It’s a wonderful and strange thing to realize that Fantasia has actually turned 15. I joined the festival as a director of programming in 1997 after hanging around the inaugural 1996 edition every day like a superfan. When Pierre offered me the job, I was a young freelance journalist and occasional indie filmmaker with a voracious appetite for unusual cinema. I had next to no experience for this kind of thing, short of organizing the odd retro screening in town with friends. Within months, I was calling some of my favourite living filmmakers and inviting them to Montreal. It was — and continues to be — a dream come true. An ever greater and more surreal reverie was watching these filmmakers — whose work was often so obscure at that time I could usually only see it on bootlegs and could almost never get most of my friends to watch with me — be greeted as the heroes they always should have been by the extraordinary audiences that came to our screenings.
Back at that time, dedicated genre film festivals were rare things in this part of the world (Europe and Asia, as always, led the way and had been doing these kinds of events for decades). Today, there are a number of terrific like-minded fests across North America, all run by people like us, who live, love and breathe this stuff, which is exactly how it should be. Fantasia is the oldest continuing fantastic film festival in North America. Which feels almost weird for a fest whose energy is so young!
In its 15 years of existence, Fantasia was — among the many Firsts — the first festival in Canada to screen a film from Darren Aronofsky, the first in North America to screen a film by Takashi Miike and the first in the world to screen a film by Satoshi Kon. We were also the first fest in the world to screen a film from a then-19 year old director named Adam Wingard. Since that time, he’s become a staple on the A-list fest circuit, and with good reason. His hazy, soulful approach to the genre can almost be described as Lynch by way of Van Sant. This year, we’re doing a spotlight on Wingard’s work, including a world premiere of his eccentric latest.
To celebrate our fifteenth year, Fantasia is paying homage to Quebec and Canada’s film heritage with a tribute to the larger-than-life producing team John Dunning and André Link, who launched the careers of some of our country’s most celebrated film figures, from David Cronenberg to Denys Arcand. We’ll be giving them a pair of lifetime achievement awards and collaborating with la Cinémathèque québécoise to screen rare prints of some of their most notorious productions.
Since we can’t stop ourselves when we get excited about something, in honour of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON turning 30 this year — and to celebrate its maker’s welcome return to filmmaking after a 12-year hiatus — Fantasia will also be giving a Lifetime Achievement award to the inimitable John Landis. Several years ago, we did a spotlight on subjectively shot horror films that we called PLAYBACK IN BLACK, which included the first North American screening of [REC]. In the ensuing years, the POV aesthetic has evolved in fascinating ways. To mark this evolution, we’re mounting an ancestral spotlight — PLAYBACK IN BLACK: THE NEXT WAVE — packed with unconventional first-person surprises that reinvent what was once the familliar.
DOCUMENTARIES FROM THE EDGE celebrates its fifth year as a recurring Fantasia staple. This year’s doc lineup focuses on everything from the modern world’s privacy-stripped “surveillance societies” to the criminal prosecution that is currently underway against a Montreal filmmaker whose crime was in creating upsetting works of fiction.
Those are just the spotlights. Ten months in the making, our 2011 lineup is truly sensational. Many films will be screening here for their first time anywhere, allowing you, dear audience, to be in on some very special, heretofore unknown, wonders. Others have been blazing a trail across the international festival circuit over the past months, and are now coming to Quebec, often for their first appearance on this continent.
As we always say, Fantasia is a place where risks are rewarded, and we hope you’ll explore the pages of this guide carefully.
In the weeks to come, you’ll be learning the names of some exceptional new talent, some of who will turn into figures whose work you’ll be following for years. You’ll also be amazed by new works from such greats as Johnnie To, Richard Stanley, Park Chan-wook, Guillermo del Toro, Ryoo Seung-wan, Robin Hardy, Shunji Iwai, Lee Tamahori, Tom Savini, Ishibashi Yoshimasa, Xavier Gens, Kevin Smith, Takashi Miike, Lee Jun-ik, Buddy Giovinazzo, Sion Sono, Herman Yau, FJ Ossang, Gen Sekiguchi (finally!), Robert Morgan, Hisayasu Sato, Chris Sivertson, Yudai Yamaguchi, Lucky McKee, Tak Sakaguchi, Isild Le Besco, Larry Kent, Dick Maas, Trent Haaga, Yuen Woo-ping, Voltaire, Simon Rumley, James Gunn and Noboru Iguchi.
How to wrap it all up with a fittingly staggering crescendo? Lon Chaney on the enormous Place des Arts screen in Rupert Julian’s 1925 classic PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, with a score by Gabriel Thibaudeau, conducted live with a 30-piece orchestra!
The festival seems, almost impossibly, to get bigger with each edition. This year has more out-of-town filmmakers attending than any previous one, eager to meet you in post-screening Q&A discussions and panel events. We strive to eradicate the barriers between filmmaker and audience, so don’t be shy if there’s something you’d like to comment on or learn more about.
Speaking for our entire programming team, I’d like to thank you for your continued open-mindedness and incredible, downright bloody inspirational, support. Nothing is more gratifying than finding a small, unknown film from a first time director, bringing it to Fantasia and seeing it find an enormous, appreciative — and entirely new — audience who get it and adore it. You, as an audience, have changed the lives of countless filmmakers. More than you likely know. Careers have been made by you, films have risen from obscurity into infamy by your cheers.
And now, get set for pure euphoria — along with healthy doses of inspiration and madness. Fantasia 15 is about to roar into life.
On behalf of the entire Fantasia team,