Attending the 36th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival
Apr 23, 2018
- Writerby Ellen Y.D. KIM (BIFAN Chief Programmer)
An Enthusiastic Audience and the Confirmed Potential of a Genre Film Market
Belgium is well-known for its good taste, as can be seen from its large variety of beers, chocolates and waffles, its comic series such as The Adventures of Tintin and its Art Nouveau architecture and art. It is also the home of masters of the genre novel of the 20th century, such as Jean Rey and Henri Vernes. Each spring, during Easter break, the world’s most unique film festival, Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF), is held in Brussels, Belgium. The festival takes place at the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts created by key European Art Nouveau architect, Victor Pierre Horta. This venue is equipped with an exhibition hall, 3 theaters, a lounge, a restaurant and a café. The festival poster created in collaboration with an illustrator has kept its visual concept based on red and black, while this year’s theme was ‘Nosferatu’.
KIM Jee-woon Retrospective and the Popularity of the Latest Korean Films
My first trip to Brussels tracks back to 2001. For a while, I had forgotten about the festival until I finally returned to attend its 34th edition in 2016, the very year a terrorist attack on the Brussels Central Station threatened the existence of BIFFF. Since then, I’ve visited the festival every year, and what amazes me is the warm response that each film screened in the theaters receives from the Brussels audience, which could be compared to the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The generation may have changed but, according to the festival, every year some screams or noises of a movie catches the attention of the audience and gets passed down as a screening ritual. Guests, including filmmakers, are urged to sing a song when they appear on stage, and the audience applauds when the ending credits appear. This kind of dedicated audience whose responses are more than passionate is probably the reason why many genre filmmakers choose Brussels to showcase their latest works. And that is exactly why Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro returned there with his first feature, Cronos, for a Master Class.
BIFFF has various competition sections, from the Best European Fantastic Feature Film (Mélies competition) to the 7th Orbit Award and the Thriller Award. This year, the president of the jury of the international competition was the head of Troma Studios and famed director of the Toxic Avenger series, Lloyd Kaufman. The festival offered an exciting lineup of events that all suit the atmosphere of the festival: a vampire ball (Bal des Vampires), a zombie day (ZOMBIFFF Day), a makeup contest and a body painting contest, as well as a VR experience. The KIM Jee-woon retrospective showcased A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), The Good, The Bad, And The Weird (2008), and I Saw the Devil (2010), but unfortunately, health issues suffered during the preparation of his next project prevented the filmmaker from attending the festival. A video message was sent by the director to celebrate the special showcase. Another retrospective was dedicated to Guillermo del Toro, whose film Cronos was screened. And for this special event, the filmmaker himself was present to receive the Order of the Raven and give a Master Class.
This year also introduced a rich collection of some of the latest works from Korea. A Special Lady (2017) (LEE An-kyu), Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017) (KIM Yong-hwa), House of the Disappeared (2017) (LIM Dae-woong), MEMOIR OF A MURDERER (2017) (WON Shin-yun), New Trial (2017) (KIM Tae-yun), RV: Resurrected Victims (2017) (KWAK Kyung-taek), Human, Space, Time and Human (KIM Ki-duk) and the world premiere of The Nightmare (2017) (Jay SONG) were received with rave reviews. LEE An-kyu was unable to attend the Sitges Film Festival last year where he won the Focus Asia-Best Feature Length Film Award, but this year he attended BIFFF to introduce the screening of his film. On stage, he was cheered for singing "You'll Never Know" from the soundtrack of The Shape of Water.
The 2nd BIF Market, Confirming its Potential
Many were skeptical about the sustainability of the BIF Market, introduced last year as Europe’s first genre film market. As it moved into its second year, the BIF Market proved its potential to grow and thus secured support from related organizations. Besides the screenings of 6 completed works and the introduction of 4 works-in-progress, 53 companies occupied the meeting lounge and the smaller market spaces. Participants from all sides of the film industry attended the market, including film production companies, sales agents, Belgian organizations related to film, and fantastic film festivals such as the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN). There was a sense of carelessness reigning over the market in the morning due to the fact that BIFFF programs were running every day from 2 pm to midnight. Nevertheless, its focus on the discovery of talented and creative projects within the shared interest of genre films made it an effective platform for meeting and exchanging information. In particular, some of the latest titles that were in the festival’s official selection later received festival invites for both film and filmmaker or sales pick-up meetings right after their screening at the market.
The work-in-progress program allowed the filmmakers and producers of 4 projects to showcase parts of their works, giving them more chances to find a distributor. Moroccan creature project Achoura and Serbian version of ‘Mad Max’ Son's Will, in particular, attracted much interest. The 3rd edition of BIF Market next year has been fixed for April 10th – 12th, with Market Manager Romain Roll declaring that “it will have a more specialized focus on the genre”.
Guillermo del Toro’s Master Class was a total success, as the more than 1,000 seats in the theater were all sold out. Director del Toro was enthusiastically welcomed with a standing ovation when he appeared on stage. This was followed by Festival Director Guy Delmote ‘bestowing’ him an ‘Order of the Raven’. The mood in the theater reached a climax when del Toro sang ‘CANTA Y NO LLORES’ with a band of El Mariachis who were invited upon del Toro’s request.
During the Master Class, del Toro related his experience at a small film festival in Mexico, 33 years ago, when he was juggling between projecting films of the program, transporting guests and even screening his own short film. He also talked freely with two film critics about getting Cronos invited to Cannes Critics’ Week and winning an award despite having been previously rejected by everyone. He overran his allotted time by 30 minutes, amazing the crowd with a special montage of his body of work, an in-depth explanation of his unique universe where angels and monsters co-exist, and his tenacious passion for creativity. The master ended the Master Class with this lesson: “The challenge in genre makes it easier to follow. But you should push further, not just repeat it”. BIFFF no longer seemed to be suffering from the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attack that occurred 2 years ago, and instead displayed a new vigor driven by Festival Director Guy Delmote. This year proved that the festival stands more solid than ever.