The Neuchâtel Fantastic Film Festival blurs the boundaries

After two years of hybrid and online-only editions, Neuchâtel Intl. The Fantastic Film Festival will celebrate its 21st year with a return to an all-on-site event, hosting four world premieres and more than twice as many international premieres.

From July 1 to 9, the Swiss event will world premiere the absurd riff “Jaws” in France “The Year of the Shark”, the Thai creature “Leio” and the Japanese Yakuza thriller “Bad City”. Titles like the Toho-produced Kaiju film “Shin Ultraman”, “Something in the Dirt” by American horror maestros Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and “The Five Devils” by Léa Mysius will mark their international places at the NIFFF – this last as the opening film of the festival.

This edition of blackjack will also mark the first year under the leadership of Pierre-Yves Walder, a NIFFF veteran whose involvement with the lakeside festival dates back some time. After a stint in the press department, years as a programmer and a seat on the selection committee, Walder has kept a foothold in Neuchâtel every year since 2008, witnessing the growth in size and international stature of the NIFFF. Among the things Walder wants to bring to the fore in his first round as artistic director are the festival’s strong cross-media and interdisciplinary beliefs.

“We try to present the genre in all styles and from all angles,” Walder said. Variety. “It means making connections between film, literature and contemporary art, while showcasing digital innovation in games and technology. Genre films have always been intrinsically linked to new distribution models, from home video to DVD to virtual reality and digital channels. We want to be ahead of the game in this regard.

Alongside the 128 films presented in the festival’s Asian and international competitions, in the showcase of the third kind for the artier and under the Ultra Movies spotlight for the thrills of midnight cinema, this year’s vintage will offer talks on the interactive narration, practical and digital visual effects and new technologies, while the 14 films screened in the Neuchâtel international competition will be screened in front of a jury led by author Joyce Carol Oates.

“[Oates] embodies our interdisciplinary ideal,” says Walder. “She is quite simply one of the greatest authors of her generation, directly confronting social issues such as abortion, feminism and police violence in novels that remain above all psychological thrillers. She has a form of narration that probes the depths of the imagination with a gothic and almost horrifying sensibility. She’s tough on her characters, going straight to their heads. His imagination interests us.

“The Five Devils”

Over the course of his years at the festival, Walder has also noticed a certain curatorial evolution, linked as much to the evolution of social mores as to a young audience that is renewed from year to year. “We are targeting a young audience with whom word of mouth works very well,” explains the director. “We welcome new people every year, and with them new generational perspectives.”

“I think there are some titles that we programmed 10 years ago that we wouldn’t program again,” Walder continues. “Or at least not in the same way. Sensitivities have changed, and maybe some cheaper titles are less interesting for the festival. Even in terms of submissions, we’ve gone from always having a broad and inclusive vision of fantasy to something that’s been refined over time.

Indeed, this year’s competition features 14 feature films from as many countries, including a number of film industries not immediately associated with the genre.

Projects like Tunisian director Youssef Chebbi’s “Ashkal”, Iranian Arsalan Amiri’s demonic possession drama “Zalava” and Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera’s “Huesera” are just a handful of titles helping the international competition to fully deliver on its promises. of its title. The fact that all three arrive in Neuchâtel as part of longer victory laps (“Ashkal”, for example, premiered last month in Cannes, while “Huesera” received accolades in Tribeca and “Zalava” won both FIPRESCI and the Grand Prix at the Venice Critics’ Week) reflects the more welcoming international path for genre titles that Neuchâtel itself has helped to forge – at least on the festival circuit.

“These are extraordinary films that must be seen,” says Walder. “Some are fragile titles whose distribution is not guaranteed, both in Switzerland and in the countries of origin, so it is our role to show them. These works of art deserve to be spotlighted, and if in the process they can find a distributor, or a screen for the industry, then that’s a real win.

In ‘Vesper’ (top photo), a Lithuanian-French-Belgian sci-fi drama from directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, the NIFFF director sees the culmination of his festival’s mission. The filmmakers’ previous effort, “Vanishing Waves,” played in Neuchâtel in 2012, winning the Jury Prize, which Samper was on hand to collect for, then spent a decade ensuring their follow-up lived up to the expectations the higher.

“’Vanishing Waves’ was one of the very first Lithuanian genre films, if not the very first. [to make a splash internationally,]explains Walder. “So I was thrilled to welcome them back with a project that’s just as artistically compelling, but with a bigger budget and bigger scope. It’s an example of ambitious cinema beyond the mainstream that is spectacular and visually stunning, while offering a sort of alternative proposition. It’s very NIFFF.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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