Davis, Mitch (Fantasia 2007)

Mitch DavisAs is becoming a bit of tradition, each year before the doors of Fantasia open to the public in beautiful Montreal, Quebec, Canada, our resident Montrealer Evil Andy has some brain-probing questions to hand over to festival programmer Mitch Davis.

Within you’ll find out what the man himself is most anxious for, his favorites of the year, which films he really thinks are going to have an effect on audiences; even the plans they have to use the husk of the Elephant Man himself! It’s really quite impressive!

So check out the interview below, and be sure to keep your eye balls plastered here on Dread Central for daily updates, reviews and a lot more from this year’s Fantasia Film Festival!

Evil Andy: First off, what’s new with the summertime Santa Clause of genre cinema, Mitch Davis?

Mitch Davis: Wow, lots! Lots is new. Too much for most people, elves or reindeer to digest in just 18 days, and I’m worrying that we might have really gone too far on this one, even though, you know, we do believe in excess and all that.

EAL 11th anniversary!

MD: Hell yeah. We’re old!

EA: So, what special events are being planned to fete 11 years of Fantasia?

MD: We’re going to lick the eyeballs of each person who comes to the opening film, a mugwamp will escort patrons to their seats – except for those allergic to mugwamps, they will have to use the waterslide – and we’ll project the film through the rotted remains of the Elephant Man’s torso – in MerrickVision!

No, we’re just going to show a wild bunch of films, but not just any films, and not just a few. For this year’s fest, we’re going to rock cerebellums with more than 140 features and over 250 shorts, and I’m happy to say it’s equal parts quality and quantity. This is easily our best lineup in years. I just hope people will be able to navigate through all the choices, because they really are legion this time.

EA: Last year’s Small Gauge Trauma DVD release (review here) was a highlight of the festival, and dare I say it, the year’s DVD releases.

MD: Thanks for your kind words!

EA: Any DVD releases under the Fantasia banner this year?

MD: We’d hoped to have the 2nd Small Gauge disc out in time for the fest, but sadly, it won’t be streeting until early 2008 now. I can promise it’s going to be worth the wait though!

Mulberry Street (click for larger image)EA: Clearly the genre staples are all represented as they are each year, but one of the best parts of Fantasia is discovering a bunch of films that are harder to classify.

MD: I feel the same way. I’m always the most excited when I come across a film I had no previous knowledge of, from a new filmmaker working from a very personal, honest and strange place. Blood Tea and Red String and The Living and the Dead were two of those films for me last year, and this year, one of my favourites is a 23-minute short from Ottawa, of all places, by the name of Gary’s Touch, from a director named Ken Takahashi. I have no idea how this man’s been making films like this in Canada for several years and none of us have been aware of him, but it took me going to the Boston Underground Film Festival this year to even learn of his existence, and Gary’s Touch left me absolutely speechless. It’s such a brilliant, heavy film. Imagine the sensibilities of Harmony Korine fused with Jorg Buttgereit and Buddy Giovinazzo. Definitely not a film for everyone, and it’s not what can be called a crowd pleaser, though it will definitely freak the life out of any kind of audience, but its a masterpiece. I can’t wait to see how it plays here.

EA: What geographies and sub-genres are being focused on this year?

MD: We were going to have a New Zealand spotlight, until we lost Black Sheep, at which point we dropped it as an official spotlight, but there are several very interesting NZ films screening, particularly the insane daredevil grossout comedy The Devil Dared Me To and The Ferryman. This year’s key spotlights are Hell is a City: The Cinema of Urban Apocalypse and Russian Fantastika: From the Tsars to the Stars.

Hell is a City is a series of contemporary apocalypse films, and by this I don’t mean post-apocalyptic Mad Max/Bronx Warriors films, but rather films that depict the very moment that society falls apart. The past 18 months have seen 5 very different films of this kind produced – Mulberry Street, Right at Your Door, End of the Line, The Signal and The World Sinks Except Japan. Mulberry, Door and The Signal function as partial reactions to the paranoia and abandonment felt in the wake of 9-11 and Katrina. American independent genre films are re-discovering a bravery and anger that we haven’t seen in a good while. Smart, politically conscious social allegories are beginning to break out in a way the genre hasn’t experienced since the heydays of Romero and Larry Cohen, propelled by an urgency and intellect that is all but earth-shattering in its power. Door and Mulberry in particular rank among the strongest films I’ve seen this year, easily, and their directors, Jim Mickle and Chris Gorak, respectively, are two of the most significant new voices to hit the scene in recent memory. I’m completely blown away by what they’ve done. End of the Line (review) is of course Montrealler Maurice Devereaux’s doomsday cult epic, which has been getting some killer buzz over the past 10 months, and The World Sinks is an outrageous and mega subversive social satire from Minoru Kawasaki, the man who brought Executive Koala into the universe.

