October 7, 2011

The 44th Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic


Aerial view of Sitges, site of the film festival
Yesterday was the opening of the 44th Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic in Sitges. Started in 1968, it is one of the two most important film festivals in Spain. The other one is the Donostia Zinemaldia, a.k.a. the San Sebastian International Film Festival. I went there last year and it was pretty fun, but it is a much more standard film festival experience… more serious, more filmic, and with the usual star-gazing. (Though the beautiful Concha beach and delicious pinchos make it a great festival to attend.) The Sitges Festival is a completely different kind of beast, pardon the pun, since it is all about horror film and fantasy, which gives it a much more festive, informal, and even wild atmosphere.  If you are in the area, make your way down to Sitges to catch some of the action. This festival runs until October 16th.

Here I'm just going to give an overview of the festival, and later I'll report back to you about my experiences there. Getting Oriented: Hotel Meliá Sitges is the Festival's "nerve center," were press conferences and interviews take place. Movie screenings take place in one of three theatres. The Auditori, attached to Hotel Meliá, seats 1,384, and is the largest cinema theatre in the Mediterranean. The other two are Cine el Retiro and Cine Prado.

The Auditori movie theater, which seats 1,384, is attached to the Hotel Meliá Sitges,
and is one of three venues where festival films are screened.

"Brigadoon," a festival tradition: screening
sci-fi and horror classics, and free!
With, by my count, over 140 new movies being screened (almost 300 if you count screenings of classic films), the festival is organized around several different categories of movies. The Oficial Fantàstic with an "In-Competition Selection" and a "Panorama Section," are the main competitions, and award films that "traverse various genres, including science-fiction, fantasy innovation, horror and thrillers among other sensations inviting the spectator to see cinema as an unlimited language". Sitges's program is a bit more risqué, encouraging grotesque or disturbing content, and also probably more (non-European) international than most standard film festivals. In recent years it has expanded its "Casa Asia," subcategory of the Oficial Fantàstic Panorama, paying tribute to Asian cinema and its long dominance in sci-fi, horror, and fantasy films. The other major category of films are the Noves Visions, for innovative and transgressive approaches, with "Ficció," "No Ficció," "Discovery," and "Dark Ficció" subsections. There are also special screenings of commercial new-release movies which don't compete for awards but use the festival to raise the profile of their movie.

The official 2011 posters for the Sitges Festival, featuring the theme of "alter egos"

A ninja Harry Potter? The protagonist of
Ninja Kids!!! (2011).
Those are the official categories, the heart and blood of the festival and what make it tick, but not what make it jump. In addition to these official screenings are dozens of crowd-pleasing events intended to liven up the atmosphere and create a more interactive experience for the festival participants. I probably won't make it to one of them, since I don't know that I have the stamina, but easily the coolest festival series are the "Midnight X-treme" screenings: marathon screenings (actually starting a 1AM) running around six hours of movies back-to-back, each with some kind of unifying sci-fi or horror theme. A couple of examples of some fun marathons to attend are "La Nit + Zombie," featuring classic and new zombie movies, and "Japan Madness," showing some new hit karate/anime-style movies just out in Japan (including the adorable-sounding hit movie, Ninja Kids!!! (2011), which I've heard described as Harry Potter meets Japanese ninja school). Though probably 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (2011), the Hong Kong 3D porn movie, will be one of the bigger crowd draws, and is also featured in a midnight marathon with other porn and sex-themed movies. Another tradition at the festival are free screenings of movie classics, in two special sections: Sitges Clàssics, where they show old movies that won awards at past Sitges, and Brigadoon, screenings of all-time classics of horror and sci-fi. Recently the festival has also hosted a Zombie Walk, sponsored by Jack Daniel's, I suppose so that festival participants aren't just sitting down in theatres but also get some exercise.

 Official spot for the Jack Daniel's Sitges Zombie Walk 2011

There are a bunch of movies getting buzz as festival highlights this year's. Eva (2011) is a Catalan production about a future with artificially intelligent robots. It was chosen to open the festival in order to mark the 10th anniversary of Spielberg's A.I. (2001). Lars Von Trier's moody Melancholia (2011) and Steven Soderbergh's Contagion (2011) will be given featured screenings. Another movie being played up in the festival press is Guillermo del Toro's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010). I'm a big fan of Korea horror films and am therefore very curious about Sector 7 (2011) is getting a lot of positive press. Finally, The Thing (2011), a prequel to the 1982 classic of the same title, is debuting here, is expected to be a big hit, and has been given the honor of closing the festival. I've got tickets to see The Thing, and will also be seeing the Australian movie Sleeping Beauty (2011), a dark, modern-day twist of the classic fairytale, and the Danish film Beast (2010), Christoffer Boe's latest movie. I'm going to decide last-minute if I think I can cram in more movies than that in the 24 hours I'll have in Sitges.

 "Alter ego," the official spot for the 2011 Sitges Film Festival
highlighting the theme of artificial intelligence and robots.

Sitges itself is a picturesque Catalan beachtown, so while there for the festival be sure to leave time to stroll along the beach and see the "casco antiguo" (old town center), including the 17th-century church which along with the old town center juts out into the sea on a small peninsula. You also might want to visit the Cau Ferrat Museum, which was once the summer home of modernist artist and writer Santiago Rusiñol. And apparently Sitges lies on the Xató Route, which means it is a good place to try "xató," an endive salad with a typical Catalán sauce made with almonds and hazelnuts.

The Sitges casco antiguo as seen on a dark and stormy night.

1 comment:

An Expat in Spain said...

If you are interested in knowing who are this year's festival winners, see here:
http://sitgesfilmfestival.com/eng/noticies/?id=1003088#01

I highly recommend "The Thing" (2011), and "Attack the Block" (2011) got _a lot_ of positive buzz.

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