Fantasporto 2019: out of this world (no, seriously)

Fantasporto 2019: out of this world (no, seriously)

Pop quiz: where would you go to applaud the death-by-lamp of Corbin Bernsen (his character, not Corbin himself), tap your feet to the sound of Sertanejo music as an orphan teenager summons the devil in the heart of a Brazilian (fictional?) forest, and laugh your heart out at brother-duo of ghost experts with their own reality television show on ghost hunting?

Well, if you got nothing better to do right now no point in scrolling through Netflix’s list of shows because it’s not there. Although I agree Russian Doll is pretty great, Netflix is still pretty mainstream (just don’t tell that to other Millennials yet).

For the ultimate, I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me, why-do-I-still-jump-at-jump-scares experience, you have to hop on a plane to Porto (or a train, if like me you’re traveling from Lisbon).

Convinced that after three editions of Fantasporto (20152016, and 2018) and a lifelong devotion to the festival from afar, I could pick some of the winners based on their synopsis and trailers, I meticulously planned my four days of movies, sprinkled with just enough free time for sightseeing and working. 

I reached Porto in the final days of Fantas, as I always do, so my options are limited. In numbers? Three of the seven movies I watched won awards (that’s a much better ratio than previous years).

As with most plans that look great on paper, only day number one was a success. Time for movies? All accounted for. Time for sightseeing? Well, not so much. Time for working? I had to squeeze it in (#FreelancerProblems).

Yes, I’ll get to the movies I saw and the winners in a second. First, let me point out that Fantasporto turns 40 in 2020. Forty years is a long run for a small (in size, not in importance), independent, niche film festival. I just wish the local tourism office would see how many of us travel to Porto to cover or attend the festival in the so-called low season.

But, I don’t want to go down the same road I’ve been down before in the previous years. Why? Because local tourism boards are tone-deaf. They still haven’t received the memo that cultural tourism encompasses so many areas, not just local folklore and shit.

I feel a vein in my neck could pop right now, and there’s no point in bleeding over my keyboard before finishing this blog post, so let’s move on.

Fantasporto 2019 by the numbers

  • 5 competitions
  • 586 film applications
  • 95 films selected and screening for the first time in Portugal
  • 28 countries selected (Germany, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, South Korea, Spain, USA, UAE, Philippines, France, Georgia, Netherlands, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, UK, Russia, and Taiwan)
  • 25 world premieres
  • 5 international premieres
  • 6 European premieres
  • 112 films screened in total (74 short films and 39 feature films)
  • 100 guests
  • 3 jurors
  • 20 awards

The 2019 Fantasporto winners

Best Film Award: "Last Sunrise", Wen Ren (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

Fantasy International Jury

Best Film Award Fantasporto

“Last Sunrise”, Director Wen Ren (China)

Jury’s Special Award:

“In Fabric”, Director Peter Strickland (UK)

Best Direction:

Julian Richards for “Reborn” (USA) and “Daddy’s Girl” (USA)

Best Actor:

Christopher Rygh in “The Head Hunter” (USA/Portugal)

Best Actress:

Georgia Chara in “Living Space” (Australia)

Best Screenplay:

Rodrigo Aragão for “A Mata Negra” (Brazil)

Best Visual Effects:

Gyorgy Palfi for “His Master’s Voice” (Hungary)

Best Short Film:

“My First Time”, Director Asaf Livni (Israel)

Special Mention of the Fantasy Jury:

“The Fare”, Director D.C. Hamilton (USA)

Directors Week Best Film Award: "Werewolf", Adrian Panek (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

Official Directors Week Awards

Directors Week Best Film Award:

“Werewolf”, Director Adrian Panek (Poland/Germany/Netherlands)

Directors Week Jury’s Special Award:

“Waiting for Sunset”, Director Carlo Catu (Philippines)

Directors Week Best Director Award:

Christina  Choe for “Nancy” (USA)

Directors Week Best Screenplay Award:

Bálint Hegedus and Karoly Meszáros for “X-The Exploited” (Hungary)

Directors Week Best Actor Award:

