Sitges still fantasies land

Europe's oldest specialty fest unspools 24 top genre pics

MADRID — Europe’s oldest fantasy film fest kicks off its 39th year in Sitges this weekend with two dozen films competing for top prizes from more than 200 pics on view.

Headliners in the Official Fantastic competition include world preems of Spanish pics “La hora fria” (The Cold Hour), Elio Quiroga’s high-tech horror pic, and U.S.-Catalan co-production “The Ungodly,” by Thomas Dunn, with Wes Bentley as a filmmaker hunting a serial killer.

High expectations also surround “The Abandoned,” by Catalan first-timer Nacho Cerda, in which an adopted Russian woman returns to the family farm. Creepy happenings end in brutal revelations.

Top European contenders are “13 (Tzameti)” by Gela Babluani, Gyorgy Palfi’s “Taxidermia,” David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s “Ils” (Them), Hans-Christian Schmid’s “Requiem” and Jens Lien’s “The Bothersome Man.” Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep” also competes, along with Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host,” Kim Ki-duk’s “Time” and Johnnie To’s “Exiled” from Asia.

Animation entries include Anders Morgenthaler’s “Princess,” about a priest’s bloody campaign to destroy evidence of his dead sister’s porn-star past.

Soon-to-bow out-of-competition offerings include Daniel Monzon’s “The Kovak Box,” in which Timothy Hutton is trapped on an island where people are being forced to commit suicide.

Fest’s main Fantastic Premiere sidebar hosts world preem of Roland Joffe’s “Captivity,” with Joffe and producer Mark Damon in attendance, and Darren Aronofsky presents “The Fountain”; “Running Scared” by Wayne Kramer and Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” also screen.

In its 10th year, Catalan Focus will show a dozen mostly left-field films, TV movies and docus, with highlights including Joaquim Jorda’s posthumous “Beyond the Mirror,” about his battle with mental illness; Marc Recha’s metaphorical “August Days,” which follows twins’ journey through Catalonia; Jesus Becerril’s edgy short docu “Tati i Priscila,” about Brazilian prostitutes; and “3055 Jean Leon” by Agusti Vila, produced by 2004 Oscar-nommed Bausan Films.

Feted this year is Guillermo del Toro, with a Special Focus on his filmography. His pic “Pan’s Labyrinth” also opens Sitges’ Film Festival of Catalonia, while David Lynch gets a major retro 20 years after “Blue Velvet.”

Time Machine awardees are Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose work is retro’d in Orient Express, one of several sidebars; it also features the preem of Indian docu “Camino a Bollywood.”

This year’s Sales Office, the industry meeting, screening and sales point run by Catalan Films & TV, focuses on Germany and Eastern Europe. A Variety co-hosted round table, “Selling and Shooting in Germany and Eastern Europe,” will look at co-production and distribution potential. More than 30 agents and distributors from the region are expected, with around 60 buyers in total.

While last year’s 57 buyers, 176 sellers and 323 titles doubled 2004’s startup figures, 2006 numbers likely will stay static due to Sitges’ inauguration only three days before Cannes’ TV mart Mipcom.

The Sitges Festival of Catalonia runs Oct. 6-15.

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