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Jalmari Helander’s WWII action thriller “Sisu” has made good on its upbeat reception at Toronto Midnight Madness – Variety called it “outrageously entertaining” – winning the top award at this year’s Sitges – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia which is showing, like genre itself, clear signs of expansion. 

The over 70,000 tickets sold at 2022’s Sitges were 10% up on 2019, and an all-time record. Sitges guests stood at 610, also the biggest figure ever, announced  Mònica García Massagué, director of the Sitges Foundation. 

One of the other big winners at Sitges was “The House of the Devil’s” Ti West, with “Pearl,” a prequel to porn shoot slasher “X” which plays like a cross between “Psycho” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” Variety announced in its review.

In further awards, Michele Garza’s body horror thriller “Huesera,” a probing motherhood drama and arresting mix of LGTBQ passion and genre innovation, added to its Tribeca Fest double win by walking off with Sitges’ Blood Window award.  

Already a Golden Leopard laureate at this year’s Locarno’s Cineasti del Presente, Tereza Nvotová’s “Nightsiren” – “a reflection on rural misogyny that braids realism with indigenous mythology,” said Variety’s Guy Lodge –  snagged the festival’s Méliès d’Argent Award for best fantastic genre feature film.

Sitges’ prizes, highlights and industry spotlights served to underscore trends now playing out through genre cinema. Following, five takes: 

It’s a Woman’s Genre World, at Least More Than in the Past

Reaping rave reviews at Sundance, Carlota Pereda’s “Piggy” went on to win the European genre fests’ Meliès d’Or Award for best feature at a Sitges ceremony on Thursday. The film is a “formidable debut drawing its terror from the same well of adolescent female insecurity as ‘Carrie,’ before going its own grisly way,” Variety’s Guy Lodge wrote in a review. Certainly, two of the most exciting Spanish-language debuts of the year are both genre, both directed by women: “Piggy” and “Huesera.” 

Piggy Credit: Morena Films

WomanInFan: Necessary Activism

The problem with women genre directors is that there still aren’t many of them. Hence the need for initiatives such as Sitges’ WomaninFan. “I think – WomanInFan program- is necessary because genre has been a male’ driven format. It’s changing now, but we have to remain vigilant so we don’t become just a simple quota,” explained WomanInFan’ winner Estíbaliz Burgaleta.

Genre Broadens

As genre – understood as horror, sci-fi, the fantastic and thrillers – becomes ever more a production and export option, it is also broadening its boundaries. Classic slashers played Sitges, but so too did newer genre narratives such as Edouard Salier’s “Tropic” and Eduardo Casanova’s “Piety.” “The boundaries of what is typically considered genre –or an appropriate topic to tackle within genre, has been broadening significantly,” explained XYZ Films producer Todd Brown. “Literary genre writers, for example, have always explored large issues with great depth, and what we’re seeing now is a generation of filmmakers who are bringing those lessons into film.” 

Unifrance Puts Its Back Behind Genre

As genre builds and broadens, so does its institutional support. Over recent years, Unifrance, Europe’s biggest and trend-setting national film promotion body, has moved smartly to support production with large growth potential, whether TV drama series, animation or now genre. At Sitges, Unifrance and France’s Sofilms Residency unveiled a new genre support program for genre creators in league with Wild Bunch – a decades-old genre advocate – and French pay TV giant Canal+. Winners will be promoted by Unifrance at different markets, festivals and events, Unifrance general manager Axel Scoffier said at the presentation.

Growing Genre Infrastructure

As genre grows, so does its infrastructure. In one of the latest moves, a brace of genre festivals in Latin America have banded together to launch Fantlatam. The new industry body was unveiled at Sitges by Blood Window’ head of industry Javier Fernández, Sitges Foundation general manager García-Massague and recently-appointed Fantlatam director Mónica Trigo. Following the example of the European Genre Film Foundation (EGFF), Fantlatam aid to coordinate the 25-or-so genre festivals across Latin America. Members already include events in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela. “This is just a starting point, we hope to add many more festivals,” explained Trigo. “Festivals keep popping up in Latin America, but we’re still missing an inter-connection between all of them,” added Fernández.

John Hopewell contributed to this article.

Sitges Film Festival Prizes:

Fantàstic Official Selection

Best Feature Film

“Sisu,” (Jalmari Helander, Finland)

Special Jury Award

“Project Wolf Hunting,” (Kim Hong-sun)

Best Actress

Mia Goth (“Pearl”

Special Mention

Natalia Germani & Eva Mores (“Nightsiren”)

Best Direction

Ti West (“Pearl”)

Special Mention

Tereza Nvotová (“Nightsiren”)

Best Actor

Jorma Tommila (“Sisu”)

Best Screenplay

“Smoking Causes Coughing & Incredible But True,” (Quentin Dupieux)

Best Special, Visual or Makeup Effects

“Irati,” and “Ego”

Special Mention

“Project Wolf Hunting”

Best Music

Juri Seppä & Tuomas Wäinölä (“Sisu”)

Best Cinematography

Kjell Lagerroos (“Sisu”)

Noves Visions

Best Feature

“Jerk,” (Gisèle Vienne)

Best Direction

Martika Ramirez Escobar (“Leonor Will Never Die”)

Best Short Film

“Flashback Before Death,” (Rii Ishihara & Hiroyuki Onogawa)

Méliès d’Argent Awards

Best Fantastic Genre Feature Film

“Nightsiren,” (Tereza Nvotová)

Best European Fantasy Genre Short Film

“La machine d’Alex,” (Mael Le Mée)

Critic’s Jury – Fantastic Official Selection

Best Short Film

“The Newt Congress,” (Matthias Sahli & Immanuel Esser)

José Luis Guarner Critics’ Award

“Something in the Dirt,” (Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson 

Citizen Kane Award – Best New Director

Michelle Garza (“Huesera”)

Anima’t Awards

Animated Feature Film

“La otra forma,” (Diego Guzmán)

Animated Short Film

“Ecorchée,” (Joachim Hérissé)

Òrbita Award

“H4Z4RD,” (Jonas Govaerts)

Blood Window Award

“Huesera,” (Michelle Garza)

Brigadoon Award – Short Film

“El semblante,” (Raúl Cerezo y Carlos Moriana)

Carnet Jove Jury Awards

Feature Film

“You Won’t Be Alone” (Goran Stolevski)

Documental

“Jurassic Punk” (Scott Leberecht)
SGAE Nova Astoria Award

Production Design

Ariadna Pastor (“Tornar a casa”)

Screenplay

Ariadna Pastor (“Tornar a casa”)

Original Music

Valentín Cremona (“Sweet Side”)

Audience Awards

Fantàstic Official Selection

“Irati,” (Paul Urkijo)

Panorama Fantàstic Official Selection 

“Deadstream,” (Joseph Winter & Vanessa Winter)

Focus Asia

“The Roundup,” (Lee Sang-yong)

Midnight X-treme

“Sissy,” (Kane Senes & Hannah Barlow)