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Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ Dazzles 50th Sitges Festival

Europe’s biggest fantasy event world premieres Movistar +’s ‘La Zona,’ Filmax’s ‘Muse,’ ‘Errementari’

SITGES, Spain — Opening with Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which dazzled critics and audiences alike at the Spanish Festival, the 50th Sitges Festival, a Mecca for genre fanboys and Europe’s biggest fantasy event, looks set to pack some weighty Spanish world premieres: “La Zona,” the fourth original series from Movistar + to see the light of day, a family and crime drama set in the wake of a post nuclear power station meltdown; and “Muse,” an English-language supernatural thriller from Filmax and one of its star directors, Jaume Balagueró, whose [“REC”] franchise installments have proved a highlight of multiple Sitges events.

Sitges will also world premiere “Errementari – The Blacksmith and the Devil,” a Basque Country-set fantasy horror debut from Paul Urkijo, mentored by Álex de la Iglesia and again sold by Filmax.

The big TV premiere is a departure for Sitges. Del Toro’s humanistic horror and powerful local premieres are not so new to the event either. But another departure – and a real-life suspense tale that Spanish unionists might describe as horror – is meanwhile unspooling just a few miles up the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona as the Catalan government, according to some reports, prepares to declare unilaterally the independence of Catalonia on Oct. 9.

There’s little visibility on how a unilateral declaration could play out politically, let alone in terms of its impact on Catalonia’s film and TV industry. But it was inevitably a major talking point at Catalonia’s opening night on Thursday with even William Friedkin, on stage at he opening gala ceremony to accept a Grand Honorary Prize, calling for “a peaceful solution and dialogue.”

Proving far less divisive than Catalan independence, Guillermo del Toro took the Spanish press through “The Shape of Water” at a half-hour press conference saying that the lead role in “The Shape of Water” was written expressly for Sally Hawkins after he saw her in BBC mini-series “Fingersmith” and Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine.”

In “Fingersmith,” she portrayed a “ love with another woman,” which was “very deep, natural, beautiful” and where sex was “part but not the central part of that love but a manifestation.” He could have been talking about “The Shape of Water.”

“All the films that I’ve made are about my childhood, rehearsing my childhood.This is the [first] film I’ve made as an adult, which talks about love, sexuality, politics head-on,” he added, signaling a new stage maybe to his career.

Continuously – and unusually for Sitges – congratulated by journalists at  a packed press conference, Del Toro said that with “The Shape of Water” he had “wanted to celebrate cinema, not specific movies. Cinema is vital, whether good, bad or mediocre.”

He went on: “I’ve been attracted especially to the mechanics of a fairy tale allied with horror aesthetics; They’re relatives. There’s a lot of dark poetry in horror cinema. For me, that’s the reason for making movies.”

Invited guests at Sitges’ 50th take in  Susan Sarandon, Friedkin, Johnnie To, Frank Langella, Robert Englund, Vince Vaughn and Udo Kier (Thomas Gulamerian’s “Courier X”). They will not be alone. Two weeks before the event, sales were tracking 47% up on last year, which saw a 200,000-plus attendance, the biggest of any festival in Spain. The complete lineup this year takes in 255 feature films, TV shows and VR works.

World premieres include Caye Casas and Albert Pintó’s black comedy “Killing God,” Guillermo Amoedo’s horror film “El habitante,” co-produced by Chile’s Nicolás López at Sobras International Pictures; and Steven Nesbit’s U.K. boxing dramedy “Gloves Off,” all in a 34-feature festival official section.

The U.S., perhaps predictably, has the largest number of entries in  Competition: Eleven. Underscoring the relative recovery of France’s genre scene, France follows with seven, then Spain with five.

Just some other titles in a packed main section are Sadrac González- Perellón’s “Black Hollow Cage,” a Reel Suspects-sold family drama fantasy; Brazilian Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s stylish gothic werewolf coming-of-age drama-thriller “Good Manners,” sold by UDI; and Takashi Miike’s “Blade of the Immortal,” on HanWay’s sales books.

Kornél Mundruczó’s supernatural thriller “Jupiter’s Moon,” (The Match Factory), Yorgos Lanthimos’ comic horror-thriller “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (HanWay) and Andrés Goteira’s socio-experimental thriller “Dhogs” also compete at Sitges.

Homegrown titles world premiering at the New Visions showcase take in David González Rudiez’s “Arder,” Manuel Facal’s “Fiesta Nibiru,” Marcus Thompson’s “The Biggest Thing That Ever Hit Broadway – Redux” and Ángel González’s “Compulsión.”

Largely an audience event, Sitges is increasing its industry activities, including a Sitges Pitchbox 2017 for seven fantastic projects chosen out of 150 submissions. In the cut: Daniel M. Caneiro’s “Pochinok” and Carlos García’s “Conexo,” both from Spain, Liam Garvo’s “Biopunk” (U.K.), Victor Jaquier’s “Matilda Corkscrew” (France), Robert Hloz’s “Restore Point” (Czech Republic), Víctor Manuel Checa’s “Teo” (Peru), and Rodrigo Susarte’s “The Monster Within,” a standout in August at Chile’s Sanfic Fest.

The 50th Sitges’s Catalonia Intl. Fantastic Film Festival runs Oct. 5-15.

FANTASTIC COMPETITION

“78/52,” Alexandre O. Philippe, U.S.

“A Ghost Story,” David Lowery, U.S.

“As Boas Maneiras,” Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra, France, Brazil

“Before We Vanish,” Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan

“Black Hollow Cage,” Sadrac González-Perellón, Spain

“Blade Of The Immortal, Takashi Miike, Japan

“Brawl In Cell Block 99,” S. Craig Zahler, U.S.

“Brimstone,” Martin Koolhoven, Netherlands

“Bushwick,” Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott, U.S.

“Caniba,” Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, France

“Dhogs,” Andrés Goteira, Spain

“El Habitante,” Guillermo Amoedo, Mexico

“Errementari,” Paul Urkijo Alijo, Spain, France

“Have A Nice Day,” Liu Jian, China

“Jupiter’s Moon,” Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary, Gemany

“La Villana,” Jung Byung-Gil, South Korea

“Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres,” Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Belgium, France

“Les Affamés,” Robin Aubert, Canada

“Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts,” Mouly Surya, Indonesia, France, Malaysia, Thailand

“Matar A Dios,” Albert Pintó & Caye Casas, Spain

“Mayhem,” Joe Lynch, U.S., Serbia

“Mom And Dad,”Brian Taylor, U.S.

“My Friend Dahmer,” Marc Meyers, U.S.

“Revenge,” Coralie Fargeat, France

“Salyut-7,” Klim Shipenko, Russia

“Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child,” Shane Abbess, Australia

“Survival Family,” Shinobu Yaguchi, Japan

“Sword Master 3d,” Derek Yee, Honk Kong, China

“The Endless,” Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, U.S.

“The Killing Of A Sacred Deer,” Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland, U.K.

“The Maus,” Yayo Herrero, Spain

“The Ritual,” David Bruckner, U.S.

“Thelma,” Joachim Trier, Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark

“Tragedy Girls,” Tyler Macintyre, U.S., Canada

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