Final takes on the 35th Fantasporto – Porto Independent Film Festival

Final takes on the 35th Fantasporto – Porto Independent Film Festival

I arrived in Porto with two (misleading) assumptions: that the city could be seen in one day and that Fantasporto, the independent film festival, was a dying shadow of its former glory.

After spending three days at the festival, I realized Fantasporto, shamelessly I want to add, is not taken seriously. And I won’t even ramble about the fact that it has been happening for the past 35 years. It has nothing to do with “old age.”

The rest of the country sees this International Film Festival (emphasis again on in-ter-na-tion-al) as nothing more than a little regional festival in Porto, where some horror-ish movies are screened to a couple of hundred people.

In “corporate lingo,” Fantasporto doesn’t seem to be profitable enough for the notable people to give a crap about it. That’s a load of BS.

Canadian director David Cronenberg won the award for Best Film in 1983's Fantasporto with "Scanners"
Canadian director David Cronenberg won the award for Best Film in 1983 with "Scanners" (Photo credit: Alan Langford)

Let me tell you, in the first place, why I love the fantasy/horror genre. I like to rummage through references, have my own saying and interpret my findings. Art is not science, and it doesn’t have to be.

I also don’t feel that people see fantasy/horror films just to escape reality, quite the contrary. It forces you to drop the mask, be at your rawest self, and find your own answers. 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.

Peter Jackson cameos in "Braindead", a film that won the Best Film award in 1993 at Fantasporto
Peter Jackson's cameo in "Braindead", a film that won the Best Film award in 1993

The organization

Beatriz Pacheco Pereira and Mário Dorminsky are the two “crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes” who created Fantasporto in 1980 and that year after year 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 redundant and, of course, keeps the people’s minds away from what their goal should be: produce to consume, produce to consume, produce to consume.

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, I 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, I was there to applaud the artists who are (still) crazy enough to do art for the sake of art.

In 2005, Italian gore cult film director Dario Argento won a career achievement award in Fantasporto
In 2005, Italian gore cult film director Dario Argento won a career achievement award (Image source: Creative Commons)

The films 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 the worse.

The rule was simple, adding the time factor to it (that meant I explored the city by day and saw the films at night): which synopsis would I like to see on screen?

“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 being a dull story. Even the twist, in the end, was predictable! And a priest who is “sensitive” (as in, his senses are higher than ordinary people)? Nah.

I guess that’s why some people left the theater in the middle of the film… Why this film competed 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, 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 to us that Cuba is more than Che, Fidel, cigars, and rum (and soon, hordes of American tourists), especially through the music score’s diversity. 

Also, nice metaphorical use (with a pinch 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. It couldn’t have been a better fit for 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 slams 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, making it a struggle to produce high-quality material. With “Liza,” you really can’t tell. 

It’s 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)

Sir Ben Kingsley won a career achievement award in the 1995 edition of Fantasporto
Sir Ben Kingsley won a career achievement award in the 1995 edition of Fantasporto (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’re 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.

Guillermo del Toro has won two Best Film awards in Fantasporto: "Cronos" in 1994 and "Pan's Labyrinth in 2007
Guillermo del Toro has won two Best Film awards : "Cronos" in 1994 and "Pan's Labyrinth" in 2007 (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

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