The Gazette urges government support for Fantasia!

We just picked up the Montreal Gazette this morning and were incredibly touched by the vote of confidence bestowed upon us by Brendan Kelly of the Gazette, who not only asserted that Fantasia was possibly the city’s best festival in a previous edition, but is now urging the government and other funders to step up and take note. We do have a great, hard-working team here at Fantasia – and a surprisingly small team given the size and scope of the event – so this kind of love from the press is really appreciated! Check out the article below.

Mitch Davis (top), Fantasia co-general director, and Pierre Corbeil, president and co-founder: They want to see fest keep its street cred while at the same time become an international event.
Photograph by: DAVE SIDAWAY, The Gazette

“City’s pre-eminent film festival? If so, it’s time for public funding agencies to help make Fantasia one of the continent’s prime showcases for genre cinema” – by Brendan Kelly

The Fantasia Film Festival is at a critical crossroads. Once a proudly underground event, the genre film fest, which is winding down its 14th edition this week, is in the midst of a major adolescent growth spurt.

Some 90,000 moviegoers turned up for last summer’s fest, making it one of the city’s most popular film get-togethers, and, in a chat late last week at fest central at the Concordia Hall Building, festival co-founder and president Pierre Corbeil said he expects attendance to be up around 10 per cent this year.

It has also been Fantasia’s highest-profile year ever. The festival opened with the Disney picture The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, British art house icon Ken Russell dropped in to pick up a lifetime-achievement award and soak up adulation from the youngish Fantasia crowd, and it will all wind down Wednesday with a gala screening of a restored print of Fritz Lang’s masterwork Metropolis at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier accompanied by a 13-piece orchestra playing a new score penned by renowned composer Gabriel Thibaudeau.

But like any teenager, Fantasia is experiencing some growing pains. More tickets are being sold, the government funding agencies are finally giving the scrappy little fest some love (and money) and even Hollywood is beginning to notice this niche event. For Corbeil and co-general director Mitch Davis, the challenge is to manage this success. They want to keep their street cred, but at the same time, they see an opportunity to turn Fantasia into one of the continent’s prime showcases for genre cinema -with a lineup built around horror and fantasy flicks, thrillers, offbeat comedies and every variety of Asian cinema.

“I really think the festival has the potential to become an important industry event in North America,” Corbeil said. “We just need to get the capacity financially to put it together. What we want is to be the Sundance of genre film festivals in North America. What Sundance is for independent art-house films, we want to be for international genre movies. We think there’s an industry need for that. If you look at Europe, they have many (genre) film festivals that have been there for many, many years.”

It’s an intriguing notion. The Montreal film festival scene is still recovering from the public funding agencies’ failed attempt to destroy Serge Losique’s World Film Festival and, five years after that failed coup d’etat, funders Telefilm Canada and SODEC clearly have no vision for the future of our film festivals.

Now they give a little bit of money to a slew of fests and the result is that the city remains a non-player in the international film festival circuit. So why not open the purse strings for Fantasia, the proverbial little fest that could? The funders thought they could create a new fest that would take on the Toronto film fest. But that battle was lost years ago.

Montreal is not going to be able to mount a general-interest art-film fest that is going to compete with the big boys. But what we could do here is focus our energies on a niche player like Fantasia, which is already arguably North America’s leading genre festival. But, like I said, that would take a little vision from the folks at Telefilm and SODEC, something that’s been in short supply in their filmfest departments for years.

For its first decade, Fantasia received virtually no government cash, but in the past couple of years, the agencies have finally begun to provide some funding, with Fantasia nabbing around $300,000 in public money this year, and that added support is one of the reasons the festival has been able to organize bigger events like the Metropolis gala.

But watching the hipster twentysomething crowd saunter out of the Hall Building Theatre late last week, it’s clear the fest is still very much in touch with its indie roots. Davis talks of how excited he was to meet his idol Russell -”When I was a kid, Ken Russell changed my life,” says Davis -and how what he loves about the fest is the fact they can sell out a screening of Russell’s still-controversial 1971 mind-altering The Devils and do just as well with an offbeat Malaysian musical comedy like Sell-Out.

“The bulk of our movies find an audience,” Davis said. “It’s very rare that a film gets lost.”

The Fantasia Film Festival continues through Wednesday. For more info, visit www.fantasiafestival.com

bkelly@thegazette.canwest.com
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

3 Responses

  1. “arguably North America’s leading genre festival”

    There is nothing arguable about it. Been traveling to Fantasia from the U.S. for over 10 years. No other festival even comes close.

  2. Well I thought the inclusion of the play NEVERMORE and Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli’s masterclass at the Miskatonic was a great step in including filmmaker and creators into the fest’s fold.

    I think if Fantasia can use these kind of events (like the METROPOLIS screening as stated above), then I think they will find success in getting more taxpayer funding.

    I’ll be sure to share my support with my local MP.

  3. Goddamn skippy the government should be putting some of their cultural money into Fantasia!

    Fantasia’s success has come despite a very difficult climate to attract audiences to theatres and events. The transition to digital distribution of movies has hit the entire industry and festivals seem to have been more protected but definitely not invulnerable. Furthermore, there is just so much awesome entertainment around, in Montreal and on line, that the competition for eyeballs is more fierce than ever.

    It’s due to the excellent work of the programmers and organizers of Fantasia that it is kicking so much ass in such a tough environment. But it is going to get tougher. Fantasia brings so much good to Canada and Montreal that I won’t bother listing it all. For the Canadian film community, it is a great vehicle for legitimacy and publicity and a wide open door into the rich genre film market. The Canadian government should see the large economic and cultural potential that has been built up here without much assistance. Hey purse-string holders, the people want ass-kicking, gore and subversive violence, not red violins!

    Also, kudos to Brendan Kelly for championing Fantasia. He’s been doing this for a couple years now and it’s a testimony to his awareness and objectivity as a cultural journalist.

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