Montreal’s Fantasia Honors John Woo, Spotlights South Korean Animation

“Face Off” helmer John Woo will receive a Career Achievement Award during Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, about to celebrate its 26th edition. The Hong Kong filmmaker is currently working on “Silent Night,” starring Joel Kinnaman and Kid Cudi.

“I defy anyone to watch ‘Bullet in the Head,’ ‘Hard Boiled’ or ‘The Killer’ and not walk away wanting to break down the shots and make a movie. His use of camera movement, close-ups, the ways he would block and choreograph, it’s astonishing to look at,” Fantasia’s artistic director Mitch Davis told Variety, noting the “unexpected poetry” of Woo’s work.

“They are such unconventionally soulful films. I wish we could somehow unleash a flock of doves in the cinema when he steps onto the stage. Backlit.”

The festival, which will unspool July 14 – Aug. 3, has also unveiled its first wave of titles, starting with a selection of world premieres including Mickey Reece’s “Country Gold,” Alex Phillips’ “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” or Rebekah McKendry’s “Glorious.” “The Witch in the Window” director Andy Mitten will return to Fantasia with “The Harbinger.”

“It’s one of the most heartbreaking and chilling films of our lineup,” said Davis.

“Like no other genre film I’ve seen, ‘The Harbinger’ explores just about everything we have experienced throughout the pandemic – social fallout, grief, anger, fear, irrationality and distrust – in brilliant, gut-wrenchingly personal ways.”

Mitchell Stafiej will show “The Diabetic,” while Rodrigo Gudiño will world-premiere “The Breach,” inaugurating the festival’s new section Septentrion Shadows, dedicated to showcasing Canadian cinema that “captures the weird, the dangerous, things full of wonder, and (almost) everything in between,” promised the organizers.

Japanese director Satoshi Miki, whose work has been shown at Fantasia regularly since his 2007 release ‘Adrift in Tokyo,’ will also be featured thanks to “Convenience Story.”

“We have loved Satoshi Miki for eons. To world premiere ‘Convenience Story’ is especially wonderful as the film came together at the Frontières [International Co-Production Market] in 2019, during our last fully physical edition,” said Davis, calling it “genuinely charming and original.”

Festival favorites will be also getting their due, from Quentin Dupieux’s “Incredible but True,” shown at Berlinale earlier this year, to American artist Amanda Kramer’s IFFR opener “Please Baby Please,” starring Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling, and Christian Tafdrup’s Sundance shocker “Speak No Evil.”

The latter, showing just how far people are willing to go in order to appear polite, will “explore misread social cues and issues of trust and deception” alongside the likes of Karim Ouelhaj’s “Megalomaniac” and Nico van den Brink’s “Moloch,” observed Davis.

“From Lang to Romero to Cronenberg to Tsukamoto to [‘Titane’ Palm d’Or winner Julia] Ducournau, from its earliest inception in gothic literature, the genre has always been largely guided by bold, personal storytelling with subversive or provocative social commentary,” he noted, adding that A-list festivals have grown more comfortable with giving places of prestige to genre storytelling again.

“One of the only positive things about a trauma-torn social climate is that it produces better, or should I say more urgent art. At its best, genre can be at once compassionate and assaulting.”

Finally, alongside gothic anime fairytale “The Girl from the Other Side” by Yutaro Kubo and Satomi Maiya, in which a monstrous creature becomes the guardian of a child, or “Inu-Oh” from Masaaki Yuasa, the festival will spotlight South Korean animation with a showcase of short films, retrospectives and a children’s program. Hong Jun-pyo’s historical biography “Chun Tae-Il: A Flame That Lives On,” about a crucial figure in South Korea’s labor-rights movement, will also be screened.

“The animated short films of South Korea are among the world’s best, both technically and artistically. The skill, sophistication and daring that are so recognizable in South Korean films and TV series are absolutely present in the country’s indie animation productions,” said Rupert Bottenberg, director of Fantasia’s Axis, the festival’s animation section.

