Event Report: Sitges Film Festival 2017 On It’s 50th Anniversary
One of the joys of attending different film festivals is in discovering what makes each one
great. There are countless facets, countless moving parts, that come together to make a film festival successful. But often, there will be a particular aspect that solidifies a festival’s place in my mind. Sometimes it’s as easy as stellar programming. Sometimes it’s special, non-film events that make for a unique experience. Sometimes it’s the guests, or the audiences, or the festival’s unique culture. For a festival like the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, celebrating it’s 50th(!) year as one of the world’s greatest genre film festivals, essentially all of these things hold true, of course. It’s got that magical blend of intangible greatness that comes from a hundred small, moving parts doing their job incredibly, imperceptibly well. Yet, it’s impossible to imagine the festival could be what it is, were it to take place anywhere else in the world.
The magic of the festival is inextricably tied to the town of Sitges. I’m sure this realization
hits every attendee at a different moment. I’d barely gotten off the bus from the Barcelona
airport before the town got its hooks in me. I was exhausted in the familiar way that comes from changing time zones and sleeping in airports, my phone was dead, and without the luxury of GPS (or prior planning, I suppose) I had no way of finding the venue to pick up my press badge. I picked a direction that instinct said was a solid “maybe” and turned down a winding alley flanked by lovely architecture. An elderly woman watering plants on a third story balcony called down, asking where I was headed. “Estoy buscando hotel Melia,” I called up, hoping that was correct. She pointed down the road and sent me off with a smile. Sun shining down, in this picturesque beach town, it felt vaguely out of time, like I might bump into Audrey Hepburn at the next intersection.
From here, you walk along a beautiful beach, with clear water rolling in lazy waves. You
pass restaurants with sea-side views, and food trucks, and a hundred small distractions that threaten to turn every film festival day into a day working on your tan. Then, you make your way to the Melia where, if you’re lucky, you’ll get tickets to see (just as an example) the newly remastered SUSPIRIA on the big screen, introduced by Guillermo Del Toro and Dario Argento, with a Q&A afterwards. You’ll be giddy, seeing these legends share a stage, and maybe a little surprised that Del Toro seems every bit as excited to be there as you are. Maybe you’ll ask them a question. Then you’ll step outside into sunshine and perfect weather, and try again to resist the call of the beach. This is the Sitges experience.
When night falls, festival-goers have their choice between some world-class late night
programming, including 1am film marathons that run until the sun comes up (segueing perfectly into an 8am screening), or the Sitges nightlife. Heartier attendees may split their time between both, coming out of a midnight movie to join folks at a bar on the pier. You may hear, one night, someone decline a drink because they “have to run to the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screening. It’s got Susan Sarandon in-person for the shadow cast.” They may rejoin the party a few hours later, when the crowd has taken bottles to the beach, daring each other to go into the too-cold water.
There was a day that I missed out on getting tickets to a screening, and decided instead
to spend a few hours at the beach. After this vacation-from- my-vacation, I got dressed and headed to a screening of BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, where I happened to be seated in the same row as Udo Kier, S. Craig Zahler, and Vince Vaughn. That night, I was drinking at the beach with a mix of friends and people whose work I’ve admired from afar for years. I wrestled a director, it ended in a pretty flashy suplex.
As the alcohol kept flowing, a smaller group of us ended up back at a hotel room, with a
projector playing Raimi’s EVIL DEAD on the ceiling while we danced to the RAW soundtrack.
Improbably, someone was wearing a mask from the NYC production “Sleep No More,” and no shirt. Following a noise complaint, we watched a breathtaking sunrise from the balcony, then went downstairs for breakfast, where Del Toro sat two tables away. Even at my table of still-drunk weirdos there were people who, at another time, in another place, I might have asked for an autograph. This is also the Sitges experience.
The Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia is an experience, and it is
one that is wholly singular. It is a scenic, seaside city of artists leaning full tilt into a film festival that celebrates the strange, the fantastic, the horrifying. A quaint beach town where every storefront transforms into a haunted house display of monsters for ten days. It’s a quiet, idyllic vacation, where you can watch some of the greatest genre films on the planet. It’s an event where you can meet your heroes, then go drinking with them on the beach. If you love genre film, start planning your trip for next year. I’ll see you there.