completely unshakeable in its impact. Just devastatingly powerful. And of course, much like Porno Gang, it’s coming to us straight out of hell, in a sense. The new generation of Serbian filmmakers are coming from a recent history so terrifying, it’s inconceivable to the Western world, and the way they’re using cinema to come to terms with their situation, as both a response and an exploration, is extraordinary. They’re pushing boundaries in ways that cinema seldom has the courage to do, and they’re doing it with intelligence and honesty. A Serbian Film is only really extreme for a small part of its running time, it’s not a blood and guts spectacle like Saw VI or whatnot. What makes it so startling is what it has in its heart, its point of view.

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