The Fantasia International Film Festival celebrates 25 years of connecting audiences with eccentric genre cinema

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      For the past 25 years, the Fantasia International Film Festival has sought to create bridges between the cutting edge and the mainstream. Through delivering Canadian films and world cinema to those hungry for genre-bending programming, the festival has succeeded in creating a distinct, influential community.

      Mitch Davis, a self-proclaimed cinephile, began his journey with the a quarter century ago, as an audience member.

      “Back then, it was really a showcase of what was then the last five years of Hong Kong new wave,” says Davis. “There were tons of great filmmakers like John Wu, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark, whose films weren’t getting distributed to this part of the world. Canadian film festivals had a strange collective blind spot and just didn’t play films from these talented filmmakers. So for me, as a fan of that type of filmmaking, I would have to get bootlegged VHS tapes or rent Hong Kong laser disks that often weren’t subtitled. That would be the only way I could get a taste of this unique genre.”

      After getting to know the event organizers, Davis was invited to join the team as a programmer, tasked with expanding the festival’s reach beyond being a retrospective of Asian films. Along with Karim Hussain, now a renowned Canadian filmmaker and cinematographer, Davis introduced international filmmaking to the festival’s focus.

      “About five years into Fantasia’s history, we were programming several films that were unclassifiable within genre definitions like experimental comedies, musicals, strange children’s films, and art-house films that were in one way or another, really singular,” says Davis. “The audience was as open-minded as we were and they were excited to watch films that made sense in the weird kaleidoscopic vision of the eccentric and unclassifiable festival.”

      Now, decades later, Davis is the artistic director of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, a three-week event that typically draws an impressive international audience. But due to the pandemic, the screenings included in the festival’s 25th edition will be available online only.

      In August 2021, virtual audiences will be given the opportunity to discover diverse genre films, including indie and horror, from emerging artists. Its full programming lineup will be announced July 21 and available online on July 23.

      “Last year’s virtual edition was so successful and we have our audience to thank for that,” says Davis. “Our audience has always been incredibly open, well-researched, and they will take chances to levels that are just miraculous.”

      The festival team’s enthusiastic energy and boundless creativity keeps audiences coming to the theatrical environment, no matter in which format it’s delivered. The distinct film event enables independent artists and distributors to have their work shown to a curious audience in a highly respectful milieu.

      Many of the filmmakers showcased at the festival have gone on to have extremely meaningful careers within the industry. Years ago, it premiered Adam Wingard’s very first film as a director when he was 19. Wingard’s most recent film was Godzilla vs. Kong, a sci-fi movie screened in theatres around the world.

      The Fantasia International Film Festival was also a part of American filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s early career. He went on to write and direct several chilling horror films, including The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep, Midnight Mass, and Gerald’s Game

      Jim Mickle’s drama series, Sweet Tooth, is presently very popular on Netflix and his films once graced the festival’s big screens.

      This year’s lineup has a special spotlight on South African filmmaking, which the curatorial team has been following for several years. “There’s been this resurgence of genre work there that’s basically reinterpretations of genre tropes through a South African lens,” says Davis.

      The Fantasia International Film Festival will be screening the world premieres of two South African films: Glasshouse and Indemnity. For the action film, Indemnity, the actors trained for three months prior to filming so they could perform their own stunts, which included courageously scaling of a 21-storey building.

      “Growing up as a cinephile, I was frequently depressed that the films I loved were never being talked about. I felt like they were this weird secret handshake,” says Davis. “But now, I have the ability to impact the careers of the filmmakers I adore and feel are being overlooked. It’s been completely surreal, a dream come true.”

      The 25th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will be presented by Videotron in collaboration with Desjardins and will be made possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Government of Quebec, SODEC, Telefilm Canada, the City of Montreal, the Conseil des arts of Montreal, and Tourism Montréal.

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