Sitges fest takes stab at horror, American Gothic

Also sets 'Blade Runner' tribute

A heavy dose of directorial debuts, a 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 off today.

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 the 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 (Steven) Spielberg and (James) 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 tonight out of competition.

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 the Sundance Film Festival hit "Teeth," directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. All will 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 designer), Douglas Trumbull (digital effects) and star Rutger Hauer, who will receive the Time Machine lifetime achievement award.

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

The festival will dedicate a retrospective to American Gothic, showcasing U.S. horror moves from the 1970s and '80s. As part of the retrospective, George A. Romero will receive an honorary award for his lifetime career, and also 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.