Fantasia, the world’s greatest genre film festival, is now completely digital due to COVID-19

Here’s a taste of Fantasia’s wonderfully eclectic and diverse lineup.

click to enlarge "The Columnist," a spectacularly bloody look at free speech and hateful trolls, is one of the most anticipated films showing at Fantasia 2020. - Pief Weyman
Pief Weyman
"The Columnist," a spectacularly bloody look at free speech and hateful trolls, is one of the most anticipated films showing at Fantasia 2020.

The show, as they say, must go on.

For the first time in its 24-year-history, the acclaimed Montreal, Canada-based Fantasia International Film Festival is going completely digital in response to the continuing COVID-19 global pandemic.

The festival, which opened Thursday and runs through September 2, received more than 320 feature film submissions, 1,440 short film submissions and 52 documentary submissions from more than 16 countries.

“Going digital was not an easy decision. As curators—like all cinephiles—our heart beats in unison with the audience clapping. The thrill of sitting in the dark of communion, our heads looking up to the big screen, that’s what we live for. Nothing can ever fully replace that,” said Celia Pouzet, Fantasia’s film programmer and pre-screening and programming coordinator.

“This year, however, much like everyone else, we had to defend our very existence. Our mission lies in connecting films and spectators, launching careers, participating in the ever-growing industry that cinema is. The challenge COVID-19 has thrown at us as a festival has put that mission back on track in our mind, even more so than any other years,” Pouzet added.

If you’ve never heard of Fantasia, the festival represents one of the best launch pads for genre entertainment in the world. Whether horror, science-fiction or mind-bending thrillers, Fantasia has helped usher in a slew of movies that immediately became part of our pop culture lexicon, including instant cult classics such as “Mandy,” “Train to Busan” and “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.”

Fantasia also helps shine a light of appreciation on acclaimed filmmakers, and has in past years awarded lifetime achievement awards to icons like Stuart Gordon, Joe Dante and Tobe Hooper. This year’s recipient is none other than legendary writer-director John Carpenter, who attended the festival’s third outing in 1998 for the international premiere of his film, “Vampires.”

Fantasia is basically a film fanatic’s nirvana. Many of the movies debuting this year are among some of the most-anticipated titles yet to be released.

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay was thrilled to be granted press credentials for this year’s historic outing, and we’ve already started requesting digital screeners that we can’t wait to share information about as the festival goes on.

But here’s a taste of Fantasia’s wonderfully eclectic and diverse lineup.

The Columnist

Hailing from the Netherlands, “The Columnist” couldn’t be more prescient if it tried.

The film stars Katja Herbers (CBS’ “Evil”) as local media personality/author Femke Boot, who slowly begins to feel the strain of online trolls who spread malicious falsehoods about her when they’re not busy trying to intimidate her into silence by purporting to know where she lives.

“The Columnist” is pitch-black social commentary at its finest, but more so, it’s gleefully exploitative and surprisingly ruminative in its examination of how the internet has unleashed the worst impulses in so many people.

Basically, Femke hits her boiling point and decides to take action, targeting and killing her most outspoken critics. At the same time, she’s busy helping her daughter mount an ambitious campaign to champion free speech at her high school.

It’s a fascinating study in contrasts—a woman who believes anyone and everyone should be entitled to say whatever they want, yet who also systematically stalks and savagely slaughters ignorant, male misogynists—that gets better, and richer, the longer it plays out.

“The Columnist” isn’t a perfect movie, but it is the perfect film for our precarious moment in history.

All Femke asks is that people stop trying to silence her voice or the voice of anyone with an opposing view. All she asks is that people be respectful of one another, even when they disagree on core beliefs.

When that isn’t possible, however, she has no qualms whatsoever storming into a troll’s apartment, shotgun blazing, with no apparent fear of consequence or punishment.

Trust us, you’re going to be hearing a lot more about “The Columnist” in the coming months.

click to enlarge Documentary filmmaker Steve Villeneuve dives deep into the rabid fandom for all things The Evil Dead in "Hail to the Deadites" - Fantasia International Film Festival
Fantasia International Film Festival
Documentary filmmaker Steve Villeneuve dives deep into the rabid fandom for all things The Evil Dead in "Hail to the Deadites"

Hail to the Deadites

As skilled as Fantasia is at identifying new films with breakout potential, the festival also champions documentaries, both those dealing with serious subjects and those with a tongue planted firmly in cheek, such as “Hail to the Deadites,” a fan-made ode to the greatest horror franchise of all time, “The Evil Dead.”

That’s right, I called Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, which has grown to include a 2013 reimagining and three seasons of the wonderfully gory “Ash vs Evil Dead” half-hour serialized TV show, the greatest ever. Fight me. It’s what I believe.

Raimi doesn’t appear on-camera in “Hail to the Deadites,” but that’s okay. This cinematic love letter is peppered with interviews of key “Dead” talent, including star Bruce Campbell and special effects guru Tom Sullivan.

The documentary, written and directed by Steve Villeneuve, includes segments on super fans, rabid collectors and ridiculously detailed cosplayers, and features footage from a horror convention where Sullivan presided over a marriage proposal with the original Necronomicon and Kandarian Dagger props.

If you’re a lifelong fan like me, “Hail to the Deadites” delivers 79 minutes of awesomeness, interesting trivia, rare memorabilia and creative insight.   

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.

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