40th Sitges: new directors, 'Runner,' horror


MADRID -- A heavy dose of directorial debuts, an homage to the 25th anniversary of "Blade Runner" and a program focusing more on horror than sci-fi awaits festivalgoers at this year's Sitges 40th International Film Festival of Catalonia, which kicks of Thursday.

The festival, which runs through Oct. 14 in the Mediterranean coastal town just south of Barcelona, will see 20 films compete for the noncash Maria prize, including a host of films from homegrown directors highlighting the growing strength of the terror genre in the Spanish production sector.

Sitges boasts an extensive list of world premieres this year but also offers a unique peek into the burgeoning genre production incubator, with 13 first-time directors screening their works in Sitges' official competition.

"There's a new generation of directors that has come out of Sitges," festival director Angel Sala said. "They've grown up watching Spielberg and Cameron and avidly attending Sitges, and now as they begin their careers, they are making fantasy film."

One such example is newcomer Juan Antonio Bayona, who will see his much-acclaimed first feature, "The Orphanage," produced by Guillermo del Toro and Spain's Telecinco, open the festival out-of-competition tonight.

Other feature debuts include Nacho Vigalondo's "Timecrimes," Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego's "King of the Hill," Manuel Carballo's "El ultimo de los justos," Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's "Inside," Hitoshi Matsumoto's "Dai-Nipponjin," Mark Fergus' "First Snow" and John August's "The Nines."

In addition, the Official Fantastic Section will include "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK," directed by Park Chan-wook, "The Fall," directed by Tarsem Singh, and Sundance hit "Teeth," directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. All compete for the Maria prize.

The festival has scheduled a special tribute to "Blade Runner" that includes a screening of the newly restored digital version of the film, attended by Syd Mead (production design), Douglas Trumbull (digital effects) and star Rutger Hauer, who will receive the Time Machine lifetime achievement award.

Robert Englund ("Nightmare on Elm Street"), Jesus Franco and Alex Proyas ("The Crow") will also receive Time Machine awards.

"This edition is also geared toward the purest fantasy genre cinema, with more horror than science fiction and bringing it closer to everyday fears: invasions, post Sept. 11 terror and, above all, an important participation by zombie movies," the festival organizer said.

The festival will dedicate a retrospective to American Gothic, showcasing U.S. horror moves from the 1970s and 1980s. As part of the retrospective, George Romero will receive an honorary award for a lifetime career that has known how to "gauge the fears that have built up over the '70s, '80s and '90s" and will attend the European premiere of his "Diary of the Dead."

Additional sidebars focus on local Catalan production, worldwide animation, experimental cinema and Asian cinema.

The Catalan export platform Catalan Films & TV, in addition to supporting the presence of the Catalan industry through the Catalan Focus section, will organize three main events: the yearly meeting of all European regions for audiovisual development revolving around the Cine Regio platform, the holding of Catalan cinema day and the international co-production meetings and talent campus -- a series of conferences bringing together producers, distributors, filmmakers and people in charge of European television stations with representatives of the Catalan industry.

The festival is reporting a sharp increase in international industry executives.

"Many of the films don't have distribution in Spain or Europe and they want to see the reactions here," Sala said.

Much of that could also be thanks to the workshops and industry powwows the festival has lined up for its 40th anniversary.

"The important thing is not the 40th anniversary. It is the 40th edition. The festival is strong and has a future," Sala said. "There are so many different genres and styles here. This festival is going to run for another 40 years."