Sitges Fest revels in thrills on tiny budgets

SITGES, Spain

The increase in polished, low-budget films has never more apparent than at the 43rd Sitges Festival, which could have invented an extra prize this year for micro-budget productions.

Playing Sitges’ main Fantasy section was the Daniel Stamm-helmed, Eli Roth-produced “The Last Exorcism,” which has grossed $41 million Stateside for Lionsgate, and cost well under $2 million to make.

Fest hits through the middle of last week included “Rubber,” written, directed, lensed and edited by France’s Quentin Dupieux, set in the Arizona desert and turning on a killer car tire with telekinetic powers; haunted house chiller “Insidious,” from “Saw” director James Wan, which he edited at home; and “The Silent House,” a one-shot psycho-in-a-lonely-house bloodbath, made by Uruguay’s Gustavo Hernandez for $7,000.

That sum’s more than twice the budget of Sitges’ New Visions sidebar fantasy dramedy “Disposable Cargo,” budgeted at just E1,500 ($2,095), — and much of that on press kits, according to director Juan Cavestany.

“We’re facing a new golden age for B movies,” says fest director Angel Sala of the “enormous increase in low-budget product” that characterized this year’s fest.

The new-style B movies aren’t straight-to-video fare either, but often

theatrically targeted, polished auteur fare that exhibit distinctive takes on genre staples.

“When you talk about the Bs, they were always marketed on the gimmicks, the creatures, the blood,” says Todd Brown, programmer of Austin’s Fantastic Fest. “These movies are being marketed on the cinematographic experience.”

The most obvious reason for the low-budget surge is that it’s getting harder to finance pricier films. So Hollywood and leading U.S. indie distribs are slowly opening up to more economical overseas genre talent or U.S. indie productions, Sala says, citing the IM Global-sold “Insidious,” a Sony domestic pickup at Toronto; “The Last Exorcism,” fully financed by France’s StudioCanal; and “Buried,” the Ryan Reynolds suspenser that cost just $2.9 million and which Lionsgate bowed in limited release Stateside on Oct. 8.

“Buried” was financed by lead Spanish producer Versus Entertainment, Gallic sales agent Kinology and Studio37, ICAA and ICIC subsidy boards, high-net Spanish investors and backends, says Adrian Guerra, who produced for Versus.

The low-budget boom also draws on a new generation of filmmakers looking for opportunities, even on a shoestring.

The number of feature films produced worldwide fell 1.8% to 5,360 in 2009, marking a third year of consecutive decline, according to Screen Digest. But the number of people trained to make films at commercial levels of quality — film students — hasn’t declined at all. That’s fostered a pool of talent willing to prove their talents on a micro budget.

And more players are getting in on the act.

“Some new Latin American talents realize that a genre movie can be both a hip and potentially successful way to reach international recognition,” Ondamax Films’ Eric Mathis says.

Jorge Michel Grau’s “We Are What We Are,” a distinctly humanistic portrait of a Mexico City cannibal family, which played to applause at Sitges, has been sold by Wild Bunch to 20 territories. Deals include IFC for North America, U.K.’s Artificial Eye, Germany’s Alamode, France’s Wild Side and Australia’s Hopscotch, says Wild Bunch’s Gael Nouaille.

High-concept low-budget horror can deliver one sort of film the market wants: theatrical releases at very reasonable prices. And the rewards can be game-changing.

For instance genre production hadn’t existed in Uruguay until recently.

“Genre pics were looked down upon by critics,” says “House’s” Hernandez. But Hernandez didn’t need to shop his script or apply for state aid to get his film made.

“Rather than spending six years trying to place a project at a conventional producer,” says Zentropa Intl. Spain’s David Matamoros, “it’s better to use new technologies and make a film, investing your time as much as money.”

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