Fantasporto: 38 years putting Porto on the horror film festivals map

The founders and the new generation of Fantasporto together on stage.
The founders and the new generation of Fantasporto together on stage.

I just returned from an award ceremony where Guillermo del Toro won two Best Film awards, and I’m not talking about the Oscars. I guess you have to be there to understand that Fantasporto is not an underrated international film festival, happening every year in an obscure location in the North of Portugal since 1981. Although, the shroud of mystery and the unknown would suit the horror movies I was there to see.

If you’ve been reading Tripper for a while, you’ll know this was my third time at the festival. You’ll also know that I’m a fan of the Fantasporto Film Festival for a while now, ever since I saw their logo on the cover of a VHS tape of “Braindead” – the Peter Jackson movie that won Best Film award in 1993.

Four years ago, I was searching for festivals in Portugal and I came across Fantasporto, described by Variety as one of the Top 25 Film Festivals in the world. (…) I was not quite familiar with Oporto when I first submitted to the festival. But I was aware of its beauty and kindness of the people when I came here the first time.

(Ferdinand Lapuz, Producer, Philippines)

But, you may ask, what does this horror film festival has to do with sustainable cultural tourism? Everything. Like any other festival or cultural event that I’ve covered in this blog since 2014.

Why some local tourism boards fail to connect the dots between tourism and culture (in every shape, size, and form) is beyond me. I was invited to Pico Island (Azores) and to Maia (near Porto) as a travel blogger at the time of local cultural events, the Azores Fringe Festival and the International Festival of Comic Theater.

Connect. The. Dots.

At the Lisbon Tourism Fair (a blog post about this will be published soon), I browsed dozens of booths but I only approached those with a strong cultural identity and who were promoting their year-round events. Their product was incredibly specific and targeted – they knew, by heart, what their strengths and what their weaknesses were, and they most certainly weren’t interested in attracting huge crowds.

Porto, I love you dearly, but you were not well represented at the fair. A huge booth with no one I could talk to and a table full of brochures for sightseers (and, believe me, there is so much more to tourism than seeing the sights) is not my idea of a destination actively promoting itself.

But I digress. I’m reading through my notes from the Fantasporto press conference as I’m writing this and I have a few things I want to address.

The fallacy of big titles

A look through my Facebook feed and I’m under the impression we are, apparently, living in the era of the ultimate, biggest, best [whatever you want to insert here]. Yes, there’s a chance I’m reading too many blogs and we are all reading the same blog posts on how to write a catchier Google-ranking worthy headline. But the trend is stretching to other industries too.

Somewhere someone must have said that the only way to beat the competition is to be louder, bring on the big names, go out with a bang.

“We got an application from Kyrgyzstan! Can you believe that? Fantas reached Kyrgyzstan!”, Beatriz Pacheco Pereira, co-founder of Fantasporto, was genuinely happy sharing this with me just a few minutes before the press conference. And I share her enthusiasm.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of festivals with my films all over the world, I can easily say that Fantasporto is the best. I had a great time with my film “Caught” last year and wanted to return with my new film “Fractured”. (…) I’d known about the festival for a few years, last year was my first time attending though. I’m hoping to bring all my films to Oporto.

(Jamie Patterson, Director, “Fractured”, UK)

In the past 38 years, plenty of (now) stars debuted their horror and fantasy films at Fantasporto:

The winners of the Best Fantasy Film Award include David Cronenberg (for “Scanners”, in 1983), Luc Besson (for “The Last Battle”, in 1984), horror film legend George A. Romero (for “Monkey Shines”, in 1989), Peter Jackson (for “Braindead”, in 1993), Guillermo del Toro (twice, for “Cronos” in 1994 and for “El laberinto del Fauno” in 2007), Danny Boyle (for “Shallow Grave”, in 1995), David Fincher (for “Seven”, in 1996), the Wachowski Sisters (for “Bound”, in 1997), Vincenzo Natali (for “Cube”, in 1999), Alejandro González Iñárritu (for “Amores Perros”, in 2001), La Fura dels Baus (for “Fausto 5.0”, in 2002), and Andy Muschietti, the director of the 2017 “It” remake (for “Mama”, in 2013).

The reason why I’m (unabashedly) namedropping is to show the skeptics that none of these “big names” were big then. That’s why independent film festivals exist. Damn it, that’s why any independent cultural event exists.

