INTO its third year, Derby Film Festival aims to make film festivals accessible to the masses. Taking place inside Derby QUAD, a modern venue boasting art exhibitions and screening rooms in equal measure, this year’s 10-day festival presented itself with the theme of “Journey”. We covered the 4th instalment of Fantastiq – a cinematic festival of fantasy, science fiction and horror – where the journeying theme was clearly evident across the weekend.
Our Day One screenings included vintage horrors QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (Roy Ward Baker 1967), YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (Sergio Martino 1972) and STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (Andrea Bianchi 1975), which present journeys both metaphorical and literal. Fantastiq would not be a festival dedicated to the world of horror if it didn’t pay homage to one of the greatest British companies to create horror films: Hammer Horror productions. QUATERMASS delivers all the scare factor expected from the iconic British production company. Martino and Bianchi’s films provided an entertaining insight into the world of Giallo campy horror and nudity; the presentation of STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER in original 35mm projection was an added bonus.
The festival opening night also included some preview screenings. We were treated to suspenseful home-invasion horror with a twist INTRUDERS (Adam Schindler 2016), which sees agoraphobic Anna (Beth Riesgraf) turn the tables on her would-be attackers with a mysterious basement full of tricks. Other horrors previewed included THE SNARLING (Pablo Raybould 2016) and MODEL HUNGER (Debbie Rochon 2016). Prince’s PURPLE RAIN (Albert Magnoli 1984) was also screened in the evening in memory of the singer’s recent death. The sold-out event highlighted the impact the superstar had on the silver screen as fans of Prince and cinema alike joined together in the QUAD’s largest theatre to honour him.
On Day Two we kicked off with an audio presentation of Orson Welles’ radio play THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1938). In a daring addition for a film festival, the audience sat in silence and listened to Welles’ harrowingly realistic tale of the end of the world with only a photo on screen as a visual accompaniment. This was certainly unusual for a film festival due to the lack of “film” present. A preview of documentary IT CAME FROM CONNEMARA (Brian Reddin 2014) wowed festival goers in "The Box”, the QUAD’s most relaxed screening room. The part-Gaelic, part-English documentary about Roger Corman’s studio/film school in rural Ireland provides a unique insight into how the serial B-movie creator worked around low budgets and a crew who lacked any filmmaking experience. Throughout the day a vintage movie poster fair was set up outside the screens. The film-less screening, bilingual documentary and multicultural film poster event all happening within the space of two hours showcased Fantastiq's distinctive agenda.
Sir Ben Kingsley in Conversation was a late addition to the programme after Hammer Horror actress Barbara Shelley was unfortunately unable to attend the event. This shows the dedication Derby Film Festival show to their audience, and how quick they are to respond to contemporary film, with Kingsley having just starred in the most recent adaptation of THE JUNGLE BOOK (Jon Favreau 2016). The talk began with Kingsley sharing anecdotes about his childhood where he stated he “felt very isolated within the household” and consequently where he found his passion for theatre. This was told with a packed audience of all ages and professions hanging on his every word. We then followed his journey to where he is today, featuring many more rich and vibrant anecdotes and confirming his role as “the storyteller sitting around the bonfire”. The event ended with a Q&A and, when asked what advice Kingsley would give to aspiring filmmakers, actors and scriptwriters, his profound reply – “if your motives are pure, you angels will come” – left the audience feeling like they had truly witnessed something special.
GREEN ROOM (2016), Jeremy Saulnier's follow up to BLUE RUIN (2014), was arguably the most highly anticipated preview of the weekend. Although sold as more of a thriller than a horror film, it promised to pack a gruesome punch. GREEN ROOM stars Sir Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin, pitted against one another in a millennial-punks versus skinheads battle as the rival groups are trapped on the skinhead’s turf after witnessing a murder. Although causing less jump scares than originally foreseen the film holds its own when it comes to the gore factor, including the brutal mutilation of numerous limbs. Its deadpan humour allows for a stark contrast between that and the quick succession of deaths although the seemingly muddled genre type is somewhat confusing.
Our Day Three began with quirky French fantasy animation APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD (Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci 2015). This quickly became a personal highlight of ours due to the Studio Ghibli similarities in plot and representations of technological magic. Considering that the majority of films shown at Fantastiq up until this point were horrors, APRIL was an unexpected delight and appeals to all ages with steampunk wizardry, slapstick humour and talking cats in equal measure. It provided a welcomed change of pace.
We moved onto a fascinatingly glum selection of creator-submitted shorts for the “Eat My Shorts” event. BREATHE (Paul Kowalski 2015) is a delicate film portraying the difficulties of a demanding job whilst dealing with the death of a loved one. DEMONS (Chris Neilan 2015) keeps you on edge throughout with its colour palette providing distinctive colours between what the protagonist believes is good and bad, and ending in a horrifically surreal twist. Set in the not-so-distant future MOULD (Josh Ormerod 2015) aims to tackle the problem of dementia through the use of cloning with a result that may cause an existential crisis. RUMBLE (Matthew Hopper 2015), a hard-of-hearing boxing drama, impressively captures the daily struggles of a deaf person through cinematography and sound design. THE SONG OF WANDERING AENGUS (Matthew Lawes 2016) is a wonderful stop motion short that captures the famous Yeats poem of the same title with equal amounts of magic and whimsy. Eat My Shorts ended with POSITIVE (Razvan Barseti 2015), a gritty, sterile tale of a hypochondriac who goes to extreme lengths to get a "positive" result with the help of a HIV positive man willing to share his “gift" for the right price. Eat My Shorts encapsulated the themes of Fantastiq with the collection of shorts presenting the multitude ways a filmmaker can create horror, science fiction or fantasy in the short film form.
A second selection of shorts – “This is Not a Cartoon” – included six international animated shorts of varying styles and lengths. The highlight was FULFILAMENT (Rhiannon Evans 2015), a stop motion film capturing the initial stages of an idea using light bulbs and LEDs as characters to symbolise the brain. Director and National Film and Television School graduate Evans was present for a small Q&A session and provided invaluable information about the processes that went into making the film, as well as what life is like for an animator just starting out in the film industry.
We ended our trio of short film events with the Five Lamps Films awards ceremony, a collaborative film event that both avid filmmakers and the general public could enter. It was interesting to see how each team tackled the same brief within a 24-hour period. Witnessing local filmmakers’ work screened in the same theatre that had previously held Sir Ben Kingsley’s event and other major pictures was ultimately a rewarding experience, showing yet again that Derby Film Festival's commitment to accessibility for all cinema goers.
Our final preview of the festival was science fiction film THE CALL UP (Charles Barker 2016), which mirrored recent advances in the gaming industry regarding Virtual Reality. While THE CALL UP falls back on overused and somewhat boring science fiction-horror tropes with evil Brits and killing off people of colour, the modern music and sleek mise-en-scène made it an enjoyable watch, if not slightly repetitive. THE CALL UP is clearly inspired by Charlie Brooker's BLACK MIRROR (2011-present), and offered something different for the horror-leaning festival.
While Fantastiq describes itself as a festival of horror, science fiction and fantasy, its heavy sway towards horror was clearly evident this year but for us it was at its best when it departed from horror. With an eclectic mixture of audio presentations, celebrity guest speakers, short film selections and advanced previews, Fantastiq provides audiences with a compelling and varied insight into the world of cinema, all the while remaining incredibly accessible for audiences with a multitude of film tastes, so long as they have a strong enough stomach for horror.