I only managed to see a fraction of the films I wanted, but there were a number of titles where I could catch enough of the “buzz” to at least have something to go on. By far the most talked-about feature in the Asian category was SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (South Korea 2001), by JOINT SECURITY AREA’s Pak Chan-wook, which was said to be a very, very intense study in the futility of revenge. A DVD is already out. SAY YES (Kim Sung-hong, South Korea 2001) was yet another high-quality thriller from Asia’s hottest film-producing country, with good word of mouth in the “hard gore” genre. BAD GUY (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea 2001) was a new film from the director of the controversial THE ISLE, while TETSUO director Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest experiment A SNAKE OF JUNE (Japan 2002) was called both “erotic” and “disgusting.” Festival favorite Takashi Miike had three films on show, including DEAD OR ALIVE: FINAL (Japan 2001) which seemed to be very quickly shot on video and had a disastrous video-to-film transfer. Miike’s AGITATOR (Japan 2001) was said to be a throw-back to the classic yakuza films of the 70’s — and two and half hours long at that! — while if you don’t already know everything about ICHI THE KILLER (Japan 2001) you’ll probably be glad you didn’t ask.

Of the non-Asian films, CABIN FEVER (Eli Roth, USA 2002) sounded like a solid EVIL DEAD / BAD TASTE-style low-budget gore entry, which, while not very original, seemed well-liked by those who enjoy the genre. The serial killer bio-pic TED BUNDY (Matthew Bright, USA 2002) was apparently entertaining, but was played too much for laughs for some people’s liking. THE RUSSIAN ARK (Aleksander Sokurov, Russia/Germany 2002), based on the paintings in a museum, seemed like a very interesting visual exercise (although perhaps more so on paper than in reality) as it was filmed in just one shot on digital video. And I was sad to miss the marathon of BLOODY MALLORY (Julien Magnat, France 2002), SAMOURAÏS (Giordano Gederlini, France 2002) and THE ANTMAN (Christoph Gampl, Germany 2001) since it sounded like a fun mix of European action and horror nonsense.

Finally, unfortunately some of biggest events of the festival took place before I arrived, in the form of the world premieres of two highly anticipated local productions. DARKNESS (Jaume Balaguerò, Spain 2002) was the opening film of Sitges 2002, and I would have very much liked to see how the director of THE NAMELESS portrayed “darkness as a character.” IL SEGUNDO NOMBRE (“The second name,” Paco Plaza, Spain 2002) was of course the follow-up of sorts to Balaguerò’s debut, if only because it has a similar title and is based on another Ramsey Campbell story. IL SEGUNDO NOMBRE is the debut of yet another promising Spanish director and went on to win the prize for Best European Fantasy Film. These two homegrown productions (from Brian Yuzna’s Fantastic Factory and their offshoot for productions by new talents, Fantastic Discovery, respectively) did not get very good word-of-mouth, but I definitely want to see them myself when I have the opportunity.

So would I recommend a visit to the Sitges festival? Definitely! Of course, the availability of the type of films that Sitges shows has changed drastically in recent years. While there was a time when this type of festivals often represented the only chance to see international genre fare, nowadays chances are that just about everything of interest will turn up on DVD within a year or two. But this does not in any way detract from the festival experience. I found it very stimulating to be able to see so many films in such a short time, and probably saw several that I would otherwise never have seen otherwise. In any case, the experience of seeing a film projected in a cinema with a big, excited audience is completely different from watching it on DVD, no matter how excellent your home theatre might be. And the whole setting of the festival — with so much going on at the same time, all the people and celebrity guests, the nice environment of the town itself — all makes it a unique experience. Compared to other festivals I’ve been to, Sitges was the best in selection, organization, and (quite important) had the best audience — everyone seemed genuinely interested in watching the films. Sitges 2003? I’m THERE!

AND THE WINNERS ARE …

The most noteworthy awards are of course the FANTÀSTIC prizes, which I found most satisfying overall — I can’t say I can come up with a better list than the jury did (although I did not see all the entries). But I am pleased to note that I did manage see the many of the winning films, including all in the top five categories, and I expect to see most of the others soon. DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY was definitely one of the outstanding films of the festival, and MAY was an excellent surprise, with the prize for Best Actress particularly well deserved. In ORIENT EXPRESS, I didn’t see any of the winning films, but was surprised that neither SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE nor PUBLIC ENEMY made the list — in any case, I fully intend to track down just about every film in the Asian program on DVD! The film that otherwise sticks out the most is CRAVAN VS. CRAVAN, a “fictional documentary” about boxer/poet Arthur Cravan. It certainly sounds intriguing but I failed to catch it — hopefully there will be another chance, since it won the Audience Award for best film and its director Isaki Lacuesta bagged the Citizen Kane Award for best debut!

FANTÀSTIC

Jury: Goya Toledo, Harry Knowles, Pete Tombs, Mercedes Abad and Carlos Molinero

Best Film: Dracula: Page’s from a Virgin’s Diary, by Guy Maddin
Best Director: David Cronenberg, for Spider
Best Actor: Jeremy Northam, for Cypher
Best Actress: Angela Bettis, for May
Best Script: Lucky McKee, for May
Best Cinematography: Decha Srimantra, for The Eye
Best Make Up: Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero i Howard Berger, for Cabin Fever
Best Art Direction: Shinya Tsukamoto, for A Snake of June
Best Visual Effects: Richard R. Hoover, for Reign of Fire
Best Original Soundtrack: Sonic Youth, for Demonlover
Best Fantastic Short Film: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, for La Chambre Jaune

Special mentions to:
Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki
Dark Water by Hideo Nakata

GRAN ANGULAR

Audience Award to the Best film: Cravan vs Cravan, by Isaki Lacuesta

ANIMA’T

Best Animation Short: Jérôme Boulbès, for La mort de Tau
Special Mention to: John Weldon, for The Hungry Squid
Audience Award to the Best Animation Short film to: Last Rumba in Rochdale, by John Chorlton
Audience Award to the Best Animation film to: Mercano el marciano, by Juan Antín

ORIENT EXPRESS

Best Asiatic productions:
Agitator, by Takashii Miike
Bad Guy, by Kim Ki-duk

JOSÉ LUIS GUARNER CRITIC’S AWARD

Demonlover, by Olivier Assayas

CITIZEN KANE AWARD

Isaki Lacuesta, for Cravan vs Cravan

AWARD MÉLIÈS DE PLATA

Best European Fantasy Feature Film: El segundo nombre, by Paco Plaza.
Best European Fantasy Feature Short Film: Cry for Bobo, by David Cairns.

AWARDS NUEVA AUTORÍA

Best director: Albert Pérez de l’ESCAC for Killing the spot
Best script: Nacho Moliné de l’ESCAC for Era que no era
Best original soundtrack: Ekaterina Nocolova del CECC for Todo lo sólido

AWARD LA GENERAL

Honorary Award from the Festival to: Mr. Dino de Laurentis

FESTIVAL ROUND-UP