Sitges Festival 07: Introduction
Zombies galore, French neo-Nazi cannibals, sukiyaki gunslingers, lovelorn Michael Jackson impersonators, the return of Robert Englund and...an Ingmar Bergman tribute? It's all in a week's fun at Sitges 07. The sprawling 11-day marathon is more formally known as the Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya. Oct. 4-14 marked the 40th anniversary of the event, staged in Sitges, Spain, the lovely Catalonian beach resort about 30 minutes south of Barcelona. Fans, critics, movie programmers and filmmakers streamed in from around the world to revel in every screaming mutant variation of the catch-all category known as fantastic cinema.
"Europeans are not snobbish about this stuff," says Stuart Gordon, the American director who first achieved cult status with his giddy, gross-out 1980s adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories, Re-Animator and From Beyond. Gordon was back for the fourth time, as the festival presented his latest low-budget shocker, Stuck. The film, based on a true story, ponders the existential dilemma of a homeless man (Stephen Rea) who finds himself wedged in a car windshield after a nurse (Mena Suvari) recklessly smacks into him and hides both vehicle and victim in her garage.
"Sitges is the Olympics of horror movies," Gordon continues. He was sitting in the lobby bar of the Hotel Melia, the hilltop headquarters for the festival, and his bold, Hawaiian-style shirt was ideal for the palm trees and pool nearby. "The first time I came here I was on the prize jury, and two of the films in competition were Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. And I got to meet both of those guys. It really brings filmmakers together, and you get to see films you'd never see anywhere else."
There was plenty of marquee and arthouse appeal. You could catch an early glimpse of new work from Olivier Assayas, Park Chan-wook, Brian DePalma, Johnny To, Harmony Korine, and even Woody Allen. But where the fest really gets its ya-yas is from screening arcana from every corner of the celluloid planet – whether it's 1980s soft-porn about Christ-obsessed Filipino lesbians or a retrospective devoted to the drive-in mayhem of director Enzo Castellari. Castellari, a former boxer with the build and bearing of an Italian Popeye, has long been a favorite of Tarantino, who is remaking his World War II epic Inglorious Bastards. The younger director has a cameo in Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django, a crowd-pleasing otaku take-off on Sergio Leone, while his Grindhouse got a fancy Southern European launch here, represented by the lively New Zealand stuntwoman-turned-actress Zoe Bell. Rather than any specific detail, though, what makes the festival unique is the way it unabashedly fetishizes the same kind of genre obsession that drives filmmakers like Tarantino.
"Something that North American fans and even filmmakers don't know is that there is a huge science-fiction and fantasy film circuit," says Colin Geddes, who programs the Midnight Madness series at the Toronto International Film Festival. "And on that circuit, Sitges is considered the equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival. Just the fact that it's celebrating its 40th anniversary is proof of it."