For a little over 10 years, Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival has been on the cutting edge of up and coming genre greatness. They discovered such macabre masters as Takashi Miike and introduced J-Horror and other world shock cinema to a desperate for something different Western mentality. Offering the unusual, the brazen, and the unique, the festival specializes in both full-length features and an amazing array of short films. At last year’s (2005) celebration alone, over 100 of these truncated talent showcases were presented. Now, in conjunction with Synapse Films, the festival is offering up Small Gauge Trauma, a collection of its most novel and creative contributions. And believe it or not, it’s one of the best film packages of the year.
The 14 titles present on the single DVD presentation vary from minor (Tomoya Sato’s study of suicide, L’ilya) to the masterful (a pair of brave entries from Britain—Robert Morgan’s stop-animation The Separation, Sam Walker’s human abattoir comedy Tea Break). All take the notion of the short form narrative very seriously, and strive to make the most out of the limited time frame. In several cases, the results are astounding. In three particular instances, the movies made are better than most of their long form brethren. Director Salvador Sanz uses a drawing style reminiscent of anime mixed with socialist poster art to tell his tale of a pop band that becomes those mythological snake-haired monsters of Greek lore. Gorgonas is great, not just because of the mixture of martial artistry and the macabre, but because Sanz allows the unlimited palette of pen and ink to fully realize his repugnant aims.
Similarly, Miguel Ángel Vivas breathes new life into a hackneyed horror ideal—the zombie film—with his wickedly perverse I’ll See You In My Dreams. Like a Sam Raimi/Coen Brothers take on Lucio Fulci, this lively living dead thriller is so smartly scripted and masterfully directed that you barely miss the blood and guts. Thankfully, Vivas doesn’t skimp on the sluice. The most interesting entry, however, has nothing to do with monsters and menace. Imagine Trainspotting with show tunes, or Requiem for a Dream with its own melodious narrative breaks and you’ve got some idea of director Diego Abad’s amazingly mischievous music video Ruta Destroy!. The story is rather simple – a group of junkie friends looking for thrills… and pills—but the execution is out of this world, with Abad allowing his mostly tone-deaf actors to sing-speak their songs. The result is as hilarious as it is harrowing.
There are other moments of cinematic brilliance here—Phillip John’s nunnery sick joke Sister Lulu, Dennison Ramalho’s demonic possession tone poem Love from Mother Only, the Dario Argento inspired directorial flair of Chambre Jaune‘s Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Occasionally, a misguided moment like Tenkwaku Naniwa’s Miss Greeny (nothing more than a green blob pouring down a canvas) takes away from the overall presentation. But astounding efforts like Paco Plaza’s Abuelitos—about a surreal nursing home where elderly patients are kept alive via a very gruesome diet—more than make up for the occasional artistic overreaching. For anyone looking for something completely out of the ordinary, DVD distributor Synapse Films has a compilation treat for you. Here’s hoping the efforts of the Fantasia International Film Festival—and the wonderful works they represent—find the audience they so desperately deserve.