The 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival is in the books. Going into the 17th annual edition, I had an ambitious checklist of at least 60 feature films I had planned on seeing. However, between editing my new film EROTICIDE and looking for a job, I understandably had to prioritize. As such, my mighty 60-film marathon turned into a paltry 20-film one. Of course, there are those who would argue that watching 20 films over the course of 3 weeks is nothing short of insanity. But I digress.
When I first took a look at this year’s programming, I have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the line-up. Aside from a few films by filmmakers whose works I was particularly looking forward to, there wasn’t really anything that immediately caught my interest. With Fantasia 2013 in the books, I come away from this year’s edition feeling more or less the same. There were several very good films, some of which may find their way on my “Top 10 Films of 2013” by the end of the year. But on the other hand, there were many more films that were simply just “there.” Nothing bold, nothing daring, nothing truly transgressive and certainly nothing that will remain in my subconscious for years to come like previous years (ICHI THE KILLER, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, PI, etc.). I attribute this to the fact that as much as people don’t seem to want to admit it, the Fantasia International Film Festival feels like a bloated event watered down by the need to fill up 3 weeks worth of programming.
Fantasia began at the cusp of the DVD revolution and as such there was a plethora of outstanding genre titles out there that had never been seen before in North America. As I peruse programs from the ’97 and ’98 editions, I was agog at how rich and diverse the films programmed in those years were. Furthermore, I could understand the need to facilitate all of these works over the course of a 3-4 week block. In addition, because many of these films had never been seen before in North America, or at the very least on the big screen in 35mm, Fantasia’s programming had a “must-see” vibe about it where a premiere truly lived up to the name and was made all the more special by the exclusive nature of it.
Nowadays with most genre films (from around the world) heading directly to VOD and/or home video, with the occasional theatrical release thrown in there, that “must-see” vibe about Fantasia has diminished tremendously. In the past, seeing Dario Argento’s DEEP RED was a huge event because you never knew if or when you’d ever see it again. In recent years, screenings at Fantasia basically serve as sneak previews organized by distributors or in some cases, DVD/Blu-Ray launches with ads for said home video releases placed right next to their listing in the physical program. Of course, the counter-argument to this would be that there’s nothing like watching a film at Fantasia and to some extent, I would agree.
But that still doesn’t justify the need to continue programming 3 weeks of films when quite frankly, the depth of original quality titles isn’t what it once was. As much as Fantasia prides itself on being “North America’s largest and most important genre film festival,” I can’t help but feel that events like Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and even the Midnight Madness line-up at the Toronto International Film Festival are still held in higher regard because as the motto of Fantastic Fest bluntly puts it, these are film festivals without the boring stuff. And as much as it pains me to say it, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, yes, there is a lot of boring stuff at Fantasia. Moreover, by continuing to be a 3-week event, Fantasia burdens itself with the need to really stretch the definition of “genre film” in order to fill up 21 days of programming resulting in DVD supplemental fodder like REWIND THIS! or art films like NUMBER 10 BLUES/GOODBYE SAIGON that have, at best, a peripheral relation to genre cinema, getting shown.
What’s the solution to all of this? Well, they could start by cutting at least one week. By limiting themselves to a 14-day festival, Fantasia would be forced into making more discriminatory choices in what gets shown that year, which I can only assume (hope?) will result in stronger programming. Considering that Fantasia sponsors film screenings all year long, they could still conceivably show some of the films that would have otherwise made the cut. In Montreal we have something called the “Nuit Blanche” where the city is open all night long and there’s a wide array of fun activities for people to enjoy. Fantasia often has a special event that night which is usually a “greatest hits” of the previous year’s edition. Instead of a retread, how about holding a “Dusk till Dawn Movie Marathon” featuring films from the “Fantasia Vault” (i.e. films too “scary” or “shocking” to show at Fantasia). It would be a great way to promote the festival and in many ways, could serve as a mini-festival getting audiences excited about the big one in the summer. This could be an ongoing trend to coincide with events in the city. When the RIDM (Montreal International Documentary Film Festival) takes place, Fantasia could sponsor a screening of a doc or two that would otherwise look out of place in their own backyard. Same thing for FNC (the Festival du Nouveau Cinema). Fantasia could sponsor a screening of something more esoteric like the aforementioned NUMBER 10 BLUES/GOODBYE SAIGON.
I’ve been attending Fantasia since its inception, so I write all of this from the perspective of a fan who loves what the festival stands for at its core and would love to see it return to its roots by delivering a lean and mean extravaganza that will make you hate yourself forever if you miss a second of it.
Having said this, here is a list of my top 10 favorite films this year.
- HALLEY (2012) – directed by Sebastian Hofmann
- DOOMSDAYS (2013) – directed by Eddie Mullins
- BIG BAD WOLVES (2013) – directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
- THE MACHINE (2013) – directed by Caradog W. James
- 5/25/77 (2007) – directed by Patrick Read Johnson
- HK: FORBIDDEN SUPER HERO (2013) – directed by Yuichi Fukuda
- MACHI ACTION (2013) – directed by Jeff Chang
- IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki
- THE CONJURING (2013) – directed by James Wan
- THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim
And here’s a list of my 5 least favorite films.
- RAZE (2013) – directed by Josh C. Waller
- YOU’RE NEXT (2011) – directed by Adam Wingard
- 24 EXPOSURES (2013) – directed by Joe Swanberg
- DRUG WAR (2012) – directed by Johnnie To
- IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) – directed by Herman Yau