'REC' wins plaudits

SITGES — The 40th edition Sitges Intl. Film Festival of Catalonia, Europe’s biggest fantasy film event, underscored Spain’s growing genre pic power.

Ten-day fest opened Oct. 4 with Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage,” playing out-of-competition.

Godfathered by Guillermo del Toro and a Picturehouse pickup for the U.S., the across-the-board craftsmanship of the child ghoul chiller wowed Sitges, auds and critics alike.

Sitges closed Saturday with Tarsem Singh’s sumptuous period fantasy film “The Fall,” an India-U.K.-U.S. production, taking top fest honors.

The pic had “a great story, performances and cinematography,” said jury member Ruggero Deodato.

But grainy Spanish zombie pic “REC,” from Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, swept many other major nods: director, actress (Manuela Velasco), audience and critics’ awards.

Lensed totally from the p.o.v. of a docudrama TV reporter’s vidcam, pic’s swipe at reality TV went down well with Spanish critics.

While “The Orphanage” was decimating B.O. records at the Spanish B.O. this weekend, opening Thursday to a first four day $8.3 million, the latest crop of Spanish genre pics were walking tall at Sitges.

Nacho Vigalondo’s “Time Crimes” was by Saturday near to closing worldwide rights outside Spain with a sales agent.

A pastoral sci-fi dramedy plunging a cringing Spanish everyman into dizzy timeloops, “Crimes” also had three English-language remake offers on the table, said producer Javier Ibarretxe.

Throwing into sharp relief a broadening generational divide, “Crimes” left older local crix cold. But it drew a fervent response from younger blogosphere-centric auds, who are far more in synch with Vigalondo’s points of reference — comics, Philip K. Dick and Robert A. Heinlein. The director’s cult blogger status and the pic’s top prize at Austin’s Fantastic Fest a few weeks back helped to heighten expectations.

Coach 14 sold wilderness sniper thriller “King of the Hill,” helmed by Gonzalo Lopez Gallego, to Germany’s Kinowelt at Sitges. TWC already took the U.S. on “King” at Toronto.

The only major territory still available on “REC” and “Hill” is Japan, a sign of just how tough that market’s become for all but the biggest of movies.

Spain’s sole world preem in competition was “Fermat’s Room,” in which four mathematicians are forced to solve an enigma before they are crushed in a shrinking room. Helmed by Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena, the “Cube” like thriller received generally upbeat reactions.

Beyond “The Fall” and “REC,” critics also lapped up the sea-of-blood scissor slasher “Inside,” from France’s Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo.

Sam Rockwell took actor for “Joshua.” Jeong Seo-gyeong and Park Chan-wook snagged screenplay for “I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK.”

Singh, Bayona, Vigalondo, Maury and Bustillo are all first-time directors, a sign of fantasy films’ creative renewal. If Sitges’ kudos and dealmaking is anything to go by, a growing amount of that energy is flowing from Europe.

Other festival highlights included George A. Romero giving interviews in a local cemetery. The horror helmer was in town to collect Sitges’ honorary grand prix.

Fellow honoree designer Syd Mead, and Douglas Trumbull, on hand for a 25th anni “Blade Runner” tribute, were received like gods in fest’s 1,300 seat theater.

Bayona gave a humble and humored masterclass. He began by saying, “Don’t pay much attention to anything I say.”

Roundtables analyzed Barcelona’s genre pic renaissance and Korean film-making.

Fest broke attendance records, up 20% to 53,000 tickets sold by day nine, said fest director Angel Sala.

Sitges’ 41st fest will celebrate the 40th anni of “A Space Odyssey,” he added.

And the winners are…

OFFICIAL FANTASY COMPETITION

FILM
“The Fall,” (Tarsem Singh, India, U.K., U.S.)

DIRECTOR
Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, “REC,” (Spain)

ACTOR
Sam Rockwell, “Joshua” (U.S.)

ACTRESS
Manuela Velasco, “REC” (Spain)

SCREENPLAY
Jeong Seo-gyeong, Park Chan-wook, “I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK” (South Korea)

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Toyomichi Kurita, “Sukiyaki Western Django” (Japan)

ART DIRECTION
Takashi Sasaki, “Sukiyaki Western Django” (Japan)

MAKE UP F/X
Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo, “Inside” (France)

F/X
“Bugmaster” (Japan)

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
Kuniaki Haishima, “Bugmaster” (Japan)

ORIENT EXPRESS-CASA ASIA AWARD
Akihiko Shiota, “Dororo” (Japan)

ANIMAT GERTIE FILM AWARD
“Aachi & Ssipak,” Joe Bum-jin (South Korea)

SILVER MELIES, EUROPEAN MOTION PICTURE:
“Inside” (France)

OTHER AWARDS:

PERIODICO DE CATALUNYA AUDIENCE AWARD
“REC” (Spain)

JOSE LUIS GUARNER CRITICS AWARD
“REC” (Spain)

CITIZEN KANE AWARD TO AN UP-AND-COMING DIRECTOR Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo, “Inside” (France)

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