WOMEN FILMMAKERS AT MONTREAL’S INTERNATIONAL FANTASIA FILM FEST – Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reports

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Breaking with past bad habits, the presence of women-made movies at genre film festivals around the world is now becoming an assumed norm rather than a curious anomaly. With a long history of having their work ignored or dismissed – that is, assuming they can get it funded in the first place – the grim historical predicament that has seen the work of women filmmakers effectively buried is now showing clear signs of becoming a thing of the past. Finally.

The 2019 iteration of Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival is a case in point, a fiercely independent and originally programmed festival that defines ‘outside the box’ curatorial thinking to the point that it has earned a strong international reputation for taste-making and trend-setting on the global film genre scene.

In front of the camera, the presence of strong woman is felt from the opening night film Sadako, which sees director Hideo Nakata returning to the Ringu franchise he made a global phenomenon in a film named after that series’ eponymous monstrous young woman.

Another big-name highlight is Australian filmmaker Abe Forsythe’s zom-com Little Monsters, bringing Lupita Nyong’o to the screen in a starring role which – on the back of her stand-out performance(s) in Jordan Peele’s Us earlier this year – makes Nyong’o one the years most unexpected horror superstars.

But the big names in front of the camera are just as present in the work of the many women filmmakers featured at this year’s festival. Actor-turned-director Mirrah Foulkes’s feature debut is the puppeteering black comedy Judy and Punch which stars Mia Wasikowska, while Asia Argento stars alongside another actor and filmmaker Arielle Dombasle in the latter’s sexy scifi fantasy film, Alien Crystal Palace. Rebecca Romijn dazzles as the antagonist in Chelsea Stardust’s demonic cult nightmare Satanic Panic, and of course one of the festival’s big drawcards is Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge with Riley Keough and Alicia Silverstone, the follow-up to their celebrated debut feature Goodnight Mommy.

An impressive number of women filmmakers will also be on the ground at Fantasia this year to present their work. Cult icon Barbara Crampton shines as always in festival guest Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Culture Shock, her feature length addition to Blumhouse’s Into the Dark series as she turns her sharp, unique vision towards the status of “Dreamers” in the United States. Spanish filmmaker Alice Waddington swept festivals around the world with her breathtaking 2015 short film Disco Inferno, and her feature debut – the feminist scifi film Paradise Hills starring Milla Jovovich and Emma Roberts – looks no less captivating.

Actor/director Pollyanna McIntosh will join these women in Montreal with her feature directorial debut Darlin’, returning on screen in her famous nameless ‘Woman’ character in the trilogy begun with Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring and Lucky McKee’s The Woman, based on the work of cult horror author Jack Ketchum. Also at the festival is Jovanca Vuckovic, a familiar name to cult and horror fans for her previous work both as a writer and filmmaker. The title of her highly anticipated feature debut Riot Girls suggests its precisely the kind of original, punk-feminist ride Vuckovic’s name almost guarantees.

Other women-directed highlights from filmmakers who will be attending the festival include Shelagh McLeod’s moving family drama Astronaut about a kindly grandfather (played by Richard Dreyfus) who strives to fulfill his dreams of space travel; Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin, a dark surreal drama about a small town coping with the grief of a missing teen; and Brazilian filmmaker Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s The Father’s Shadow, the follow up to her impressive debut feature Friendly Beast.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs in Montreal from July 11 – 1 August 2019; more information at www.fantasiafestival.com

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is an award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She has written for publications including Senses of Cinema, Little White Lies, Overland, The Monthly, 4:3 Film, Meanjin, The Big Issue and Diabolique Magazine, and has written five books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema. She is currently co-editing a book of essays on Elaine May and writing a book on the history of women in the horror genre.