In this 2018 edition, Robin Aubert won the awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Fantasy Film Director for “Les Affamés”, Ian Veneracion won Best Actor in a Fantasy Film, Jessica McLeod won Best Actress in a Fantasy Film for “The Hollow Child” (Jeremy Lutter’s first feature film), Rainer Sarnet won the Jury’s Special Award (Fantasy Section), and Katsuyuki Motohiro won Best Visual Effects (Fantasy Section) for “Afin: Demi Human”.

Will Fantasporto open all the doors for a filmmaker who is just starting out? Of course not, they’re not a remote control. Your talent, work, and commitment will open those doors. And it is your talent, work, and commitment that will get the attention of film festival directors.

The 38th edition of Fantasporto received 608 applications. Only 112 were selected. And the selection criteria is really tight. Beatriz and Mário Dorminsky (the other co-founder) are not only thinking about the film. They’re thinking about the audience – how recent the film is, how it will add value to the festival’s topic and atmosphere, and if it’s screening for the first time in Portugal.

They could make it the loudest, ultimate, best, biggest horror film festival in the world and show all 600 films. Roll out the red carpet. Turn the closing ceremony into a four-hour televised event from Porto to the world.

But that’s not the point.

Do people really travel for Fantasporto?

Yes, they do.

If you are not seeing the connection between tourism and culture yet, you’re not paying attention.

I’ve hopped on a train from Lisbon every year since 2015 and will continue to do so (unless pressing life events get in the way). On average, I’ve stayed for three days and two nights, usually in the last weekend of the festival, staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants, and writing about the city outside the event.

Despite the low publicity to the film festival (I didn’t see as many posters as I did two years ago in the metro and on bus stops), there were plenty of familiar faces staying at the same hotel as me (the NH Collection Porto Batalha hotel*) that I recognized from the festival venue. The word *does* get around. I’m sure crunching up the numbers won’t be that difficult, but I’m not a statistician.

Embrace the niche instead of trying to fit the image of a mass tourism destination. Fantasporto is a festival of loyal fans to a specific genre, you can never sell it as a festival for everyone. And that is fine. Admit it, commit to it, and sell that image. Trying to push it to become a generic festival is as silly as a meat-only restaurant trying to create a vegetarian dish. It’s simply not the same target.

I was told about the festival by other filmmakers. I did some research and it was known as one of the top genre film festivals in the world. (…) I have known about the festival for years. (…) I believe I was at the Cannes film festival at the time when I first heard about Fantasporto.

(Jeremy Lutter, Director, “The Hollow Child”, Canada)

I know we’re all concerned about overtourism (and we should be) and the more we publicize an event, the more people will come. Well, I don’t think Fantasporto will ever be that mainstream, so we’re good.

When the tourism hype dies out, culture, authenticity, identity, personality, character will be the reason why people travel. Supporting local businesses, local artists, local cultural events outlives any nifty trend in the tourism industry.

Fans of independent horror films, come to Porto next March

“We are masters of survival”, Beatriz said regarding budget constraints.

Wife-and-husband co-founders Beatriz Pacheco Pereira and Mário Dorminsky founded Fantasporto in 1980, at a table at Luso Café, and they won’t uproot the festival from their city to go somewhere where funding and sponsorship are easier to get. And they shouldn’t.

The number of festival-goers grew by 20% (compared to 2017) and, in the past five years, Fantasporto has opened up to more independent and more recent films.

According to Beatriz, 90% of the films in the 2018 edition “were applauded in the end and, for us, when the audience applauds a film, they’re applauding the festival. That is very important to us.”

The next edition of Fantasporto is from 1st to 9th of March 2019. There’s a new generation of Portuenses learning the ins and outs of the festival to carry on the legacy, by the hand of the original founders.

The founders and the new generation of Fantasporto together on stage.

The founders and the new generation of Fantasporto together on stage.

If you’re looking for an offbeat but reputable horror film festival in Europe to travel for, Fantasporto is it. Explore Porto in between movies and fall in love with the people, the architecture, the food, and, obviously, Port wine.

Fantasporto is an amazing film festival to screen my film as it allows fantasy/sci-fi/horror films to have a place to be seen and heard. (…) I heard about the fest this year when I was researching film festivals and found out how amazing this one was and I wanted to be a part of it.

(Brian Metcalf, Director, “Living Among Us”, USA)

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