We arrived in Porto with two (misleading) preconceptions: that the city could be seen in one day (seen, maybe; experienced, not — more to come on later posts) and that Fantasporto, the independent film festival, was a dying shadow of its former glory.
After three days of the festival I realized Fantasporto, shamelessly I want to add, is not taken seriously. And I won’t even digress about the fact that it has been happening for the past thirty-five years. It has nothing to do with “old age”. This International Film Festival (emphasis again on in-ter-na-tion-al) is seen by the rest of the country as nothing more than a little regional festival that happens in Porto, where some horror-ish movies are screened to a couple hundred people. In “corporate lingo” Fantasporto doesn’t seem to be profitable enough for the big people to give a crap about it. That’s a load of BS.
(Photo credit: Alan Langford)
Let me tell you, in the first place, why I love the fantasy/horror genre: the main reason is that I don’t like literal art. I like to rummage through references, have my own saying and interpret my own findings. Art is not science and it doesn’t have to be. I also don’t feel that people see fantasy/horror films to escape reality, quite the contrary: it forces you to drop the mask, to be at your rawest self, and find your answers to your own questions. And yes the truth is many times monstrous, ugly, rotten and terrifying.
Although the Official Fantasy Section is considered the core of the festival, Fantasporto also holds two other competitions: Director’s Week and Orient Express. The Oporto International Film Festival is a lot more than screening horror-ish independent films.
Beatriz Pacheco Pereira and Mário Dorminsky are the two “crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes” that created Fantasporto back in 1980 and that year after year come back again to make it happen — against all the odds of the last years. It’s funny how when a recession hits a country the first area that feels the blow of cutbacks is culture. “Culture” is superfluous and, of course, keeps the people’s minds away from what their goal should be: produce to consume, produce to consume, produce to consume. Ever wondered why books like “1984”* or “Fahrenheit 451”* never go out of fashion?
Despite the ups, the downs, the bumps, they never stop smiling. Admirable isn’t it? That’s called passion. You know the saying right? “Do what you love…” Even though they struggled to make things happen, we never for once felt the quality of the festival had been neglected. For sure it would have been nice to see a grand closing ceremony, to have all the winners present receiving their awards and giving their speeches, then again that wasn’t the real reason for being there. In the end, we were there to congratulate (and applaud) the artists who are (still) crazy enough to do art for the sake of art.
(Image source: Creative Commons)
The Film Reviews
Picking films to see based on their trailers (I always choose not to read any reviews) is like playing Russian roulette: either way is a surprise, for the better and for the worse. The criteria were actually quite simple, adding the time factor to it (that meant we were exploring the city by day and the films by night) — which synopsis would I like to see on screen? That said, sometimes some of the films are truly just that, a synopsis.
“A Cry From Within”, Deborah Twiss, USA* — Not amusing and not original. The same plot we’ve seen hundreds of times in other films (no wonder that people think that horror movies follow the same formula…). Unnecessary sex scenes and pointless drama. Nice try to level it up by randomly introducing a talk about religion (as an institution, not as a belief) but that didn’t save it from a boring and stale story. Even the twist, in the end, was predictable! And a priest who is “sensitive” (as in, his senses are higher than normal people)? Nah. I guess that’s why some people left the theater in the middle of the film… Why this film was in the competition still puzzles me. (Note: Eric Roberts leave the horror genre for your daughter at AHS. She nails it, you don’t.)
“Omega 3”, Eduardo del Llano, Cuba — Hyped by the fact that it’s the first Cuban sci-fi film, although I’d say only 3% of the film makes it sci-fi (the futuristic gadgets, a war that happens 100 years from now). Good enough to prove us that Cuba is more than Che, Fidel, cigars and rum (and soon, hordes of American tourists), especially through the diversity of the music chosen as a score. Also nice metaphoric use (with a pinch of sense of humor) of the different “truths”/beliefs about nutrition and the diet du jour.
“Fear Clinic”, Robert Hall, USA* — Welcome back Robert Englund, I missed you! The plot didn’t blow me away (no spectacular twist and no out of the box ending) but the special effects gave the film some dimension. I would have skipped the “name dropping” with all the scientific facts about phobias and simply let fear be fear, though.
“Suspension”, Jeffery Lando, Canada* — Michael Myers/Jason meets Carrie. That could sum it up. Kudos to the cinematography and to the graphic novel element but that is all. Unoriginal and predictable from the very beginning, at some parts even the score reminded me of John Carpenter’s “Halloween”! The actors (somehow) actually did a good job giving some dimension to their characters through a thin, thin plot.
“Patch Town”, Craig Goodwill, Canada* — A story of love, adventure, courage and triumph with a hint of musical. This first feature of Canadian director Craig Goodwill was chosen to close the award ceremony and it couldn’t have been a better fit to the overall sense of resistance of the festival. Jon is the person we all want to be, but sometimes are too afraid to try — the guy that bangs his fist on the table of the corporate world and decides he’s had enough. Yuri is a remarkably dark (and yet sensitive) figure that lets us wanting to hate him and love him. When asked if he thought his first feature film directorial debut was ambitious Craig, replied, “I’d rather die on a fence too high than live under one too low.” (Note: I found some resemblances, although in a lighter mode, between Jon and the main character Henry Spencer from Lynch’s “Eraserhead”)
“Liza, the Fox Fairy”, Karoly Meszaros, Hungary — This Hungarian film won the awards for Best Movie and Best Special Effects. Most of the independent films are made on a low budget which makes it a struggle to produce a high-quality material. With “Liza” you really can’t tell. A very visual film, set in a fictional (?) 1970’s Hungary, with a fresh, twisted sense of humor and an improbable love story that turns out to be just as likely as anyone else’s. (Note: all these hours later and I still have the Japanese music playing on the back of my mind)
(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Will Fantas Be Back?
(Noticed the Terminator reference?) In any “normal” situation, the answer to this question would be “yes, of course”. I mean, does anyone ever ask if Cannes Film Festival or The Oscars will be back? Of course not. These events are a given. Fantasporto already has the dates lined up (book it in your calendar: February 26th to March 5th, 2016), however, it always seems like we have to expect the unexpected.
The days are already blocked on my calendar. If you are curious to discover this city and to attend a high-quality independent film festival, Fantasporto should be on your list to visit Portugal next year.
(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)