Preview By Bears Rebecca Fonte
If this is the year of the woman in politics then it seems possible that it might finally be the year of the woman at Fantastic Fest. For the uninitiated, Fantastic Fest is the annual gathering in Austin at the Alamo South Lamar, to celebrate the most boundary-pushing genre film. If it started as a horror, scifi and anime festival, it has really become somenthing much more, bringing the best of world cinema to Austin in a way SXSW and Austin Film Festival don’t even try to. Programmers with deep contacts in other continents scour the world to bring adventurous story-tellers to a rabid fan base looking to be, well, shocked. Of course, left unchecked, this can be problematic.
After last year’s bad press debacle with the Devin Faraci scandal (t0 complicated to summarize), the showing of exploitation porn at a secret screening and the numerous accounts of being physically scared during a Q&A as an actor leapt up on the tables, not to mention the unfortunate connection to Harry Knowles and that separate but related scandal, the 2017 edition of Fantastic Fest will be difficult to remember with a smile on the face. However, exposing of the Bro culture that had infected the festival has led to a number of – dare I say it – ‘fantastic’ changes as we approach the 2018 Edition, not the least of which is an extensive code of conduct for all of the Alamo Drafthouses after CEO Tim League conducted a national listening tour. In addition to an Advisory Board for the festival that includes more women than men, there definitely seems to be a conscious attempt in this year’s program to focus the lens on women in genre film.
I’ve said it many times this is my favorite Fest to attend in the world and I’m very happy to have it in my home so I am glad that steps have been taken to make the festival feel more inclusive. On a personal note this has been an interesting year for me. Last year when I went to Fantastic Fest I was going as the same way and person I’ve been going as for years. That was before I came out to the world as transgender. This split was something I was acutely aware of during the events of last year but didn’t feel ready to talk about. Now I have a new personal conflict, which is how accepting is the Fantastic Fest crowd going to be and do I go as ‘my authentic self’ as we say in the transgender community.
As I approached this year’s program I felt like I really wanted to focus on the female voices. They are still dramatically outnumbered by the male voices, although in the festival’s defense, this is emblematic of genre film and why female voices need to be amplified. There are of course several films I’m interested in checking out that are female-centric with male directors. I guess I hope they get it right, just as I do every single day, hope I’m getting it right.
With all that in mind, here are all the female directed feature films at this year’s fantastic Fest and why I am excited about them. Hope to see you at the Fest, I’ll be the one in pigtails.
THE BASTARDS’ FIG TREE
2017, DIR. ANA MURUGARREN, 103 MIN., SPAIN
From FF: A fascist soldier in the Spanish Civil War becomes a fig-tree obsessed hermit after looking into the vengeful eyes of a young boy whose father and brother he had violently executed.
My Hopes and Dreams: Okay, who doesn’t love Figs? Fig Newtons… best cookie ever. But the big draw is Karra Elejalde, of TIMECRIMES fame, who potentials the sort of performance only going slowly insane can provide. And the description promises ‘whimsy.’
2018, DIR. MARIA PULERA, 90 MIN., UNITED STATES
From FF: Nicolas Cage plays Joe, a lonely trucker whose new girlfriend’s daughter is possessed with the spirit of Joe’s recently deceased wife, creating a love triangle no synopsis can do justice to.
My Hopes and Dreams: I can’t add much to that… although I will say, despite being one of the few people I know who didn’t love MANDY, I did think Cage turned in an amazing performance for the first half of the film and I am excited to see what he does next.
2018, DIR. KARYN KUSAMA, 123 MIN., UNITED STATES
From FF: Nicole Kidman gives the performance of a lifetime as LAPD detective Erin Bell, a human weapon of escalating vengeance, in the brilliantly grounded new drama-action-thriller from Karyn Kusama.
My Hopes and Dreams: First of all, Kidman’s performance of a lifetime was in TO DIE FOR, so stop the hyperbole, but I have been desperately waiting for Kusama’s follow up to THE INVITATION and ready to join her cult in a second.
2018, DIR. AGNIESZKA SMOCZYNSKA, 100 MIN., POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC, SWEDEN
From FF: A woman tries to reconnect with her family after being lost in a fugue state for several years in Agnieszka Smoczynska’s follow up to Fantastic Fest favorite, THE LURE.
My Hopes and Dreams: Unfortunately, THE LURE is an impossible film to follow. But Smoczynska created fully realized characters, despite them being mermaids, so it will be interesting to see what she does with actual humans.
