Sitges Film Festival kicks off 50th anniversary
This year’s event is about “culture” and “dialogue,” featuring Guillermo Del Toro and director of The Exorcist William Friedkin
The Sitges Film Festival kicked off its 50th anniversary, celebrating half a century as a worldwide referent for horror and fantasy film. The festival, celebrated in the southern seaside town, opened its doors on October 5 with an inaugural gala featuring filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro as master of ceremonies, as well as a showing of the director’s new production The Shape of Water. Additionally, the director William Friedkin, best known for films like The Exorcist, was presented with the festival’s Grand Honorary Award.
This international-facing festival comes at a politically charged time in Catalonia. This meant that many had something to say about the real-life tension happening outside of the silver screen, on the streets in the country.
The most tolerant form of culture
Àngel Sala, director of the festival, said in a speech at the inauguration gala that this year will be about culture as well as cinema. “Culture,” he added, “makes us big, tolerant, and allows us to have dialogue, and to talk.” This is something that Sala emphasized must happen more not only “in the country,” but in the world as well. Indeed, he continued, “fantasy cinema is the most tolerant form of culture in the world.”
The festival was established in 1968, during the Franco dictatorship. In his speech, the festival director he paid homage to the founders of the event “who took their chances” on a genre like fantasy and horror in such “difficult moments.” Sala drew parallels between the strangeness of the genre and the strangeness that permeated the country in the late ‘60s – those who started the festival, he said, did so “with courage.”
“It’s so terrible, for me, it’s very painful to see, but I think that it’s important that, as Mexican, I respect this distance”
Guillermo Del Toro · Filmmaker
Peaceful dialogue is the only way
Director William Friedkin, recipient of the festival’s Grand Honorary Award, compared the situation in Catalonia and its legality with the American Revolution. Conversely, though, he noted that he “did not see violence from the people of Catalonia,” and that the demonstrations seemed “peaceful,” an adjective he used for Barcelona itself. He further called on Madrid for “peaceful dialogue,” adding that it was “the only way.”
A terrible situation
Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro knows Sitges well. Indeed, for him, coming back to Sitges since the first time in 1993 with his film Cronos is like “coming back to a family,” called the situation in Catalonia “terrible.” The artist stated that, while it was “so terrible for him to see,” he thought it important that he “respect this distance.” He further added that it would be “banal” of him to comment on this situation through film – instead, he said, he focuses on the relationship between “human and human.”
The Shape of Water
Del Toro noted that this human element is particularly highlighted in his new film, The Shape of Water. The feature was shown as the inaugural film on opening night, after having won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, the highest prize possible. The plot takes place in a laboratory during the Cold War when a mute and lonely employee, Elisa, discovers a classified experiment, and two seemingly incompatible worlds meet.
The film serves as the filmmaker’s personal interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. Yet, there are some major differences. "It was important that the beast did not become a prince and that the beauty was not idealized," Del Toro said. He added that he did not want “a Walt Disney princess,” but instead someone “who made hard boiled eggs and masturbated in the morning.”
Guillermo Del Toro made this film in response to the current climate in America, he said, which “hurts him so much.” In The Shape of Water, the filmmaker wanted to address the difference between love and fear.” This is a story, he said, where a “creature can be despised by the antagonist or be seen as a God, and its (true) nature is revealed at the end.” Indeed, the artist proclaimed, “fairy tales were made for difficult times, of war and hunger." The Shape of Water will be released in theaters in Catalonia in January 2018.
Horror, fantasy, dolls, and cults
Another film to make an appearance at the festival is Annabelle Creation. A prequel for horror film Annabelle which made an appearance at Sitges three years prior, this feature addresses the origins of the demonic doll. The film was received well with wide applause, and will be released in theaters on October 12. Moving on from horror to fantasy is instead the film The Endless, a film that deals with “the relationship between brothers, cults, and supernatural things.”
A step towards academia
This year will also see a new development for the Sitges Film Festival: a partnership with the Open University of Catalonia for a film degree. The Master of Fantasy Film and Contemporary Fiction will start the 18th of October docent staff tied to the Sitges Film festival, including Àngel Sala, the director of the event. The objective for the degree is to give professionals in the field the tools to reinvent themselves and the genre constantly and make films that surprise, frighten, move and excite viewers.
An exception that must be preserved
As well as the Grand Honorary Award, the Sitges Film Festival gives out some 17 prizes to artists and motion pictures, the recipients of which have varied from Vincent Price, to Quentin Tarantino, to Geraldine Chaplin. Guillermo Del Toro moreover said of the festival that it was “vital for the world,” and an “exception that must be preserved,” highlighting its importance in the birth and growth of Catalan horror. The event will run from October 5-17.