From the Tsars is a retro spotlight showcasing newly restored 35mm prints of incredible Soviet fantasy films produced between 1936 – 1988.

Adam Green's Hatchet!One thing we’re all extremely excited about – we’re flying Jean Rollin in and giving him a lifetime achievement award! The catalyst for this is that we’re doing the world premiere of his latest film, La Nuit Des Horloges – which I should mention was hunted down by a new programmer on our team, Simon Laperriere – and we felt it would be great to celebrate the fact he’s still making films with such an unbelievable purity of vision by giving him an award he’s earned a dozen times over. Rollin is a true one of a kind and so much of his work is downright inspirational. He’s also bringing in his personal 35mm print of Frisson des Vampires, which we’ll be screening as well. I love that film so much. I can’t wait to see it on a screen!

Another cool thing we’re doing is adding a dedicated section in the fest for unusual documentaries, now that we’ve opened a 3rd screen and have more slots. Zoo, S&Man (review) Your Mommy Kills Animals, Bejing Bubbles, Ghosts of Cite Coleil and Loco Fighters are some of the highlights. Really great stuff. We’ve always screened one or two docs per year in the past, and we felt it was time to give them a firm place in the fest since we have the extra space to take them on.

EA: Given that you guys are at the forefront of modern genre cinema, do you see any new trends forming in horror right now, and if so, where is this movement originating from?

MD: The biggest trend we’re seeing, outside of the Societal Devastation wave I mentioned earlier, is a re-emergence of slasher films, with many coming out of cultures from which they’ve not traditionally been produced. Norway’s come out with Cold Prey, Austria has Dead in 3 Days, Pakistan’s got Hell’s Ground, which features the unforgettable image of a surrogate Leatherface character tearing through the forest wearing a bloody Burka – and so on. On the US side, there’s Adam Green’s truly fantastic Hatchet, David Arquette’s The Tripper and Jeremy Kasten’s Wizard of Gore remake, among others. Mind you, I guess the latter can’t be considered a straight slasher film to the definition, but you get my point. There’s a whole lot of slasher films being made right now, and I have no idea where this came from.

EA: If anyone wants to stalk genre celebrities over the course of the festival, where are they most likely to find them?

MD: Anywhere near the cinemas would be a good start, I guess. Usually at the screenings actually. Most of the filmmakers are psyched to watch a cavalcade of films while they’re in town. Nobody comes in with security and there are never any barriers between guests and the audience.

EA: This year’s favored watering hole is…?

MD: Wherever everyone gravitates towards at end of a night.

EA: What’s your pick for the goriest film of the fest?

MD: Probably Hatchet, or Kurtzman’s The Rage. Less a gorefest but for sheer brutality in its crescendo points, Borderland has got to be near the head of the class.

Nightmare Detective reviewEA: What’s your pick for scariest film of the fest?

MD: In terms of stark terror, Right at Your Door, without a doubt.

EA: What’s your pick for most subversive film of the fest?

MD: The Thai film 13 Beloved ranks pretty damn high on the scorching subversion charts. It’s unreal how much I loved it. Chookiat Sakweerakul is going to be a household name for anyone who loves Sion Sono or Takashi Miike. I’m really glad that he’ll be coming in because people are going to lose their minds when they see this film. Another subversive hand grenade would be the South Korean film A Bloody Aria, which is pure genius. Just an amazing film. Koldo Serra’s The Backwoods is definitely important to mention here as well.

EA: What’s your pick for foreign film most likely to be badly remade?

MD: Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective (review), probably. A damn clever film, but it’s got elements that can work out of context on the superficial kinds of levels that a lot of the remake people seem to be looking for. I hope it never happens because at its core, this is a very Japanese film, and I don’t think it could really have resonance if its concerns were transposed to another culture. But on the surface, it has all the elements that remake people respond to. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.

EA: What’s your pick for horror film most likely to inject a badly needed dose of intelligence into the genre?

MD: Larry Fessenden’s Last Winter, Sion Sono’s Exte and certainly Mulberry Street and 13 Beloved come to mind.

EA: That’s it for this year, thanks again for taking the time to chat with us. And hey, can I touch your velvet coat *this* year?

MD: The velvet experience remains overrated. But can I interest you in a stagecoach of Mormon caterpillars?

Well, the lack of a velvet experience notwithstanding, it’s still going to be a very memorable year for Fantasia in 2007. Keep an eye on our coverage here on Dread Central, and be sure to watch as we update the database page for Fantasia 2007 with every story, review and interview!

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