Dante Rivero in “Waiting for Sunset” (Philippines)

Directors Week Best Actress Award:

Ai-Ai de Las Alas in “School Service” (Philippines) and Ina Raymundo in “Kuya Wes” (Philippines)

Best Film Orient Express: "The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion", Hoon-Jung Park (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

Official Competitive Section Orient Express

Best Film Orient Express:

“The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion”, Director Hoon-Jung Park (South Korea)

Special  Jury Award Orient Express:

“School Service”, Director Louie Ignacio Lagdameo (Philippines)

Best Portuguese Film Award: "The Head Hunter", Jordan Downey (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

Portuguese Film Award

Best Portuguese Film Award:

“The Head Hunter”, Director Jordan Downey (USA/Portugal)

Best Film School Award:


Special Mention for Creativity:

“Cinzas”, Director Célia Fraga (ESAP)

Critics Award: "Painting Life", Biju Kumar Damodaran (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

Unofficial Awards

Critics Award:

“Painting Life”, Director Biju Kumar Damodaran (India)

Audience Award:

“The Panama Papers”, Director Alex Winter (USA)

Thoughts on the movies I watched at the 39th Fantasporto

"A Mata Negra", Brazil (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

"A Mata Negra", Brazil

A young woman lives in the forest, facing demons, spirits from another world, dead people who come back to life, or a preacher that terrifies her. In possession of a summons book, the woman tries to survive the attacks from them and recuperate a bag of gold coins that she has found. A big budget production, with Carol Aragão, Jackson Antunes, and Francisco Gaspar, packed with special effects by the director himself, Rodrigo Aragão, who already had some fantasy films presented in festivals such as Brazilian Fantaspoa and the Sitges Film Festival.

A mix of gore, folklore, “Sertanejo” music, the undead, and just a hint of Peter Jackson’s Braindead-ish humor in the end, with a few fart noises for good measure (and for the delight of the younger, school-going people in the audience).

Admittedly a passion project, Rodrigo Aragão’s film doesn’t show any signs of team sacrifice. On the contrary.

The plot has enough jump scares to keep you on the edge of your seat and just the right amount of twists to keep you intrigued for 100 minutes. If, like Aragão said when presenting his film, Brazil has a lot of room for fantasy and horror movies, I say bring them on! 

Note: it will be a while until I feel like eating eggs again

"Werewolf", Poland/Germany/Netherlands

The film depicts the slow decline of three individuals as they are sucked into a world of sinful existence. It is the story of a wild and voracious love triangle… Raw, male-oriented, cruel, and powerful, this is a rural Hungary of doubtful morale. An example of the Best Hungarian Cinema. Selection of the Ghent and Haifa festivals.

In post-Nazi Poland, just after World War II, concentration camp survivors follow a mother figure/love interest to live in an abandoned house until the werewolves (dogs trained by Nazis) surround them.

There’s a sweetness and hint of hope as children manage to live another day, scour for food, and not become dog meat by dawn. Remarkably, it made me forget I was in a movie theater.

"Daddy's Girl", USA/Georgia (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

"Daddy's Girl", USA/Georgia

A young woman held captive by her stepfather becomes the focus of a female vigilante and a rookie cop. When the father is identified as a serial killer, their attempts to rescue the woman backfire, resulting in a terrifying confrontation with the killer.

What happens when you receive an email from an Indian producer telling you he has 3 million dollars to invest in three horror movies, and he wants you to direct one of them? Well, no, this isn’t the plot of the movie. It’s the story behind how the film came to be in the words of Julian Richards, the director of Daddy’s Girl.

The film looked promising initially, and I hardly minded the girls-turned-bad-asses in the end, but I need more gore. Where there is a chainsaw, there needs to be more blood.

I was really looking forward to this film after reading the synopsis, but then I felt meh. It’s not the story (it wasn’t bad), it’s not the direction (there’s a reason why Richards won the award for best director), but it lacked blood and gore.

"Isabelle", USA (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

"Isabelle", Canada/USA

A horror movie about a young pregnant mother dealing with the next-door neighbor from hell – possibly literally. A young couple’s dream of starting a family shatters as they descend into the depths of paranoia and must struggle to survive an evil presence that wants nothing more than their very own lives… The second feature of the awarded director of “Ecstasy”.

