Fest Traveler: Sitges Fantastic Film Festival

It’s official: The end of the world takes place in Sitges, Spain. And it doesn’t happen just once, but repeats itself in Steven Soderbergh’s germophobe fantasy “Contagion,” Lars von Trier’s annihilation meller “Melancholia” and Tim Fehlbaum’s debut “Hell,” produced by Roland Emmerich.

“The Apocalypse is in fashion, but mixed up with regular zombies, aliens stuff,” says Alberto Marini, writer and exec producer of Jaume Balaguero’s “Sleep Tight,” surveying the line-up for 44th Sitges Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, running Oct. 6-16.

That’s not the only trend at Europe’s biggest fanboy fest. Classic doom is matched by contempo dread: fears of “radical conservatism, being kidnapped in your own home, or abducted by a fundamentalist sect,” says fest director Angel Sala.

The flipside, is that, “perhaps due to a weariness with the crisis, or contempo semi-apocalyptic scenarios, people relish humor, sometimes black humor. Audiences will laugh a lot this year at Sitges,” he says, citing Andre Ovredal’s “Trollhunter,” Juan Martinez Moreno’s “Lobos de arga” (Game of Werewolves), Alejandro Brugues’ “Juan of the Dead” and Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block.”

“Dead,” a Cuban zombie comedy — there haven’t been many of those — racked up bullish sales off its Toronto world preem.

“Spectators want genre that mixes classic elements with ground-breaking stories and plot twists,” says Vicente Canales, founder of Film Factory Entertainment.

Marini agrees: “Innovative stories or artistic risk are the only response possible to big studios’ productions. It’s our unique selling point.”

Some trends hold over from recent years. Emilio Martinez, director of Spanish genre website aullidos.com, sees a rising wave of subjective terror pics in the wake of “Paranormal Activity” — “Very low-cost products that swept the world,” he says.

Titles fitting the subjective terror billing include Carles Torrens’ “Emergo,” Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz’s “Grave Encounters,” Gonzalo Lopez Gallego’s “Apollo 18″ and Ovredal’s “Trollhunter,” distribbed by Universal in main European territories.

Deputy Sitges fest director Mike Hostench notices a “drive to break rules in a far-reaching, intellectual way.”

Possible examples this time round at Sitges are Kim Ki-duk’s Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize co-winner “Arirang,” Panos Cosmatos’ “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and Ricard Gras’ “Vlogger.”

Meanwhile, A.I. is making a comeback. Fest commemorates the 10th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” as Spielberg preps “Robopocalypse” and, on Spanish home turf, Gabe Ibanez readies “Automata.”

Sitges opens with Kike Maillo’s robot meller “Eva,” well-received at Venice, takes in S. Shankar’s Indian blockbuster “Endhiran” and Pat Tremblay’s low-end amnesia nightmare “Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass.”

sitges fantastic film festival

HIGHLIGHTS

HORROR HOUSE
Hong-jim Na’s crime actioner “The Murderer,” admired at Cannes; “Livid,” from Gallic horror specialists Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo; Ben Wheatley’s twisting thriller “Kill List”; Alejandro Brugues’ Cuban zombie comedy “Juan of the Dead”; debuts from Evan Glodell (“Bellflower”), Spaniard Antonio Trashorras (“Blind Alley”) and Colombia’s Jaime Osorio (“El Paramo”).

SINGING PRAISES
Bryan Singer picks up a Sitges Gran Premio.

KUDOS KEEP COMING
Time Machine honors go to actor Michael Biehn (“Terminator”), who presents grindhouse pic “The Victim,” which he helmed; horror muse and actress Barbara Steele (“8 1/2,” “Piranha”); Hong Kong fight stunt maven Tony Ching Siu-tung (“Hero”).

PREVIEWS
Catalan chill maestro Jaume Balaguero (“Rec,” Sleep Tight”), will present sneak-peek excerpts from his upcoming “Rec 3″; cast and crew from “XP3D,” a new production from Spain’s Rodar y Rodar (“Julia’s Eyes”) will offer a 3D masterclass; Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (“Intruders”) and Eduardo Chapero-Jackson (“Verbo”) will deliver prior-screening classes.

GIVING INTEL
Intelligent Robotics Laboratory director Hiroshi Ishiguro talks about the A.I. future.

SHORT AND SWEET
Buzzed-up shorts: Pau Teixidor’s “Leyenda,” Kimani Ray Smith’s “Suffer”; Robert Morgan’s hallucinogenic stop-motion “Bobby Yeah,” Cyrille Drevon’s murky mystery “CTIN!”; and Hugo Lilja’s Green’s zombie romancer “The Unliving.”

RELATED LINKS:
Regional Report: Catalonia

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