The dark side of fantasy can be seen in Seven Chances
Alex Proyas will be at the Prado movie theater to present a restored copy of his debut film, ‘Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds’
A documentary with unreleased material from the shooting of ‘Blue Velvet’ and one of Johnnie To’s most personal films, among the section’s offerings
What was Johnnie To doing right before he became an international benchmark for Asian noir? What kind of mood was David Lynch in when he shot Blue Velvet? What was Alex Proyas’ first and misplaced film like? All of these questions, and at least four others, will be answered this year in Seven Chances, the section that the Sitges - International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia programs in collaboration with the Associació Catalana de la Crítica i l’Escriptura Cinematogràfica (ACCEC-Catalan Association of Film Critics and Writers).
This year’s Seven Chances won’t be like any other, and after reaching its quarter century mark, it will be refocusing its fundamentals. When it was born in 1993, this section was aimed at bringing works to the Festival that weren’t necessarily fantastic genre by established auteurs or others still to be discovered, in memorable and, at the time, unrepeatable screenings. The work that’s been carried out since then is of great value, something that’s reflected in the names that have passed through this section: Philippe Garrel, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Claire Denis, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Chris Marker, Bertrand Bonello, Olivier Assayas, José Val del Omar, Apichatpong Weerasethakul… But over time, exhibition circuits have changed, as well as the Festival itself. For this reason, the ACCEC and Sitges agree on the fact that it was important to give this section a new direction to make sure it didn’t become obsolete, maintaining the character of its unique screenings (in every sense) that characterizes Sitges’ critics week.
This change will strengthen an aspect highlighted in previous editions of Seven Chances: the recovery of revival, fantastic, or genre related films, that were forgotten, ill-treated or simply lost in time, which may have been provided with a cult status with the passing of years, but not with a “classic” status. Stimulating and occasionally unreleased rarities, which deserve to be rediscovered and contextualized by the analytical vision of the critics that make up the Association and who are in charge of presenting the screenings.
The film that will be kicking off Seven Chances 2018 represents a clear declaration of intent in this regard: Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds(1989), the eccentric debut film by Australian Alex Proyas, made before he took his successful leap to Hollywood. A dark fable where the future director of The Crow and I, Robot presents us with an impossible cross between Leone, Jodorowsky and Gilliam. In addition, the screening will be attended by Proyas himself, who will visit Sitges to present the splendid new cut of this film, restored from the original 16mm negative.
The Casino Prado, the section’s usual headquarters, will also be welcoming with full honors one of the most charismatic icons to emerge from Mexican filmmaking: the masked wrestler El Santo, whose very first movie adventure will be recovered in Sitges, Santo vs. the Evil Brain(1959), in the brilliant restoration that was sponsored by none other than Nicolas Winding Refn, a total sybarite of pop film culture.
Seven Chances will also recover a hidden gem by Johnnie To, one of the most loved auteurs in Sitges. One of his most personal films, unreleased in Spain until now. We’re referring to Throw Down(2004), a thrilling tribute to the first sports dramas by Akira Kurosawa, which the Hong Kong filmmaker turns into a stylized and surprising blend of comedy, musical and anti-heroic epic tale, and where the judo combats practically become a dance.
And continuing with films that have fallen into oblivion, there are few of them that are like Dream Demon (1988) by Harley Cokeliss, an all-terrain filmmaker who was the second unit director on Star Wars Episode V:The Empire Strikes Back, and who, in his only foray into horror, created a sort of English response to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Without Freddie but full of surreal, disturbing sequences emerging from the subconscious of a traumatized lead character, the film had a short life in the VHS circuit to later disappear completely… until a few months ago, when Cokeliss presented a restored version of the director’s cut of the film, finally prepared to claim its place in the history of British fantasy.
In Seven Chances there will also be room for one of the big names in Spanish genre movies: José Ramón Larraz, with a screening of a new copy of one of his least seen works: The Coming of Sin (1978), where the filmmaker moves away from explicit fantasy to delve into the ambiguity of a disturbing, erotic drama, teeming with memorable oneiric images, with the unmistakable and controversial vision that the director from Barcelona has of the female body and sexuality.
In addition to the rescuing of heterodox treasures, Seven Chances would also like to be a space to reflect on films, auteurs and phenomena closely related to fantastic genre, reserving a part of its program for documentaries and audiovisual essays. Along these lines is the election of Blue Velvet Revisited (2016) that, in the words of its director Peter Braatz, is a “meditation” on David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet, woven through the pictures and super-8 movies that Braatz made during the shooting of this immortal film, unreleased during three decades, and that allow us to access the behind-the-scenes of this production and discover, for example, the joy of a Lynch prepared to present his hair-raising and fascinating universe to the world.
The second documentary space goes to the acclaimed Wolfman’s Got Nards (2018), where Andre Gower, star of The Monster Squad, reencounters his old fellow cast members and the people responsible for that great tribute to the classic monsters dreamed up by Fred Dekker and Shane Black, in order to defend and celebrate a movie that was misunderstood when it premiered, and that little by little has gone on to create a fervent cult around itself, positioning it in the pantheon of 80’s teen cinema.
Seven Chances. Seven films. Seven screenings. Seven unique opportunities to approach the dark side of fantasy.