Fantasia World

Film Fest’s Month-Long Takeover Begins

  • AXIS is Fantasia’s International Animation film spotlight

Fantasia is Christmas in July for film lovers. The festival has introduced local audiences to high-quality, unique films they would never normally see while boosting the careers of emerging auteurs along the way.

This summer marks the festival’s sweet sixteen, as well as a decade of screenings at Concordia. The recently formalized partnership between the university and its biggest third-party event is helping transform the campus into a cultural center.

What started as a film fest focused on bringing audiences the best in Asian cinema has become a multi-faceted art and industry showcase.

“The genre now is ‘Films We Love,’” said Mitch Davis, the co-general director of Fantasia, about what the fest has evolved into.

“It’s still predominantly a fantasy, action, horror showcase, but […] if there’s any one thread that’s usually present between the varying extremes, it’s that these are almost all films made with a real purity of vision—not generic, compromised, multiplex blockbusters. These are films that take risks and have real voices behind them.” 

Accessibility is important for the fest, and one of the reasons prices are kept low—it’s $9.00 for a single ticket, or $80 for 10. Since many of the films have had little buzz before the screenings, organizers are helping the audience to take the leap of faith with them.

Fantasia is so expansive that its program looks like a small-town phonebook. The events inside range from film-industry schmoozers to art shows. There’s a documentary spotlight, and even a heavy-metal larp party (that’s short for “live action role-playing,” the subculture where people dress up in medieval gear and fight each other).

Putting together the festival is a year-long affair. Some films submit their work to the fest for consideration, while others just happen catch a programmer’s eye.

“Our methodology is a combination of scouting at film festivals and markets—Berlin, Tribeca, SXSW, Cannes—unsolicited submissions that show up in the mail and blow us away, titles we’ve been tracking that we hunt down to be able to see and plain old friendships,” said Davis.

The Concordia Connection

Fantasia has the distinction of being one of the city’s first major cultural offerings to adopt Concordia as its venue of choice. The partnership, which has just been formalized this year, will help give Concordia students access to the world of filmmaking through internships and scholarships. It also gives the proudly urban and community-driven university another reason to step up as cultural center.

Clarence Epstein, the director of special projects and cultural affairs at Concordia, said the emerging Quartier Concordia would be “like the Quartier des Spectacles might be defined […] as a center for cultural and intellectual activity.

“When you look at festivals that have come on board in the past ten years here at the university, with Fantasia being the central one, every year we are engaging and encouraging the cultural organizations from Montreal and abroad to engage with us at Concordia in connecting to our community, as well as the neighborhood developing in our midst.”


Fantasia’s success at Concordia inspired local film-lover and festival founder Michael Dahan to bring the inaugural edition of his Animaze Film Festival to the university last fall. It hosted master classes, competitions and a variety of screenings.

“I can see more festivals taking place at Concordia in the near future, as the [National Film Board] theatre on St. Denis just closed,” said Dahan. “All the festivals that took place there will need homes, and Concordia is the next best option by far. I wouldn’t be surprised if Concordia did become the center of the film festival world soon.”

While he’s not sure how close the university is to being an overall cultural hub, during Fantasia’s run, it definitely seems to be the case.

“It looks like Concordia is the center of the universe at that time.”

The Film Fest Branches Out

Fantasia offerings are transcending the screen with other forms like visual art. Davis said it’s a precursor to a love of cinema, so Fantasia is hosting the poster art exhibition They Came From Within.

“When we were kids, art was the first visceral shock to our systems that introduced all of us to the world of the fantastic, to the possibilities of the imagination. […] Of course, today’s era of a Photoshopped actor’s headshots puked out in a thoughtless montage against a cityscape, skyline or clouds is an entirely different, far less inspirational animal from the hand-painted flights-of-fancy of yesterday.”

The poster art comes from an alternate reality version of Canada. Canada’s top genre filmmakers were asked to make up projects that could have happened in decades past, or in the future.

“Something great that might get made in the future of exploitation film is called “The Death of Canada”—because Harper actually succeeds in destroying the entire country,” Davis said.

Of the 40 countries that have movies in the fest, some have earned their own spotlight. Filipino cinema is getting attention because of the country’s filmmaking rebirth.

Animation is featured in the AXIS collection, which blends all styles of animated work, and documentaries have returned for the sixth year with the series Documentaries From the Edge.

Asian cinema is also back in force, particularly with a celebration of Japan’s oldest and most important studio, Nikkatsu. Fantasia is teaming up with the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma to bring a retrospective of the studio’s key films from the past century.

“It looks like Concordia is the center of the universe at that time.”

FRINGE PICKS

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
July 23, 10:00 p.m.

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Brian Knappenberger has said he isn’t worried about retaliation if the hacker group Anonymous—his chosen subject—doesn’t like his final cut.

“The truth is, I don’t think you make a documentary in a climate of fear.”

Knappenberger’s been making documentaries for 15 years with PBS Frontline and National Geographic, but this is the first long-form film he’s taken on in a while.

Anonymous’ attacks on Visa, Mastercard and PayPal in 2010—which were in retaliation for the companies’ blocking donations to WikiLeaks—sparked Knappenberger’s interest in the subject. But getting members of the collective to go on camera and speak in depth about the hacker world was tough.

The movie has been two years in the making. It tells the story of Anonymous chronologically as they move from pranksters to a unique online culture with a message.

“They’ve been called criminals, they’ve been called hooligans and terrorists and all this stuff, and in some ways these things aren’t that far off the mark. But they are a deeper, more subtle, and more interesting community and culture than any of that portrays.

“There’s value in trying to understand them as a culture—where they came from, who they are, and what they want.”

The Human Race
July 29, 9:50 p.m.

It’s not surprising the producers had every door in Hollywood slammed in their face when they shopped an action script that starred disabled people. The filmmakers put together a trailer with what footage they had and posted it to a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to be able to complete the project.

The character-driven sci-fi/action movie casts a harsh light on humanity’s inherent cruelty while managing to be inspirational. The film still isn’t fully edited so the pressure’s on for it to be ready for its world premier at Fantasia.

Despite the Gods
Aug. 4, 5:20 p.m.

Despite the Gods takes audiences to the other side of the camera. It’s a Lost in La Mancha-style ode to a film shoot gone horribly wrong.

Jennifer Lynch was hired to direct a six-million-dollar America and Bollywood co-creation based on the Indian legend of a snake-woman. The three-month shoot dragged on to eight, and the person hired to film a behind-the-scenes of the movie ended up with a documentary of Lynch losing it.

Up against misogyny from her crew and producer, the language barrier, an insufferable celebrity culture and the challenges of nature, Lynch is funny, honest, and painfully determined despite it all.

Fantasia International Film Festival / July 19 to Aug. 9 / Concordia Henry F. Hall Building (1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., room H-110)/$9.00 / Visit fantasiafestival.com for more info.

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