Fantasia Film Festival 2021

Office Royale by Kazuaki Seki

Your guide to the 2021 hybrid edition of Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival

In-person, live-streaming and on-demand, Aug. 5–25.

After one edition happening entirely online for reasons that we are all intimately familiar with, the Fantasia International Film Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a hybrid edition for 2021, Aug. 5–25, featuring both in-person screenings and virtual ones. Furthermore, virtual screenings are split between films available on-demand and films screening during a specific window of time. 

The usual suspects

Raging Fire Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Raging Fire (Fantasia Film Festival 2021)

All of director Richard Bates Jr.’s films have played Fantasia in the past. He reunites with frequent collaborator Matthew Gray Gubler for King Knight, a film set in the world of modern witchcraft. Donnie Yen stars in Raging Fire, an action movie that’s also the swan song for prolific Hong Kong director Benny Chan, who died soon after production. DIY family filmmakers John and Zelda Adams and Toby Poser made quite a splash a few years ago with their low-budget horror film The Deeper You Dig. They’re back this year with Hellbender, an occult coming-of-age drama in which they also star. Festival favourite Takashi Miike returns with this year’s closing film. The Great Yokai War: Guardians is the sequel to his 2005 film The Great Yokai War, a super energetic family film with weird demons a-plenty.

Cult Japanese director Shunji Iwai is featured thrice this year, first with his classic 2001 film All About Lily Chou-Chou, which has been freshly remastered and is being offered on-demand by the festival, with his 1998 romance April Story and finally with his latest, the pandemic-shot The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8. Punk auteur Masashi Yamamoto returns with the gore-spattered Wonderful Paradise, which program notes describe as “a demented Teorema.”


Opération Luchador Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Opération Luchador (Fantasia Film Festival 2021)

Roy Dupuis leads an all-star Quebec cast in Brain Freeze, a subversive zombie comedy from director Julien Knafo. Mariana Mazza co-wrote and stars in Maria, a dramatic comedy from short-film and webseries stalwart Alec Pronovost. Alain Vézina (Le scaphandrier) returns with Opération Luchador, a mockumentary about a masked wrestler named l’Ange Doré and his fight against the Third Reich. Bitchin’ Kitchen star Nadia G directs We Are the Menstruators, a documentary exploring her own musical career at the head of a punk band. The Genres du pays section this year includes two films from the archives: the little-seen sex comedy Finalement… starring Jacques Riberolles and Chantal Renaud as well as Robert Morin’s landmark 1994 film Yes Sir! Madame… now available in 4K. The fact that both restorations have titles that end in ellipses is, as far as I can tell, totally coincidental.

My God, it’s full of stars

Fresh off a remarkable performance in Pig, Nicolas Cage arrives at Fantasia with a promisingly gonzo proposition: a partnership with off-the-wall Japanese auteur Sion Sono titled Prisoners of the Ghostland, a wasteland Western that sounds… pretty hard to describe. Rebecca Hall toplines The Night House, the latest thriller from indie horror sensation David Bruckner (The Ritual, The Signal), in which she plays a woman who begins suffering from terrifying visions while living alone. Melissa Leo, Josh Hartnett and Frank Grillo star in Ida Red, the newest crime drama from director John Swab (Let Me Make You a Martyr). 

What’s up docs

Former Montrealer Kier-La Janisse (of Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Cinema fame) directs Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, an extensive (192 minutes!) look at folk horror in all its forms with a murderer’s row of talking heads. Marianne Elliot-Said, best known as X-Ray Spex singer Poly Styrene, cut a pretty original figure on the British punk scene of the 1970s as a biracial teenager with braces who brought screeching energy to her stage performances. She’s the subject of Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, which is available on-demand throughout the festival. Late anime auteur Satoshi Kon’s life and career is explored in the documentary Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist.


Funky Forest Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Funky Forest (Fantasia Film Festival 2021)

Apart from the aforementioned Sunji Iwai films, the retrospective slate this year includes the bizarre and indescribable 2005 Japanese film Funky Forest: The First Contact as well as its sequel, Warped Forest, the long-unseen Serge Gainsbourg-starring spy thriller The Unknown Man of Shandigor, Higuchinsky’s landmark J-horror classic Uzumaki from 2000, the blind-zombie classic Tombs of the Blind Dead and the first-ever Italian horror movie to be made in colour, Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women

There are, of course, tons of other films being presented as part of Fantasia, many of them unknown quantities to everyone except those who programmed them. Being surprised and bowled over is part of the Fantasia experience as well, so head over to their website to see the full scope of what’s on offer this year. ■

For the complete 2021 Fantasia program, to buy tickets for in-person, on-demand and streaming screenings, please visit the festival website. This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Cult MTL.

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