The thing that I found so exciting about programming the festival was that for a film to be a piece of fantastic cinema it doesn’t need to align with any conventional festival criteria.”

Inaugural Fantastic Film Festival Australia Director Hudson Sowada sat down to chat about just what makes a flick fantastic and the new ‘genre’ Fest landing at Sydney’s Ritz Cinemas tonight. FFFA, which too premieres at Melbourne’s Lido Cinemas this evening, previously ran in Victoria in 2018 in the form of Paracinema Fest.

“FFFA is not strictly a genre festival even though horror, sci-fi and action are key elements of the program; fantastic cinema is often something you can just feel,” said Sowada. “It’s an attitude, an ambition, a questioning eye and a creative flair. These are films that challenge the status quo and convention, communicate bold ideas and are great achievements in style, tone and atmosphere.”

“It means we can put a film like “Aren’t You Happy,” a mischievous, bubble-gum romp through Berlin commenting on sex, art, feminism, consumerism and of course happiness all backed by a boisterous big band soundtrack right next to the unflinchingly grotesque portrait of a serial killer seen in ‘The Golden Glove,’ a film that puts the closest of lenses on society’s obsession with murderers and the senselessness of the violence. While there is no doubt both these films are running in their own cinematic lanes, they are both great examples of the fantastic cinema spirit I’m hoping to capture within the program.” 

‘Suicide Tourist’ too features prominently in this year’s line-up, being the latest from “Game of Thrones’” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Relayed in Danish and English, the flick chronicles an insurance agent who, set on investigating a disappearance and recently having discovered terrible news about his health, retreats to an isolated resort in what may very well be his last days. Well helmed by Coster-Waldau and but one of the films to blur fantasy and reality and do so in aboundingly graphic ways, ‘Suicide Tourist,’ atypically and moreover a psychological drama than a psychological thriller, soon gives way to the latter as the film begins to earn its explanatory caution. Of note, only two of the twenty-five films featured (incidentally the two animations) do not feature content warnings.

“Fantastic cinema often deals in extremes; these are often risky films that play by their own rules and for many graphic content is just another tool they use to communicate a tone or aesthetic,” said Sowada. “In ‘Diner’ violence is an exercise in style, flamboyance and ecstasy whereas ‘Sator’ for the majority of the film restrains from any violence which only adds to its purpose when it eventually transpires.”

“Even the films without these warnings are no less radical. ‘S He,’ a stop motion film about an authoritarian world run by shoes, is absolute madness put to screen. Its unflinchingly chaotic and will leave the audiences’ heads reeling. ‘Away’ is an exercise in extreme ambition, made by one animator over five years; it’s an incredible example of a burning drive to create and is an inspiring achievement in minimalist filmmaking.” 

With ‘Away’ secured from Latvia, the program features flicks from 18 nations including ‘The Mute’ from Poland depicting two Christian knights who task themselves with christening a small pagan village buried deep within the mountains, together with France’s ‘Zombi Child’ covering Voodoo culture and colonial history. ‘Horror Noire,’ a documentary tracing the contributions of African American artists in Hollywood through their associations with horror filmmaking, is sourced straight from the US alongside Opening Night flick ‘Chained for Life’ which too screened at the Fantasia and BFI London Film Festivals.

“‘Chained for Life’ was the first film I programmed for the Festival and really set the tone for the whole event,” said Sowada. “It’s an incredibly creative ode to the spirit of filmmaking that oozes with this passion and experimental ethos that keeps it fresh and exciting, but it’s strength is in the way it uses genre to interrogate the stories we are told and who gets to tell them.”

In a medium built so much on beauty, ‘Chained for Life’ is an insight into the voices of any of those who are marginalised by the industry. I wanted the program to showcase the kinds of stories we often miss on Australian cinema screens and I’m really pleased with the diverse range films we have to offer.”

Fantastic Film Festival Australia screens at Sydney’s Ritz Cinemas from February 20 – March 2, 2020 and Melbourne’s Lido Cinemas from February 20 – March 4, 2020

on FalkenScreen