2018, DIR. ISABELLA EKLÖF, 93 MIN., DENMARK, NETHERLANDS, SWEDEN, TURKEY
From FF: The sun-drenched dream of the eponymous summer vacation has its dark side revealed in Isabella Eklöf’s powerful debut feature HOLIDAY, an unforgettable exploration of the fraught, brutal experience of young womanhood.
My Hopes and Dreams: This was one of the most divisive films of Sundance, much of the focus on the rape scene. I sat it out then… It didn’t help that most of the reviewers of the film perverse championing the scene were male (Variety, IndieWire, RogerEbert.com, Hollywood Reporter) and the only truly negative one I read (Screen Dailey) coming from the sole female critic.
HOUSE OF SWEAT AND TEARS
2018, DIR. SONIA ESCOLANO, 104 MIN., SPAIN
From FF: “She,” the leader of a violent cult, rules her flock with an iron fist to ensure they never stray from the path. But a series of events and a mysterious outsider threaten the pattern of their reality in this electrifying exploration of faith and belief.
My Hopes and Dreams: I love films about cult… I pretty much believe all religions are cults to some extent. Unless you count Sheela from WILD WILD COUNTRY, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female cult leader in a film….
I USED TO BE NORMAL: A BOYBAND FANGIRL STORY
2018, DIR. JESSICA LESKI, 96 MIN., AUSTRALIA
From FF: The lives of four women from across the globe are radically changed by their deep love of boy bands in this fascinating, joyful exploration of intense fandom.
My Hopes and Dreams: My nominee for least Fantastic Film in the line-up, I think that the idea of fandom crosses media and our crowds will get it – if they past the truly awful, awful music.
2018, DIR. AMANDA KRAMER, 93 MIN., UNITED STATES
From FF: A birthday party quickly devolves into chaos when a mysterious earthquake traps eight teenage girls alone in a house, challenging their friendships, identities, and eventually their grip on reality.
My Hopes and Dreams: I love the idea of a female-centric LORD OF THE FLIES, because the set up allows us to look at characters under extreme conditions. And in this case, away from the presumptions of gender impressed upon them by the other half of the species.
2018, DIR. DANISHKA ESTERHAZY, 102 MIN., CANADA
From FF: The teenage girls of Vestalis Academy are meticulously trained in the art of being “clean girls,” practicing the virtues of perfect femininity. But what exactly are they being trained for? Vivien intends to find out.
My Hopes and Dreams: Dystopian visions focusing on sexual politics? You couldn’t possibly string together words that get me more excited.
LIFE AFTER FLASH
2018, DIR. LISA DOWNS, 94 MIN., UNITED KINGDOM
From FF: Celebrating the iconic FLASH GORDON and focusing on the fascinating, unusual, and untold story of actor Sam J. Jones, the man behind the sparkly suit, LIFE AFTER FLASH is a celebration, an exploration, and a joyful scream all at once!
My Hopes and Dreams: Admittedly, the 1980 cult film is one of my favorites of all time. I hope there are lots of clips of Ornella Muti, my first ever crush.
SLUT IN A GOOD WAY
2018, DIR. SOPHIE LORAIN, 89 MIN., CANADA
From FF: Charlotte and her best friends Mégane and Aube must navigate their first times, first jobs, and first loves in this hilarious and touching Quebecois sex comedy.
My Hopes and Dreams: The Kevin Smith homage is obvious – minimum wage jobs, lots of drugs, black and white (I hate gratuitous black and white) but this looks fun.
WHEN THE TREES FALL
2018, DIR. MARYSIA NIKITIUK, 88 MIN., UKRAINE, POLAND, MACEDONIA, THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF
From FF: Scar and Larysa are desperately in love and suffocating under the tradition and archaic demands of their Ukrainian village. When the frustrations of each finally detonate, their world and the lives of those surrounding them are tragically shattered.
My Hopes and Dreams: This is the classic reason Fantastic Fest is the most important international fest in Austin – where else would a film like this play, and where else could you find an audience for it.
2018, DIR. EMMA TAMMI, 89 MIN., UNITED STATES
From FF: The forces of nature in the isolated prairies of the American Wild West are playing tricks on Lizzy. Her paranoia only grows with the arrival of a mysterious young woman.
My Hopes and Dreams: Westerns are such boy playgrounds. The description of this film – meditative, atmospheric terror – gets me excited for something new.