|by Jay Seaver
I've heard about Fantasia for a while; it's North America's largest festival devoted to science fiction, fantasy, horror, and Asian action, but 2005 was the first year where the ability to take vacation time and the ability to afford it overlapped. I knew I'd only be able to be in Montreal for half of the festival, but I'm glad I did.
We need more festivals like Fantasia on this continent. Here in Boston, we have two genre-oriented events, one of them making no bones about hoping to be America's answer to this festival. Considering how popular it is - I attended many sold-out screenings, the line for admission routinely stretched around the block, and several films had to add extra screenings - there's ample opportunity here. But, in the meantime, Fantasia is a fairly unique experience in the Western Hemisphere, and is something that everyone who enjoys Asian/genre films should make an attempt to see.
Where it is: Montréal, Quebec, Canada
When: July, for roughly three weeks.
Expense: Tickets are $7.50 Canadian, or $60 Canadian for ten. The program is $3 Canadian and includes a DVD packed with two hours worth of trailers.
Number of films screened: Approximately 75 features, and about the same number of shorts, divided among eight to ten programs and occasionally attached to a feature.
Value for money: Excellent. If you buy tickets in groups of ten, the price is comparable to a matinee or second-run theater. Granted, if you're not from the area, there's accomodations and eating to consider, but when you figure that many of these movies are unlikely to have any sort of theatrical release on this side of the ocean, the screenings themselves are incredible bargains.
What you'll see: Lots from Asia - over half of the 2005 program came from Japan and Korea, with a significant Hong Kong contingent and a few from Thailand besides. While the Western films tend to hew toward the fantastical - horror, science-fiction and fantasy, the occasional black comedy - the Asian movies are more varied. Certainly, they're still mostly fantastical, but there's also a smattering of crime, historical stories, and even teen movies and romantic comedies.
Films are, by and large, presented in their original language with English subtitles, even if much of the signage around the festival is French-first (or French-only). Note that there are a few exceptions to this: This year, two of the short film programs featured Quebecois films, an few films from France were presented without subtitles, and an one from Japan was presented with French subtitles.
Plan of Attack: As soon as you arrive in Montreal, get a program and start marking out which shows you want to see. While some are scheduled to run up to three times, others have only one screening. This year, there were several holes in the schedule, so make sure to check the website (http://www.fantasiafestival.com) and/or ticket office regularly to see how they're being filled.
In general, the films will run at the times listed on the schedule, and the schedules do, for the most part, allow for jumping between the two theaters. That's not always the case (I wound up seeing Phantom Master because Fighter in the Wind would have overlapped with Godzilla: Final Wars), and it's best to allow yourself a fifteen minute cushion, or stay in the same theater because stuff happens - projectors break, guests run long, etc. Also, they'll generally let someone stay in the theater for consecutive shows if you have a ticket, or at the worst let you in ahead of the line.
Celebrity-spotting: Not so much, unless you're a fan of Japanese and Korean directors. There aren't a lot of high-profile movies here, or even indies with high-profile (in North America, anyway) stars to come and promote.
Accommodations: There are tons of places to stay in downtown Montreal, from large business hotels to little holes in the wall.
Transportation: Both screens are on the Concordia University campus, a very easy walk from the Guy-Concordia stop on the Metro.
Parties: There's an opening night party and one or two others that were announced at screenings. You'd have to talk to someone who enjoys drinking and/or dancing, or can understand what someone's saying in a crowd, to find out how they were. I was back at the hotel busily writing reviews, and you can't prove otherwise.
Venues: The festival takes place on two screens, both part of Concordia University.
Théâtre Hall Concordia: A large (approximately 750 seats, if my guess is accurate) theater/lecture hall in Concordia University located at 1455 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest. It has stadium seating, a very large floor-to-ceiling screen, digital (?) surround sound, flip-up writing (or, often, eating) surfaces. A temporary concession stand sold soda, popcorn, candy, and T-shirts. The box office was set up on the second floor of Concordia Hall. It is in many ways as good as many commercial theaters.
Salle J.A. de Sève: Located literally across the street from the Hall Theater at 1400 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, this room only seats around 150 or so, with a smaller screen a less impressive sound system, and some seats obstructed by the lectern. It's still a fine place to see a movie, although you'll soon recognize that the center of a row does not align with the center of the screen.
Restaurants: There are plenty near the University, used to dealing with both the night life and hungry college students at all hours of the day. Several local and franchise eateries are open 24/7, with many others open until midnight, two AM, or even four on weekends, which what a complete (and welcome) shock to my system. My general plan of attack was to eat a late breakfast at Cocktail Hawaii, stock up on the fine Canadian junk food that we can't get south of the border while switching theaters, and then get a burger, pizza, or smoked-meat sandwich at the end of the night.
(And I'm not kidding about that junk food. The different types of Kit Kats alone puts our American convenience store candy counters to shame, and I terribly regret not discovering Crush Cream soda until two days before I left)
What needs fixing: Not a whole lot. I had to make a couple calls to convince the staff that the stuff earmarked for eFilmCritic should go to me rather than the editor (what with him being on the other side of the country and all), and wound up spending a loonie to exchange tickets when i was given the wrong one, but those were minor issues.
What was done well: Pretty much everything else. This is an extraordinarily well-run and supported festival, with good projection, an eclectic mix of films. They started on time, which a previous festival experience taught me not to take for granted, especially if you buy tickets ahead of time and plan to see movies on different screens. Including a DVD with the program is something you'd think other festivals would do, but I haven't seen any of the Boston-area ones go that route yet.
The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for the Fantasia Festival: A. Well-programmed, well-managed, and in a nice city during a nice time of year.
The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for Fantasia 2005: A. Of course, if you're not into horror, sci-fi/fantasy, or Asian pop culture, you probably won't enjoy it nearly as much. I eat this stuff up, though, and after seeing thirty-plus movies in roughly ten days, I flew home more disappointed that my day job wouldn't let me stay for the whole festival than exhausted.
For more information on the Fantasia Festival, jump to the website, http://www.fantasiafestival.com.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1566
originally posted: 08/05/05 10:29:35