Friday, October 9th
Mikey, my old buddy and co-producer/editor on Umbra, and I arrive in the picturesque coastal township of Sitges, an hour by train from Barcelona. It's the 48th Festival Internacional De Cinema Fantastic De Catalunya and our short vampire fever dream is in competition in the Brigadoon section for the Paul Naschy Award for Best Fantastic Short Film. Quite the honour!
After settling in to our quaint AirBnB apartment, in front of the festival HQ down near the marina, Mikey and I walk the short distance up to the Hotel Melia to collect our respective accreditation. Mikey gets his "industry" badge and fancy festival programme, but they've used his middle name as his surname. After a bit of a goose chase I finally collect my "guest" badge and festival bag with programme. Mikey's not happy, "Why didn't I get a bag?" He demands a new badge with his correct surname and asks for a bag, and is politely denied the bag, but is given a new badge.
The festival scene around the hotel is controlled chaos. Very much a small "Cannes". Mikey and soak up the atmosphere, and collect our comp tickets for the next day's selected screenings. Because I'm not VIP I'm not eligible to get comps for some second screenings (no The Witch for me), which is frustrating, but dems da breaks. Gonna have to make those selections count!
Mikey and return to our own HQ to shoot some pieces to camera for the Redux documentary. The sun is intense. The ice-cold San Miguel takes the edge off. After a shot of Grapefruit Danska we head to our first festival screening, a short jaunt down into the old town.
The screening is at the Brigadoon cinema, L'Escorxador. A low-budget documentary on the cult movie star Soledad Miranda, Soledad Miranda, A Flower in the Desert, who died tragically in a car crash in 1970. The doco focuses on an American woman who has made it her life's passion to document the life and career of Miranda. She created soledadmiranda.com and has spent much of her adult life collating photos and memorabilia associated with Jess Franco's muse. It's a strange documentary, partially fascinating, but very uneven in style and focus, with indulgent direction. Although the core subject matter, Miranda, was so alluring, it was frustrating that the none of the Spanish language had English subtitles. The reality of where we were was made brutally apparent. We will need to pay heed to what movies we choose to watch. Any movie not in English will only have subs in Catalyan.
L'Escorxador cinema is not a cinema. It's a former abattoir that has been converted into an arts space, and a makeshift cinema has been set up for the Brigadoon section of the festival. The seats were very uncomfortable. Mikey and I abandoned watching the subsequent screening of Franco's Vampyros Lesbos, partially due to the hard seats, but also because it would not have English subs. I'd seen the movie before anyway.
After an amusing dinner down on the marina promenade at an Italian pizza joint, where the staff spent the entire time trying to decide how to write up a menu board, we caught a cab back into the old town to the Retiro cinema to see the hotly anticipated US remake of cult French extremist horror Martyrs. It was a packed cinema of highly enthusiastic locals. The movie was not as bad as I thought it might be, but it smacked of all the Hollywood compromises I suspected it would fall prey to. The worst being the ending. The Goetz brothers, who directed, had fashioned it into a revenge flick. The original is a revenge flick too, but only in the first half. Much of the original's uber-brutal intensity had been homogenized. The performance of the Lucie character was the movie's best element. The score was heavy-handed, and the performance of Anna failed to convince. And the flaying was half-arsed. Still, the audience cheered and clapped on numerous occasions. They seemed to relish the contrivances the Goetz brothers threw at them. Mikey and I weren't sold. Mikey hasn't seen the original, he's not the horrorphile I am, but he understood the trappings the remake had tripped on.
As we hadn't been issued with invitations to the Opening Night party, which was just around the corner from us, Mikey and I decided we'd have an early night. It was 1am.
Saturday, October 10th
Mikey and I wander around the marina trying to find a cafe open for coffee. It's only 9am. We're in Spain. What are we thinking?! We end up at the festival kiosk up outside Hotel Melia. Thank God for cafe con leche and jamon baguette.
Next up, securing tickets for Monday's screening selection. Then it's back to our pad to do a little doco housekeeping and blog yesterday's activities. There's a message from Richard Stanley, who arrived last night and is staying in Melia. He's keen to meet up for a drink. There is a screening of the Lost Soul documentary followed by a Q&A with Richard, so I leave a message for him with the hotel concierge saying we will endeavour to rendezvous straight after the Q&A.
Mikey and arrive at the Prado cinema just as everyone is spilling out from the Lost Soul screening. There is a huge queue for the next screening. I spot Richard and there is a brief scurry as I try to intercept him before he is whisked away by his festival public relations agent. Mikey and I find him in the adjacent cafe courtyard with his pr. We join them for a drink as they wait for a very slow lunch service. Richard waxes lyrical and wonders where is Coca-Cola is, while Mikey and nurse a couple of Moritz. Richard is in fine form with plenty of wry asides. Their lunch finally arrives, and so we leave them to dine.
We walk a short distance to the Retiro cinema and meet up with Ursula Dabrowsky, the star of Inner Demon, Sarah Jeavons, and Gudmond, a entrepreneur friend of Ursula's. The five of us have photos in front of the Sitges banner and Ursula spots Mexican director Isaac Ezban in the queue. His second feature The Similars is screening, which is what we have come to Retiro to see. Ursula and I still fondly remember our amazement after seeing Ezban's short Nasty Stuff at A Night Of Horror Film Festival several years earlier.
We squeeze into a cinema booth. Sarah takes a selfie which causes much of the audience to assume we are all actors in the movie. Ezban introduces the movie, makes reference to his crazy Aussie friends, and we're thrown into the monochromatic Twilight Zone identity nightmare that is The Similars. A very stylistic excursion that seems to be plucked from the same oneiric universe as Ezban's first feature The Incident.
Following the screening we all head directly to the Brigadoon for the screening of the short films in competition for the Paul Naschy Award, which includes Umbra! There is a huge queue, which is crazy considering how tiny the cinema space is. Thankfully, Mikey and I are guests and are ushered in ahead of the queue, but unfortunately Ursula, Sarah, and Gudmond aren't able to get in.
I am the only director who has a translater. I keep my intro short and sweet. Umbra screens second. The crowd clap wildly after it. My nerves are settled. The film sounded great, perhaps a little dark. The other shorts are a real mix. A couple of long self-indulgent pieces, and one black and white surrealist film called Horseface which Mikey and I think is the award contender.
Afterward we re-connect with Ursula, Sarah, and Gudmond, who have been kind enough to hang around. We head into the old town to find food and booze. The streets are alive with zombies and families. It's a Sitgesituation. Ursula is determined to find smokes. We touch base with Isaac, who invites us to join him at a bar called Nirvana where other festival folk are hanging, so we head off into the night.
The promenade leading to the port is a hive of activity. At Nirvana I chew Isaac's ear, and he introduces me to author and shorts programmer for Fantastic Fest, Kier-La Janisse, and chatting to her is FrightFest shorts programmer, Shelagh Rowan-Legg. Wahey! How funny, one who rejected Umbra and one who selected it. We talk about the crazy world of festivals. Later I bump into John Fallon, whose feature The Shelter is screening. G&Ts continue to make the rounds. Thankfully our pad is only a short stumble from the bar.