(For our previews of the films presented at this year’s festival take a look HERE)
43RD Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival 7th – 17th October 2010
As if by way of the Festival’s prestigious award, El Maquina Del Temps, it seemed as though we’d been transported through time and another 12 months had flashed by in minutes. October loomed and the organisers had released the full program of this year’s films. Our attempts to fully research and preview each and every entry had once more fallen a little short, however, we’d managed to identify over 30 films from the impressive line up that we felt sure would give us that special experience only Sitges can provide.
We’d upped the ante this year and extended our stay to cover all but the last day of the festival. With a schedule that included 4 films a day and a social itinerary to rival Paris Hilton, we were going to need all our Sitges experience and a truckload of Beroccas to make it across the finish line. With that in mind we’d allowed ourselves a little luxury and booked into the Hotel Platjador, with its calming sea views and rooftop terrace bar.
This Sitges film festival first kicked off way back in 1968, the same year that Stanley Kubrick released what some might claim to be his masterpiece, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. With such an incredible body of work spanning half a century there are several Kubrick films that could carry the “masterpiece” tag, not least of which this year’s festival tribute, THE SHINING. Perhaps remembered by some for Nicholson’s chilling performance and a particularly catchy one-liner, the festival rightly reminded us that it was the man on the other side of the camera who imbued the film with a look and feel that serves to chill and creep the flesh as much today as on its release 30 years ago.
The festivals “spot presentation” did a great job of spreading Kubrick’s creeps into each of the theatres with a memorable and haunting audio track accompanying the familiar low angle tricycle shot.
If last year’s Alien tribute inspired the festival’s sci-fi slant to the program, this year’s honouree had the organisers deviously hiding jumps and chills around every corner and in every shadow of the 2010 line up. Interesting to note that in 1980, the same year THE SHINING premiered the world stage, the festival screened Charles Kaufman’s THE MOTHER’S DAY, and this year organisers had chosen Darren Bousman’s re-make/re-boot/homage (call it what you want) MOTHER’S DAY to wrap up proceedings.
Although the scheduled tributes to the 25th anniversary of BACK TO THE FUTURE and 50th anniversary of PSYCHO had to be dropped at the last minute, the festival still found time to nod it’s appreciation to William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST and to the man who saw Frankenstein cry, actor/director Paul Naschy.
This year the organisers had chosen to explore themes such as; The new types of cinema emerging from Latin America; The virtual life drama to be found hiding behind social networks and other forms of online interaction; And not forgetting more familiar friends of the festival such as Vampires, zombies, and psychotic killers. 3-D was to again be explored with the help of SONY and we couldn’t help noticing a reasonably strong Scandinavian presence throughout the program.
We’d tried to structure a schedule that touched on most of these themes while encompassing a few of our favourite actors/directors.
At first sight the festival’s Casa Asia section seemed a little light and our biggest disappointment took place before we even arrived with the realisation that the one film we wanted to see above all else, I SAW THE DEVIL, was only screening on the day of our departure. However, our friends from the East were represented elsewhere and we looked forward to Japanese offerings with Tetsuya Nakashima’s CONFESSIONS and the hoped for return to form of Takeshi Kitano with OUTRAGE.
In keeping with the festival’s main theme we’d included a sprinkling of horror which, although of a potentially more mainstream nature, included one of the genre’s big hitters. The return of John Carpenter after a 10-year sabbatical was cause for celebration and THE WARD made our list on his name alone. As well as the classic THE EXORCIST we’d included some contemporary takes on the genre in the form of Brad Anderson’s VANISHING ON 7TH STREET and “Saw” creator James Wan’s INSIDIOUS to see how they would stand up against Carpenter’s mastery of the macabre.
We also took our lead from the organisers and included LIFE 2.0 and CATFISH to see how real life drama played out in the virtual world, and then we’d opted for some out and out gritty real life cinema with one of our favourites A J Bowen in A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE and Simon Rumley’s RED, WHITE AND BLUE.
As budding filmmakers we wanted to see what was currently possible in the hand-held world of low-budget cinema so we scheduled to compare notes with ATROCIOUS (shot in Sitges) and LA CASA MUDA, the latter reportedly shot with a fairly standard “photo camera” of the sort readily available.
……..So how did 2010 compare with previous years? Last year taught us that it’s not always easy to get a true feel for the festival’s quality whilst in the thick of it, however, our program soon took on the familiar form of failed expectancies and hidden surprises.
The event itself had been brought forward a week which meant that Spain’s National day (Oct 12th) and a long holiday weekend fell right in the middle of the festival. Perhaps this was done intentionally to bring additional revenue as the queues appeared to have lengthened and the town itself was certainly busier than we have ever seen it. There seemed to have been an increase in the press attendance too and things were a little congested around the Auditori’s media centre, though the staff were as helpful and efficient as ever, if a little undermanned.
Even with the streets filled with the extended weekend crowd our favourite venues were on top form. Lizarran served up it’s usual excellent range of tapas/pintxos although it will have to keep on its toes next year as there’s a new pretender to the throne in the form of bar EL DONOSTIARRA (c/Nou 14). Pintxos a plenty and a cracking Vermouth de la casa.
Hernan at the ROAD CAFÉ took care of us into the wee small hours as usual and even though he’s moving on to travel the world he looks to have left us in the capable hands of Alex and Juan. Late night pints assured to be sure. A couple of excellent vino blanco sessions in CAFÉ DEL MON helped maintain it’s rep as one of our go-to bolt holes, and the cross-street neighbours TRES QUARTS and TROCADERO are now the norm if we just fancy a pint or there’s football to be watched.
