I planned to start this blog post with this specific F word.
I struggled to write it because between today and the last time I wrote on the blog it’s only been two weeks but all hell broke loose in the meantime.
On the 6th of March, on my way to the 40th Fantasporto, I was brushing off the new disease as media’s mass hysteria. In 13 days it was declared a pandemic, most countries shut their borders and went into lockdown, and people began to self-quarantine.
Damn it! On my way back to Lisbon (on 9th March), the world was already a very different place.
But since that day, pandemic aside, I already knew which word I would use to sum up the 2020 edition of Fantasporto and that word had to be Family.
The closing ceremony of this year’s edition was a little odd. For the first time, the photo behind the festival’s team was not next year’s logo and dates. The story is, well, too familiar among the arts and culture industry: lack of funding, lack of sponsors, uncertainty.
Mário and Beatriz give so much of themselves to their passion project, to the filmmakers, to the press. The whole team does. But I say this every year and I don’t want you to have the impression I’m kissing ass, or, like a few people once suggested, being paid to write only glowing reviews.
At the press conference, festival director Mário Dorminsky said that Fantasporto had a 25% increase in attendees this year. As for the films selected, he mentioned that “the most important thing for us in the festival is that we screen films that become memorable, classic films“.
Can 40 years of Fantasporto fit in one film? Barely
“It’s a work in progress! I’m nowhere near to being done but it was important to share it on Fantasporto’s 40th anniversary“, Isabel Pina, the Portuguese director behind the documentary about the film festival, told me at the beginning of our conversation outside Teatro Rivoli, after the film’s second screening.
The warm and roaring applause from the audience in the end is a reminder that Fantasporto has a lot of supporters, but we wish someone else would also be paying attention. “It shocks me why those responsible are so distracted and not supporting this festival“, Pina tells me.
Focusing on the positive instead, Isabel Pina opted for a different strategy to raise awareness with her film: to focus more on what others say about the festival beyond Mário Dorminsky and Beatriz Pacheco Pereira to create a bigger impact. “If someone else is saying what they [Mário and Beatriz] are saying, I’ll focus on that person instead.“
A fan of Hitchcock films and Twilight Zone as a child, Isabel Pina tells me she discovered Fantasporto through “The Company of Wolves”, a film she watched on one of the Fantasporto retrospectives in Lisbon. As she talked to people for her documentary, she realized everyone had their “Fantas Film”. To many of them, that film was Peter Jackson’s “Braindead”.
“[This] is a historical documentary. The amount of people involved, trivia, and references is massive. [The more I researched] the more I realized how enormous [Fantasporto] is.”
What began as an idea for a tribute to the festival on her trip to Porto in 2019 has grown to something closer to a mission. “It is exactly as everyone says it is: it’s a family. At this festival, we all have a close connection to the directors [Mário and Beatriz].”
Best Film Award Fantasporto: “Ghostmaster” (Japan)
I can’t remember the last time I laughed and jumped in my seat at the same time on account of a horror film. Experiencing this at Fantasporto, with everyone laughing and jumping in their seat at the same time, is what this festival is all about.
Paul Young‘s “Ghostmaster” almost dethroned Braindead as my “Fantas film”, but I’ll keep it at a close second. Mostly because I’m stubborn, not because this Japanese film isn’t good enough to be at the top of the list.
Directors Week Best Film Award: “Willow” (Macedonia/Hungary/Belgium)
You could strip the film of its language and location, and the story of “Willow” would still resonate with a lot of women in the world. More than a story about motherhood and women’s reproductive rights, director Milcho Manchevski lets us into the life of three women that are simultaneously powerful and powerless.
Best Portuguese Film Award: “Bunker or Tales I Heard When the World Fell”
In retrospect, this 38-minute Portuguese short film by João Estrada now seems eerily close to reality. The characters’ attitudes speak louder than their dialogues. And I’ll be honest, on my runs to the supermarket during these self-quarantine days I’ve seen too many real-life examples of these characters.
“Por Detrás da Moeda” – Two Awards, One Love (for the city)
Luís Moya‘s first feature film “Por Detrás da Moeda” is not just a documentary that follows the lives of Porto’s street performers. It’s a love letter to the city.
And you don’t have to be from Porto or have been there before to feel the humanity behind the film. Moya’s portrayal is humane, not invasive or predatory. In fact, in many shots, he makes himself part of the film because he too is a part of this city.
In the Portuguese Film Awards section, “Por Detrás da Moeda” won the Jury Special Mention Award and the Audience Award. This is a film about the city and for the city, but you don’t need to be a local to really feel the story under your skin.
The three off-competition films I managed to see
This year, I managed to see seven films in one weekend. My initial goal (I’ve stopped calling it a plan about two years ago) was to watch about 10. I consider it’s a good result. Staying less than five minutes walking distance from Teatro Rivoli* also helped.
“Deathcember”, vols. 1 and 2, was all about catharsis. A twisted catharsis, if you will. I think we could all benefit from an episode or two (or 24) of “Deathcember” right now.
All shorts had their own value, but I tend to lean towards women directors whenever possible. Mostly because as a teenager, people used to tell me that being a fan of horror movies was not a girly thing. Two words for you: boo. hoo.
Without taking credit away from some of the giants in this industry who directed shorts for “Deathcember”, like Julian Richards and Ruggero Deodato, here’s a list of the short films included in this anthology directed by women:
- Vivienne Vaughn – “A Christmas Miracle”
- Pollyanna McIntosh – “Getting Away from it All”
- Annika Marx – “Christmas Corp.se”
- Ama Lea – “Five Deaths in Blood Red”
- Sonia Escolano – “Joy to the Girls”
- B. J. Colangelo – “They Used to Laugh and Call Him Names”
- Alyosha Saari – “Ring My Bell”
As for the other two films, “Welcome to the Circle”, written and directed by David Fowler, left kind of a lukewarm impression. Maybe I’m getting old, but I’m no longer interested in tales of brainwashed cults in rural America.
That said and from a technical point a view (it seems like after the crazy idea of enrolling in a documentary film course, I’ve developed a “third-eye” perspective of movies… *third eye roll*), it’s not a bad film.
As for Bruno Bini‘s “Loop”, this sci-fi film is a reminder of how much we must continue to support Brazilian art and culture since the current government doesn’t. Refreshingly unpredictable, “Loop” still ticks off all the must-haves in sci-fi films for fans of the genre.
The movie was also a terrifying reminder that we might not be able to change the past, even if (when?) we make time travel possible. Not because of all the theories we learned from the “Back to the Future” trilogy, but because we might always be too late.
And if that isn’t the perfect metaphor of the current state we’re living in, I don’t know what is.