Fantasia 2021: The Premier Film Festival Heads Back to Theatres, Even Though It Never Left

Nothing stood in the way of the Fantasia International Film Festival - not even a pandemic. Last year the festival was a success through a virtual rendition. This year the milestone 25th edition will find the fine balance of the in person experience, while following the government guidelines still in place (a virtual edition will also be available this year). Running from Aug. 5 - Aug. 25, the Fantasia International Film Festival is a great way to get out of the house, beat the heat of the summer, and return to the movies. 

Fantasia has always been one of those festivals known for premiering a film for the first time whether it be a big film or a film that is soon to be big. On Aug. 4, the day before the festival starts, there is a special sold out Fantasia screening at Cinéma Impérial of one of the most anticipated films this summer, The Suicide Squad from director James Gunn. If you miss this screening, you can catch the squad on the big screen where theatres are open the following night when it makes its candid cinema premiere.

The opening film at Cinéma Impérial on Aug. 5 Brain Freeze is a Quebecois zombie horror comedy film from director Julien Knafo. Les Affamés has already had great success as a Quebecois zombie movie, so I believe Brain Freeze will follow in that successful trend of a Quebec-made zombie film. The closing film of the festival on Aug. 25 at Cinéma Impérial - The Great Yokai War: Guardians from director Takashi Miike - takes viewers back to the magical world of Yokai as a war that threatens to destroy Tokyo will be sure to take audiences on a surreal journey.

The Selection 2021 at this year’s festival has something for everyone. Here are some of the films that I have selected to highlight. First of all there are some great international features to talk about. From New Zealand Coming Home in The Dark from director James Ashcroft is a neo-noir thriller car invasion film that is in the same vein as Funny Games with some great cinematography and performances from the trailer alone. Another film I’m interested in is Caution, Hazardous Wife: The Movie from director Tôya Satô, which is based on the international Japanese television show, finally adapted to the big screen. The flick is a Mr. & Mrs. Smith comedic spy comedy about a wife who is a spy with amnesia whose husband has to help her out on the final spy mission with all the action as a spy show like Alias. Finally, if you are looking for an action comedy in the similar vein to Dumb and Dumber, might I suggest the Belgian comedy Mother Schmuckers from directors Lenny and Harpo Guit.

One of the program selections that I normally start off with at Fantasia is their Documentaries From The Edge series, where you will find some entertaining and thought-provoking documentary films. If you are looking for a documentary about something obscure in the world of music, I highly recommend Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché about the head of the Afropunk and Riot Grrrl movements Poly Styrene. Directed by her daughter Celeste Bell and Paul Sng, this documentary focuses not only on the musical icon but also the tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter, all while serving as a vibrant tribute to this passionate artist. Touching on 200 films and over 50 interviewees, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror will discuss the horror genre of pagan and folk horror, with a complete history of films like The Wicker Man and Robert EggersThe Witch. With a three-hour runtime this is for any fanatics of horror folk cinema. I was also a fan of last year’s Feels Good Man from director Arthur Jones, so I can’t wait to see another deep dive in meme culture in the anti-documentary You Can’t Kill Meme from director Hayley Garrigus

The final section that always piques my interest is the aspiring filmmakers in the Camera Lucida section. Director David Lowery, who brought his film A Ghost Story to Fantasia in 2017, is back in theatres this summer with The Green Knight, complete with early reviews praising Lowery’s artistic vision and the career performance from actor Dev Patel. One film that I can’t wait to see from the early reviews and buzz would be the black and white film shot over Zoom during the pandemic The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 from director Shunji Iwai. Moving forward, demonic possession plagues a convent of nuns in the film Agnes from director Mickey Reece. Finally, the comedy-fantasy science fiction flick Tiong Bahru Social Club is about Ah Been who still lives with his mother at age 30, who decides to sign up to be a happiness agent at the Tiong Bahru Social Club. However, even though he is feeling and chasing happiness, there is something amiss in all the joy found in this film from director Tan Bee Thiam

The festival offers up other categories of films including Cheval Noir, the stellar animation section Axis, past favourites found in Fantasia Retro, the bold ambitious filmmakers of Underground, and as well a spotlight on Quebecois filmmakers with Les Fantastiques Week-Ends Du Cinéma Québécois. If you are looking for kid-friendly fare, Fantasia has you covered with My First Fantasia. As well back for this year’s in person festivities is the much-beloved Fantasia institution DJ XL5’s Miaow Mix Zappin’ Party.

Here are some films that my At The Movies co-host Danny Aubry has selected as his Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 picks. 

The year 2021 will be my second year in a row of observing the Fantasia International Film Festival through their virtual cinema. Within my recent trips through cyberspace, I've stumbled upon trailers for Fantasia films which I personally feel show a lot of promise. Although pretty much all of the Fantasia films which are available this year look really cool in their own respect, there are just three which come to mind right now.

From Fantasia Underground making its North American premier, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese science fiction film directed by Junta Yamaguchi. The main character of this film is an individual who lives in an apartment above the coffee shop which he owns. He is financially struggling and increasingly depressed about where he is at in life, until he discovers that he is somehow able to get in touch with his future self through his computer screen. He then relies on his future self to aid him in propelling forward. This one will be worth checking out if you’re into science fiction films and like anything to do with time travel.

From Selection 2021, Strawberry Mansion is a drama fantasy film set in the United States directed by Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney. The main character is an auditor working for the United States federal government who is summoned to a farmhouse owned by an eccentric old woman. Within his stay he stumbles upon a device which consists of a VHS recording of the old woman's dreams. When he tries the device on himself, he finds his fantasies becoming more real than he ever thought possible. I am intrigued by the film’s premise in regards to making one’s fantasies feel more real.

Making its North American premiere both in person at Cinéma du Musée and in the virtual cinema as part of Les Fantastiques Week-Ends Du Cinéma Québécois, Dreams on Fire is a Japanese drama film directed by Philipe McKie. The film focuses on a young woman who yearns to become a dancer despite her parents’ disapproval. She flees from the small town where she was born to the big city in order to turn her dream into a reality. I like these films that feature characters chasing their dreams and passions despite what people think. 

I feel that these movies show a lot of promise because they all somehow reflect on how a lot of us have navigated through the pandemic. Many of us have often found ourselves losing track of time, finding fun and creative ways to make our fantasies feel more real, and reflecting on our dreams by taking the time to ask ourselves what we really want to do in life.

Bon cinema!

Remi and Danny host At The Movies, which can be heard every Tuesday morning from 8:00 - 9:00AM. Tune in for discussions about movies, soundtracks, and iconic film scores. At The Movies also covers film festivals that are located in Montreal.