Still king of the hill when it comes to the complete package, El Cable was on cracking form and packed to the rafters most nights. Even when busy the staff crank out the food and drink and we’re thinking of calling in the FDA as their Albondegas (meat balls) are clearly laced with crack and the most addictive things on the planet.
Comparing 2009’s festival stats with those of 2008 the organisers appear to be achieving organic growth and we felt the numbers were up again this year. The three theatres served as the great venues they always have and after last year’s gripe in our festival review we’re even taking credit for the fact that The Prado air con was on this year.
Credit then that things ran smoothly but (we’ve got to have a “but” otherwise they’d get complacent) we did develop one bugbear. The idiots who continue to use their phone throughout the screening. They’re invariably the ones who rock up 10 minutes after the film has started and then proceed to spend the next 2 hours either constantly checking/sending messages (perhaps tweeting), or taking/making phone calls. Many appeared to be the press themselves and that raises the question, how much do these idiots actually take on board from the films/festival? Is it all about getting in the first exclusive tweet or blog entry?
We could probably excuse the organisers for this occurring at the smaller Prado and Retiro theatres, but the Auditori has plenty of staff “shush!” Nazis and the offenders tend to populate the back rows where their phones stand out like beacons. Over to you Angel.
As to the films themselves you can read our blow-by-blow account in our 2010 Blog, but for the record, here are our winners and losers.
Getting the disappointments out of the way first, we have to stick RED, WHITE AND BLUE at the top of the list. Perhaps we’d built this up too much or it could be that Simon Rumley’s introduction prior to the film had set us at odds, but this left the most bitter of tastes. A SERBIAN FILM too had come with high expectations to at least provoke a response, even if it was one of anger. As it was we just found it a bit silly.
We hadn’t really stacked too many chips against VANISHING ON 7TH STREET but it was disappointing to see Brad Anderson attached to such a weak project. As was the case with John Carpenter and THE WARD which, while not a bad film, could have been so much more.
Japan was stylishly represented with CONFESSIONS and OUTRAGE and it was great to see Beat Takeshi turn in a fine performance both in front of and behind the camera. The US too put in a great showing with the engaging documentaries CATFISH and LIFE 2.0, the bloody, orgasmic comedy SUPER, and Australian set but American made violent Western RED HILL (though perhaps only sneaking in as a Sitges film with a vague appearance from a “monster”)
Perhaps also a little out of sorts with the Sitges “fantastic” program but SNABBA CASH was an accomplished gangster flick and along with the polished RARE EXPORTS meant that Scandinavia continued it’s recent good form at the festival.
And in the winners corner…..
True to Sitges form it was the unexpected surprises that swept the Corridorstyle awards.
Though we’re still not sure why it made our list in the first place, SOUND OF NOISE had everything. The exceptional cast delivered the weird (enough for Sitges) premise with class, and the energy filled score and inventive set pieces served to accentuate their dry delivery of the off-the-wall humour running throughout the script. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 15 years for this Swedish duo to pull out their creative fingers.
Another filmmaker who took his imagination to the next level and asked the audience to do the same was Quentin Dupieux with RUBBER. When first reading the synopsis for this it just screams Sitges, but that of course doesn’t mean it will be any good. A film which has to be seen to be appreciated, you could almost imagine a mate of Dupieux, after several beers, challenging him to make an entertaining film about the most ludicrous subject thinkable. Dupieux no doubt shrugging his shoulders and saying “ok. Sure”, as he clearly knows and is confident in his own abilities.
It was great to also get three standout examples of genres Sitges was made for. Serial killers themselves must be getting suicidal with the way they’ve been portrayed in recent years so they’ll be cheering from the back row at A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. The two previous A J Bowen starring films we’d seen at Sitges (THE SIGNAL and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) had not covered themselves in glory but the man himself had stood out as a talent. This time out he delivers the complete performance and with great support from Amy Seimetz we’re given a superb and fresh take on the life and times of a cold killer.
You would think that splicing vampires and zombies together would get you a sure fired Sitges hit but the winning formula for STAKE LAND comes from the quality of the filmmakers and the characters they let us roll with. The Vombies certainly give the genre fans their pay off but this a tightly crafted production and co-writer/star Nick Damici gives a stand out performance amongst a great cast.
We’ve lamented in previous years over Hong Kong let down after Hong Kong let down and we could have been blubbing more of the same this year having endured FIRE OF CONSCIENCE. We’ve obviously been looking in the wrong place, as instead of tripping over HK’s version of “gritty” crime drama we should have kept it old school Kung Fu and sought out gems such as GALLANTS. This was the antidote. No pretentious posturing or gimmicks here. It felt like the filmmakers had just passed the work over to the grandmasters (Leung, Chen, and Kwan) and let them do what they’ve been doing naturally for the last 30 or 40 years…..deliver impeccably performed and brilliantly timed out and out entertainment. Forget the genre or language. This is cinema.
With 30 films seen this was another full on year for the team and while we wish we could pick 30 winners every year, we know that’s not how Sitges rolls. With such a diverse selection to tackle you can only anticipate so much, and as has been proven year after year, it’s nearly always the surprises that creep up and slap us. And we got well slapped a few times this year
There’s no formula for tackling a festival like Sitges, you just have to get in there and get your hands dirty. The fact that you’re jumping in to such a top spot as Sitges just doubles the fun and halves the amount of sleep you get. That’s why we’ll be back for more of the same in 2011.
Head HERE for details of the official winners at this year’s festival
And here’s a full list of the films we saw:
SOMOS LO QUE HAY
SOUND OF NOISE
LA CASA MUDA
FIRE OF CONSCIENCE
RED, WHITE AND BLUE
RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET
LES 7 JOURS DU TALION
A SERBIAN FILM
SNABBA CASH (EASY MONEY)
JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL