Though some aspects of regular life seem to slowly be coming back (sometimes in heavily modified fashion), one thing is for certain: in-person festivals are very much going to be a 2021 thing — at the very earliest. Most music festivals chose to cancel outright; some film festivals did the same, but Montreal’s Fantasia Festival has opted to go all digital this year. It’s difficult to turn an operation like Fantasia around so quickly and it’s suicidal for an organization that depends so much on attendance during two summer weeks to simply push to next year, so the organizers have opted for an exclusively online edition in 2020.
Using the streaming platforms FestivalScope and Shift72, the festival is offering both “live” screenings and on-demand ones from Aug. 20 to Sept. 2. All screenings require that a ticket ($8) be purchased online, allowing you to either watch one of the on-demand titles at your leisure or to log into a live screening. (Make sure you’re on time — live screenings have a five-minute grace period before you get locked out forever!) Every screening has a limited number of tickets, roughly equivalent to the seating that would have been available in Concordia’s two downtown cinemas (where Fantasia usually takes place). For rights reasons, all screenings are geo-blocked to Canadian audiences only. Check out Fantasia’s Frequently Asked Questions section for more information about purchasing tickets and the functioning of screenings.
The usual suspects
It’s been a while since Lloyd Kaufman of Troma has made a film. You have to go way back to Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High aka Vol. 2 back in 2017 — which isn’t really that far away but seems like an eternity compared with his usual productivity. He returns with #ShakespearesShitstorm (Aug. 29) , a gleefully trashy take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the vein of his previous Tromeo and Juliet.
Hong Kong director Johnnie To is also known for his extreme productivity, though his efforts tend to be in the action and thriller genres and are significantly less likely to contain geysers of shit and cum. His latest, Chasing Dream (on demand), is described as a mix between a musical and an MMA drama (!).
Jorge Michael Grau made one of the enduring genre classics of the last decade with We Are What We Are; he returns with Perdida (on demand), a thriller that’s described as being influenced by Hitchcock and (perhaps inevitably) DePalma. Japanese maverick Nobuhiko Obayashi (House) passed away in April of 2020, leaving behind a deeply idiosyncratic oeuvre and one last film: the epic ode to cinema Labyrinth of Cinema (Aug. 24 and 31), which plays on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31. Some say Neil Marshall never really matched the one-two horror punch of his first two features, Dog Soldiers and The Descent. He returns to the horror genre with The Reckoning (Aug. 20), a plague-era film about a woman (Charlotte Kirk) accused of witchcraft.
Étienne Galloy is best known for his roles in Prank and Avant qu’on explose; he gathers much of the cast of the latter for his co-directorial debut with Christophe Levac, La marina (Aug. 27) . A slacker comedy about a budding wakeboarding star who is forced to spend the summer in Chambly with his cousin, the film stars Rémi Goulet, Madani Tall and Rose-Marie Perreault. Émile Schneider and Catherine Chabot star in 2011 (on demand), an experimental thriller from Alexandre Prieur-Grenier about a young editor who becomes obsessed with a project he’s trying to finish while also getting embroiled in the drama surrounding him.
Yankee (on demand) is Stéphan Beaudoin’s second film, a bilingual thriller about a young American woman who becomes embroiled in an underground fight scene while hiding out with her drug dealer cousin in Drummondville. The film is Beaudoin’s second feature, after 2015’s Le rang du lion. Elza Kephart’s Slaxx (Aug. 23) was originally presented as a potential project at the Frontières market in 2017. The satirical horror feature about a killer pair of designer jeans stars Romane Denis (Charlotte a du fun).
My God, it’s full of stars
Katja Herbers (Westworld’s Emily Grace) stars in The Columnist (on demand), a dark comedy about a happy-go-lucky newspaper columnist who snaps after reading the comments she has been so studiously avoiding. It’s certainly a timely subject, and the premise of a revenge thriller about Internet comments certainly holds a lot of promise. Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) appears in a supporting role in Patrick (on demand), a Belgian comedy set on a nudist camp from longtime TV director Tim Mielants (Legion, The Terror, Peaky Blinders).
Brea Grant may not be a household name (unless, like me, you are enough of a podcast nerd that you recognize her name from the literature podcast she hosts, Reading Glasses) but she has worked rather consistently in genre film for 15 years, appearing in Heroes, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and several other cult favourites. (Grant also wrote and stars in Lucky, which also screens at Fantasia this year.) 12 Hour Shift (Aug. 22 and 27) is her second directorial effort, a dark comedy starring Angela Bettis (May) as a drug-addicted nurse who runs a side business harvesting and selling organs. Mick Foley and David Arquette co-star.
Speaking of Arquette, he’s the subject of You Cannot Kill David Arquette (Aug. 24), a documentary that charts Arquette’s parallel career in pro-wrestling, from his stint in WCW in the early 2000s to his return in the ring in recent years. Amongst the many highlights of the Safdies’ Uncut Gems was Julia Fox’s performance as the lead character’s employee and mistress. Her first role since Uncut Gems comes in the form of PVT Chat (Aug. 21 and 25), a camgirl drama from director Ben Hozie (also frontman of the band Bodega) that also stars Peter Vack and Buddy Duress.
Restorations and retrospectives
Zé do Caixão (known in English by the moniker Coffin Joe) is an enduring character of a Nietzchian undertaker (!) created by Portuguese writer-actor-director José Mojica Marins. To commemorate Marins’ passing earlier this year, Fantasia has programmed a retrospective of a few of his films (At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, The End of Man) as well as a documentary about Marins (The Strange World of Coffin Joe). The Fantasia Classics branch offers nine on-demand screenings of well-known genre classics from Fantasia’s Asian cinema archives, including Wilson Yip’s SPL: Kill Zone, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Air Doll, which took the AQCC prize at Fantasia in 2010, and Johnnie To’s 1998 A Legend Never Dies.
I have to admit I’d never heard of 1966’s Sting of Death (on demand) before it was programmed by Fantasia. A seemingly minor entry in the genre of ’60s beach movies about giant monsters (this time a man-sized medusa, of course) torturing teenagers, it has been lovingly restored by Arrow Video. Fantasia fave Buddy Giovinazzo followed up his low-budget breakout Combat Shock with the indie No Way Home (Aug. 27), a brutal drama starring Tim Roth, James Russo and Deborah Kara Unger. Also screening fresh off a restoration from Severin Films is Mexican genre stalwart Alex de la Iglesia’s The Day of the Beast (Sept. 1), considered by many to be his best film (Fantasia programmer Mitch Davis calls it “one of the best horror comedies of all time” in his festival notes!).
Odds and ends
John Hyams is probably best known for the two Universal Soldier sequels he directed about a decade ago. Though presented as your run-of-the-mill DTV van Damme cash-ins, they garnered quite a bit of critical attention, which in turn seemingly led to a series of gigs directing TV and one family-friendly baseball movie. Hyams is back in genre waters with Alone (Aug. 27), a sparse chase thriller.
Pepe the Frog, the chill Internet frog that inadvertently became a symbol of the alt-right, is at the centre of Feels Good Man (on demand), a documentary from Arthur Jones that chronicles the rise and fall and rise of that most unassuming of symbols of hatred. It’s hard to describe Tiny Tim, especially now that he’s long gone. A tall, falsetto-voiced oddball who was a frequent guest on talk shows as well as a best-selling recording artist, he’s the subject of Tiny Tim — King for a Day (Aug. 23).
One of the great surprises of all my years watching Fantasia films had to be Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead, a truly surprising horror comedy that played with genre in a way that truly knocked me out. Ueda is back this year with Special Actors (Aug. 20), an equally meta comedy in which a troupe of actors must infiltrate a cult to save a young woman who has been indoctrinated.
Makoto Tezuka directs Tezuka’s Barbara (Aug. 25 and 28), an adaptation of his own father’s erotic manga from the 1970s. To be perfectly honest, I’m not super familiar with the source material, but the cinematography is by Christopher Doyle, which is enough of a recommendation in itself. ■
To see the complete Fantasia Festival program and more details about tickets and streaming, please visit their website.
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