“Since 2016, South Korean animated shorts have been increasingly present among the selections in Axis because of a very productive connection with KIAFA [Korean Independent Animation Filmmakers Association]. My contact at KIAFA suggested this spotlight back in late 2019, with 2020 in mind, but Covid put the kibosh on that. With Fantasia back in cinemas this summer, it was a priority for me to get it in motion again.”

Fantasia’s full lineup will be announced in June. You can find the full list of titles here.

More details on this year’s world premieres:

“All Jacked Up and Full of Worms,” U.S.

Dir. Alex Phillips

Microbudget flick about motel maintenance man who discovers some powerful hallucinogenic worms, Alex Phillips’ debut feature is a trip into the depths of arthouse horror cinema. Teased as “Trainspotting” meets “Brain Damage” with a dash of “Videodrome,” it features Phillip Andre Botello and Betsey Brown. Produced by Special Movies, Eleven04 Productions and Full Spectrum Features.

“Convenience Story,” Japan

Dir. Satoshi Miki

World-premiering at Fantasia following his 2018 film “LOUDER! Can’t Hear What You’re Singin,’ Wimp!,” Satoshi Miki’s latest offering – accompanied by the screening of “What to Do with the Dead Kaiju?” – focuses on a screenwriter who, trying to buy some dog food, ends up in a mysterious convenience store where he can find anything his heart desires. The film was pitched at the Frontières Co-Production Market.

“Country Gold,” U.S.

Dir. Mickey Reece

After well-received “Agnes,” Oklahoma auteur Reece looks back at the past. In his 29th feature, co-written with John Selvidge again, two men ponder their legacy – and their age – as George Jones (Ben Hall, reuniting with the director and soon to be seen in Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”) invites country music star (Reece) out on the town in Nashville in 1994, just before George is to be cryogenically frozen.

“Glorious,” U.S.

Dir. Rebekah McKendry

“True Blood” alumni Ryan Kwanten and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons combine forces in Rebekah McKendry’s mix of comedy, horror, sci-fi and, as advertised by the festival, “gloriously indescribable weirdness.” Reeling after a breakup, Wes (Kwanten) finds himself locked inside of a rest stop bathroom, with a stranger in an adjacent stall. An AMP/Fallback Plan production, made in association with Mississippi-based Eyevox Entertainment, the film was acquired by Shudder.

“Megalomaniac,” Belgium

Dir. Karim Ouelhaj

Karim Ouelhaj, Méliès d’Or winner for short “The Frozen Eye,” brings his fourth feature to the festival. In “Megalomaniac,” he takes on the true story of a notorious 1990s Belgian serial killer, The Butcher of Mons, while also exploring female persecution and gendered abuse through the central performance of Eline Schumacher. Produced by Les Films du Carré and Okayss Prod.

“The Breach,” Canada

Dir. Rodrigo Gudiño

Inaugurating Fantasia’s new section Septentrion Shadows, the film is directed by the founder and president of Rue Morgue Magazine. Gudiño, who made his feature debut in 2012 with “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh,” now turns to Nick Cutter’s novel, telling the story of a gruesome death in the forests of Northern Ontario and the chaos that follows. Guns N’Roses’ Slash serves as the film’s executive producer.

“The Diabetic,” Canada

Dir. Mitchell Stafiej

Stafiej, known for his documentary “The Devil’s Trap,” shown at CPH:DOX, now turns to a lonely thirtysomething diabetic (James Watts) who returns to his hometown, hoping to relive his glory days. But his friends have already moved on and just one person seems to be willing to party. Shot in 16mm and edited on VHS, only to be converted back to 16mm, the director describes the film as “mumblecore for invisible disability.”

“The Harbinger,” U.S.

Dir. Andy Mitton

Starring Gabby Beans, previously glimpsed in “House of Cards” and “The Good Fight,” Andy Mitton’s surprisingly timely film follows a young woman who, venturing out of a quarantine, decides to help a friend who’s suffering from terrible nightmares – only to realize that bad dreams can be contagious as well. Mitton, who explores the recent trauma of the pandemic in the film, is also behind “The Witch in the Window.”

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