Sitges fest lures notable fantasy filmmakers


MADRID -- Guillermo del Toro, Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Verhoeven and Brad Anderson are among the notable directors participating this year in what has become an essential international gathering for fantasy filmmakers, the Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia.

Sitges, which kicks off Friday, boasts an extensive list of world premieres of genre films, original sidebars and retrospectives and has elbowed its way into the big league, overcoming critics' reluctance to deem a festival dedicated to fantasy film a serious event.

"We have unraveled the idea that genre movies are frivolous or freaky filmmaking and replaced it with serious, quality and important films that demand respect and attention," Sitges director Angel Sala explained.

This year's festival, which runs Oct. 6-15 in the Mediterranean coastal town, will see 22 films compete for the non-cash Maria prize, including Joe Dante's "Homecoming," Douglas Buck's "Sisters," Elio Quiroga's "La Hora Fria," Thomas Dunn's "The Ungodly" and Martin Weisz's "Grimm Love Story."

Mexican director Del Toro, a regular at Sitges, will see his "Pan's Labyrinth" open the festival Friday night.

Aronofsky will be on hand to premiere his "The Fountain" in the Fantastic Premiere sidebar. Roland Joffe's "Captivity," starring Elisha Cuthbert and Jennifer Daniel Gillies, about a couple who awake to find themselves kidnapped in a cellar also will run in the sidebar, along with Simon Brand's "Unknown," Wayne Kramer's "Running Scared," Jim Sonzero's "Pulse," Neil LaBute's "The Wicker Man," Maria Lidon's "Moscow Zero," Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly" and Daniel Monzon's "The Kovak Box."

"Sitges is unquestionably the most important genre film festival in the world," said production house Valentia's general manager Jose Magan, who will premiere "Moscow Zero" starring Val Kilmer. "Since we're working within the fantasy film genre, it's definitely the best place for us to open."

The festival will award Dutch director Paul Verhoeven the Grand Prize lifetime achievement award and premiere his latest effort, "Black Book," about the Nazi occupation of Holland, in the Premiere Section.

Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar will receive the Time Machine award, given to genre film professionals in honor of their careers, "for his contribution to the diffusion of Spanish genre film." Other recipients of the Time Machine Award this year include makeup artist Howard Berger, writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky and Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Tributes to directors Richard Stanley, Jodorowsky, Richard Fleisher and David Lynch are programmed as well.

Terry Gilliam, in town to accompany his "Tideland," will participate in the Imaginary Europe section, focusing on mythologies.

Additional sidebars focus on local Catalan production, worldwide animation, experimental cinema, Asian cinema and a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Star Trek.

"We haven't stuck with the traditional definition of fantasy. We've incorporated new trends that keep the genre alive and fresh like experimental, animation or Asian film," Sala said.