Drum roll... Tonight is the opening ceremony of the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film (BIFFF).
The opportunity to come back to the genre cinema and its dedicated festivals. Guy Delmote (Managing Director at the BIFFF) and Loïc Valceschini (Artistic Director at the Neuchatel Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland) give us their feelings on their festivals reinvented with a covid sauce and their vision on the evolution of the genre cinema these last years.
Moonday: In 2020, both BIFFF and NIFFF decided to postpone their edition. For 2021, you both had to reduce your selection compared to previous years. Did you have to establish additional criteria?
LV (NIFFF): In fact, we realized that there were new criteria related to the selection of films on a platform because you are not in the same conditions at home, in front of your screen, as in a theater where everything is optimal. Some films are more atmospheric, or that have a slightly more demanding rhythm, that would have a place in the festival but that it is better not to select because they would be less well treated than during a "real" festival.
The scope of the selection also decreases by default. Not because of a lack of films, on the contrary, but because the situation requires us to work on a case-by-case basis and to commit ourselves to our partners without knowing in what form for the moment.
GD (BIFFF): We also cut back for very practical reasons, but more in a physical festival approach than a digital one: when we were still hoping to be able to do physical screenings, we knew we'd have fewer theaters, fewer screenings, etc. So for sure, we selected harder, especially since we wanted our Infected Section: a selection of films that we should have programmed in 2020.
It might be harder in 2022 to select new films. There is not much filming going on now. And if there is no shooting, there is no film. But anyway, 2022 will be our 40th edition, so count on us to make a hell of a splash!
Moonday: do you think that these Covid years will leave traces on the organization of a festival in the long term? What does your audience think about it?
LV (NIFFF): For sure, there will be a legacy from that period. We have democratized the remote participation of the guests a lot, that's something that will surely remain at NIFFF. Does it make sense to bring people from the other side of the world for a one-hour conference? The public is also more accepting of remote events now, whereas before it was something we feared.
In 2020, we were already working on a digital platform to reach a wider audience. It may seem silly because Switzerland is a small country, but people from Zurich or Geneva can't necessarily come to the festival. As a result, people wrote to us to thank us:
"I always dreamed of coming to the festival but it was always impossible for me. For once I have access to your beautiful selection, it's great!"
GD (BIFFF): Of course, not everything is bad, you have to take advantage of the good things. But a festival is above all the joy of meeting each other. Some festival-goers take their vacations for the BIFFF. It is the meeting of the year for them. Impossible, in this case, to make a festival online...
"The opening is the beginning of the year for me, it's my New Year's Eve".
LV (NIFFF): I think it's also going to reinforce people's interest for festivals. When we see the great number of films available on platforms, we lose in quality and choice. That's the job of the programmer, to find a program that makes sense and to accompany it to the public, to contextualize it. We realized this year that some films we were considering were already available on Netflix! But they are completely drowned in the mass and will never exist in the eyes of the general public. I understand the interest of producers and rights holders to sell the film to big platforms but the film loses a lot of connection with its audience and gets drowned, which becomes problematic. That's where I see the timeless value of festivals.
Moonday: As we said above Guy when you started almost 40 years ago, there were no phones, no computers...
GD (BIFFF): There was no Neuchâtel either! (Laughs)
Moonday: At that time, genre films had less scope and were rather reserved to the initiated, available directly on VHS. Today the situation has changed a lot. Can we still talk about a shunned genre?
GD (BIFFF): I don't agree that it was a neglected genre, even 40 years ago. For me, fantasy film has always existed and if it has not been famous it is because many journalists, film critics, considered it as B-zone cinema. But I have to remind you that The Last Battle (Luc Besson) dates from 1983, Dark Crystal, the masterpiece of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, from 1983, that Videodrome (David Cronenberg) is 1984. I'm not even talking about Hitchcock or Jaws!
Afterward, we saw at Cannes, for example, that fantasy films slowly appeared in the 24-hour sessions, sessions of terror. That's when we said to ourselves that something had changed.
LV (NIFFF): It's true, some festivals are opening up to films that were generally more reserved for festivals like BIFFF or NIFFF. Which is both great and very frustrating! (Laughs).
There are also films like Harry Potter, Lord of the Ring, the superhero movies that have had huge success at the box office and have legitimized fantasy a lot with the public... and with those who have the money to make the films...
GD (BIFFF): Here the economy caught up with creation. When they said to themselves "well, maybe we're making a mistake by putting the fantasy film in the B category because it will make money". And it's true. Avatar (James Cameron) made about $2.8 billion... I don't think many people who have released a love movie can say that. Because it's a love story too, but there's a spectacle, and spectacle is a thrill, it's fantasy!
LV (NIFFF): There has also been the democratization of visual techniques. Everything revolves around special effects. Fantasy is often based on this, especially in science fiction. Today, a single person behind a computer can do all the special effects. It's a big change in the industry that has favored a more important place for genre cinema.
Moonday: Have your audiences evolved along with genre cinema?
LV (NIFFF): We have two kinds of audiences: the original fans who continue to follow these kinds of films and retrospectives, and the young people. It's the strength of genre cinema to always manage to interest the young audience. Horror cinema, in particular, is very attractive. These few films that are released in Switzerland are often copies of what we have already seen several times, but as there is a permanent renewal of the public that seeks this kind of sensation, it works. That's why there are 47 different SAWs etc. These are codes that easily spit out and that ensure public success.
GD (BIFFF): Same thing in Brussels. We always have horror screenings because we have this audience that gets mad at someone who has his leg cut off with a chainsaw. They find it funny, very good. But we also have an audience that has understood that genre cinema could be a cinema of an inner richness equal to other cinemas. We also try to make families discover fantasy, we have children who come to see films at the festival.
LV (NIFFF): Educational activities are very important! Once the preconceived notions of genre cinema are defused in the teachers, the students love it. We currently have a workshop around a web series, Batard (Malou Briand and Raphaël Meyer). It's based on a fake reality show. The creators will explain the creative process, how to create a universe, characters, what is a dystopia? It's very important for young people who are bombarded with images all day long to be able to ask themselves these kinds of questions.
Moonday: Today we have the impression that the genre film is carried in large part by Asia. This is shown by the numerous films selected each year at the BIFFF and the NIFFF. What is going on there to have such a resurgence of fantasy?
DG (BIFFF): Maybe it's partly because they have official institutions behind them that are not afraid to express their support. We gave a hand to BIFAN, the Seoul Fantasy Festival in South Korea, a few years ago. It's one of the biggest representatives of fantasy films in Asia. We went there and in the hall at the opening, we had a video message from the Prime Minister himself welcoming the audience, and explaining how great fantasy was! I was a little jealous. In Belgium we are a bit late. But in our country too, things are moving, it's just slower.
LV (NIFFF): Yes, in Europe too we see more and more genre cinema. It's just that it's more diffuse, less straightforward. There's a European way of approaching genre cinema.
In 2018, Lisa Brühlmann's Blue My Mind won the Quartz for best fiction film (Swiss equivalent of the Magritte). It would have been unbelievable a few years ago that a film like that could win such an award and the recognition that went with it. Then there was Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water, which won the Oscar for best film. So it's taking a pretty interesting turn, there's a kind of acceptance of genre cinema. We will see more and more of it.
Moonday: We'll follow the NIFFF selection in July! In the meantime, the BIFFF films are available for 3€ on the online platform... Notice to the fans! Guy, a film in particular to recommend?
DG (BIFFF): Hail Satan? By Penny Lane. It's a documentary by the Infected Section about a satanic cult in the US. We think they are just crazy people but they are more dangerous than we think.