SITGES, Spain   —  Spaniard Alberto Gastesi’s “Singular” snagged the big prize at the 5th Sitges Pitchbox, a horror-fantasy-sci-fi showcase taking place on Friday at the Sitges Intl. Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, which hosted the event in partnership with online marketplace Filmarket Hub.

Following in the footsteps of Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman, Vincenzo Natali godfathered the Sitges Pitchbox, delivering a heartfelt master class to the Pitchbox’s largely young filmmakers.

A feature debut, “Singular” was presented by director and co-screenwriter Gastesi (“Cactus,” “Mirrors”) and screenwriter Álex Merino.

Mixing sci-fi, drama, and thriller; it follows Diana– who is about to present a thesis on Artificial Intelligence– and Martin, her ex-boyfriend and father of their deceased son. Martin invites Diana to spend a weekend in his lake house and there appears Andrea, a young boy with a patent resemblance to deceased son. Diana suspects that Martin might have spent the last years creating a robot in order to replace their son.

“Singular” is set in a near dystopic world where the war between humans and A.I. is over and humans have lost. “Do androids dream of their mothers?” the film project’s tagline asks.

“We firmly believe that tackling such universal issues makes ‘Singular’ an English-language universal proposal with a potential first-rate casting, so we’re looking for a production company to take this on.” Gastesi told Variety.

Robots, humans, parenthood… what makes “Singular” such a singular proposal is “the deeply human heart feature’s backbone. ‘What makes us human?’ and ‘Why do we find strength to move forward?’ are some of the questions that arise from the plot,” added Merino.

Sitges Pitchbox’s international jury was formed by Cannes Film Market director Jérôme Paillard; Jongsuk Thomas Nam, managing director of the Bucheon Int’l Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN); Sitges deputy general manager Mònica García Massagué;  Max Park, a development editor at Film 4, U.K. broadcaster Channel 4’s film production arm; and Blood Window co-ordinator Javier Fernández. T

The main award comes with a €5,000 ($5,492) cash prize for project development.

Produced by Asta Liukaityte, Daiva Jovaisiene and Kristina Buozyte at Lithuania’s Natrix Natrix and directed by Buozyte and Bruno Samper, “Vesper Seeds” took the NAFF Award, which consists in an invitation to attend and present the project at South Korea’s Bucheon International Film Festival.

Produced by Spain’s Fasten Films and Chile’s Parox, and to be directed by Cristian Jiménez whose “Bonsoi” played Un Certain Regard, “Evasión”won the Blood Window Award – an invitation to attend and present the project at Buenos Aires’ Blood Window.

Seven projects were included in the Pitchbox line-up this year, plus two additions from Bucheon and Ventana Sur events—“Tiger Stripes,” a Malaysia-Indonesia-Singapore co-production, and Argentina’s “Immaculate.”

The Pitchbox also announced 12 special mentions of standout projects to found on Filmarket’s online platform.” These included: Juan Diego Escobar’s “Alma,” from Colombia), Sebastián Araya Serrano’s “Antarctica,” a Spain-Chile production, Alejandro Deli’s “Laments of the Wind” from Mexico and Guillermo Amoedo’s “The Black Tree” from Spain, Mexico.

The event received 250 submissions this year.“Many projects aimed at being easy to produce,  with few locations and low, easily financeable budgets. A noteworthy number of projects had sci-fi elements, and horror of course was often to the fore,” Filmarket Hub co-founder Bernardo Gómez  told Variety.

Companies attending the pitching sessions and the one-to-one meetings Sitges’ Industry Hub included Spanish production outfits Zeta Studios, Dynamo, Filmax, Rodar y Rodar, Morena Films and Nostromo Pictures, as well as Yellow Veil and Uncork’d Entertainment, both American sales companies. Also in attendance was Paper Street Pictures, from the U.S., Italian distributor True Colors and French production-sales company WTFilms.

In his master-class, which introduced the event, Natali – who opened Sitges this year with the Netflix-produced “In the Tall Grass”– gave the audience an inspirational collection of reflections and tips, both seasoned with humor and  passion. A selection:

*“Every new movie is in fact like a first movie… You re-invent yourself at all the time. Spielberg does.”;

*“In Hollywood, it’s hard to make original content. Many times you’ll have to think how to make something that initially is not very special into something special.”

*“We live in very exciting times for different reasons, mostly because of the streaming platforms. We are no longer making films, shorts or TV. We are making visual narratives, all the lines are blurring.”

*“Diversify your portfolio, work on different projects of diverse scales and different styles at the same time. You’ll have, in time, a bunch of things done. It’s an ongoing process.”

*“Film is all about limitations. Get inspiration from your limitations, they will always be there.”

The Canadian director also recalled his first movie shoot, “Cube.” He said his idea was to be in absolute control, planning it down to the smallest detail “drawing every single frame..”

“The film was basically about people going through identical rooms that were connected by doors in a cube,” he remembered. “But when I got to the set, the first thing I noticed was that the doors didn’t work!”

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Alberto Gastesi and Álex Merino