Many of the world’s largest film festivals screen the biggest and brightest mainstream movies, documentaries and pseudo-indie features to great, and ongoing, success – but what about those true genre films, the lively B movies, exploitation horrors and groundbreaking micro-budget Asian efforts that would never normally see the light of day (or the darkness of an auditorium) in a modern multiplex?
Step forward Montreal’s famed Fantasia International Film Festival. Originally a showcase for – at least among casual cinemagoers – little-known films and animation from Japan and Hong Kong, where it was variously known as Fant-Asia, Fantasia-fest or FanTasia, the fest has grown into what trade bible Variety describes as one of ‘Canada’s hottest film events’ that no self-respecting anime lover or underground gorehound could possibly miss.
Since its inaugural festival in 1996, where 60 films – from the likes of a then more-or-less unheard of John Woo – screened to eager genre fans, Fantasia has morphed into a buzzing, high-energy yet ultra-friendly mega-event, spanning three weeks every summer in the heart of Montreal, with a massive program of premieres, panels, discussions and post-screening parties which frequently last until the sun comes up, all geared to providing a platform for some the most innovative and dynamic work that would never normally be seen within North American cinemas – and it is not just Hong Kong and Japan where they curate their genre films from any more, but the whole world.
Now in its 18th year and viewed as the largest and most important festival of its kind in North America – not to mention one of the country’s most popular fests overall – the 2014 Fantasia program contained more than 160 features and nearly 300 shorts from international filmmakers, a large number of which were receiving their world premieres. The event is now so prestigious that the star names continue to attend each year – from Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper to Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill, Aliens actor Michael Biehn and special effects guru Tom Savini – along with over 400 industry insiders, 70 directors, producers and actors premiering work, and nearly 100,000 attendees during the three weeks. Prominent movies which have received premieres here include the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost double of Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, Kevin Smith’s controversial Red State, and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
With a multi-pronged program of international co-production markets (Frontieres), audience Q&As, book launches, outdoor projections and tributes, including lifetime achievement awards – previous winners have included John Landis and Tobe Hooper – and the prestigious Prix AQCC for those ‘blazing new paths of cinematic discourse’, the Fantasia Festival is the true leader on the genre film scene.
The 19th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 16th to August 4th 2015 at its home of Concordia Hall Theatre at Concordia University, Montreal, and several other venues across the city including the Cinémathèque Québécoise and the McCord Museum.