What happens in the one minute you’re flatlined? And how much of that comes back with you when you’re brought back to life? Jump scares aplenty if that’s your genre but too many unnecessary characters showing up in the plot, who will have no role in the matters as they unfold. 

I didn’t find the characters to be that original, and the plot was lukewarm at best—cool mainstream-ish jump scare movie to watch on Netflix on a rainy Sunday afternoon, though.

Note: maybe that second cachorrinho at Cervejaria Gazela near my hotel (NH Collection Porto Batalha) was uncalled for and could have affected my acceptance levels regarding this film. Could have. I should test it again next year.

"Deadtectives", USA (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

"Deadtectives", USA

A team of hapless paranormal investigators on a reality TV series who go on a quest to Mexico’s most haunted house in the pursuit of better ratings. However, when the true dark secrets of the mansion begin to reveal themselves, the hapless presenters quickly discover that this house is no hoax. With zero ghost-hunting skills (or really any other applicable skills) the team has to figure out how to bust the ghosts and escape the house with their lives.

An unrestrained mockery of all the “reality” television shows about paranormal experts out there. Well, until they actually need to get rid of real ghosts and one of the crew members is faced with his own (dis)belief in the afterlife. 

Tony West’s film was welcomed by a half-full theater, honest laughs, and a roaring round of applause in the end. 

Note to self: when deciphering the afterlife messages, always have a translating app on your phone.

"The Sonata", UK/France (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

"The Sonata", UK/France

A young violinist unravels her long lost father’s past, triggering dark forces that reach beyond her imagination. After the death of her estranged but famous composer father, Rose inherits the old mansion in which he lived. There, she discovers her father’s final work: a mysterious music score marked with strange symbols. With the help of her agent and manager, she deciphers the symbols and, little by little, starts to unlock secrets concerning her father’s past, setting in motion the mechanisms of a plan imagined on the day she was born… First feature film by director Andrew Desmond, a classic tale of magic and horror.

What a simple and yet beautiful and unusual horror film, where music has a more important part than the score. In fact, I didn’t need the evil, shadowy figure showing up in the end. Just the music would do.

If Fantasporto had an award for best original music, The Sonata would get it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror film where the music is not a tool but a character. Have you? Use the comment section for name-dropping, please.

"The Russian Bride", USA (Photo courtesy of Fantasporto)

"The Russian Bride", USA

“A reclusive American millionaire convinces a beautiful Russian woman and her daughter to come to the United States. The billionaire turns out to be a psycho who sends their lives spiraling into a living hell”.

I think I remember a time when Corbin Bernsen had hair? No? Maybe not, but that’s beside the point.

I don’t know if that’s what he was going for, but his character turned out to be hilarious and hated at the same time. 

From the butt-naked appearance that made the girl three rows behind me crack up to the massive amount of cocaine he snorted (that also made the girl three rows behind me crack up), the character was just pitiful.

In Bernsen’s defense, Oksana Orlan did such a good job playing his wife Nina (in all of her badassery glory) that we couldn’t help hating him.

Fantasporto 2020: the big 4-0

The next edition is a big one. Fantasporto turns 40. From February 25th to March 8th, 2020, all roads of horror and fantasy films lead to Porto.

I once wrote a blog post putting Fantasporto on the list of independent film festivals you must see before you die. It was a clickbait-ish title, I admit. I’ve since changed the title to 10 Top Independent Film Festivals Not to Miss in Your Lifetime, which is basically the same but a little less dramatic (and less clickbaity, I hope?).

That blog post had mixed reactions – you know how the internet goes, everyone has an opinion that they think is more important than the rest.

I stand by it for several reasons. I’ve repeatedly told the story about the importance of Fantas in my life, and I know how important the festival is for every single member who is added to this ever-growing family, from the team that makes this happen every year to the artists having the chance to showcase their work.

(Fantas)Porto, I’ll see you next year!

Read more posts about Fantasporto:

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