Now finished with their fifth year of eclectic, cultured, smart, and truly eye-opening film programming, the Ithaca Fantastik offered fans, critics, filmmakers and industry insiders something truly special. Taking place during the second week of November, this film festival in the heart of downtown Ithaca, New York is more than a straight presentation of some of the year’s best films. In addition to showcasing top choices from the most well-respected film festivals across the country and around the world, the festival boasts as an art exhibit, a variety of live musical performances, press and industry screenings, filmmaker panels, retrospective film series, parties, networking and more.
Founder Hugues Barbier, along with programmers Andrew Summers, Kaila Sarah Hier, Cinemapolis’s Brett Bossard and their crews, put on another tremendous event during the five day stretch that offers insight into the world of cinema, culture and sights that you perhaps may not find anywhere else! This year, I was lucky enough to work with the group at Ithaca and actually had a chance to watch and compile some films I loved for a variety of reasons during my viewing time there! Check out Ithaca Fantastik next November and look for updates at https://ithacafilmfestival.com.
24×36: A Movie About Movie Posters: What can I say about a documentary from filmmaker, gentleman and poster collector Kevin Burke, and the cast, crew and minds at Snowfort Pictures who, for nearly 90 minutes, discuss the history, artists, impact, evolution, abandonment and more of movie posters with some of the most iconic visuals in cinema history? I say it is without a doubt a love affair and one of my top festival films for 2016. Every time I sit down and watch this film (most recently with Kevin Burke himself at the Ithaca Fantastik screening) I swell up with joy and pride as I return to my days of working in a video store: obsessing and leaving my name and number on a label hoping to God I am next to grab this one-sheet.
24×36 cultivates an impressive storyline that combines elements such as a visual presentation, multi-media footage, and interviews from fans, collectors and figures from across decades like Brock Higgins, Thomas Hodge, Roger Kastel, the minds at Mondo, Tracie Ching, producer Matthew Chojnacki, and legendary director and monster kid Joe Dante. Along with many more names and stories, the documentary weaves several narratives that focus on a shared love for collecting, and the respect for the creation of the poster as well as the process. Documenting the changing trends overall, the impact of the secondary markets, the future of poster art and many other strands, the film took years to amass the detailed interviews, find funding, plan, produce, edit and educate, promote and find distribution. 24×36 is a must for all fans of cinema no matter your connection or devotion to any area of movie posters or film. It blew me away and continues to every time I watch it.
Creature Designers – The Frankenstein Complex: Speaking of Joe Dante! Another documentary
which I thoroughly enjoyed immersed me in the practical effects of cinema, weaving threads of history in the adaptation of styles and evolution in film effects and makeup plus more. This documentary, written and directed by filmmakers Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet, features special effects and makeup artists discussing the impact of their monsters in the different dark corners of horror, sci-fi, fantasy and more. Traveling to the different corners of the world, Penso and Poncet explore the heart of practical effects and the changing times via landmark films and artists changing the landscape. Such names as Kevin Smith, Matt Winston, Rick Baker, Guillermo del Toro, Mick Garris, John Landis, Alec Gillis, Greg Nicotero among others come together for an honest, educational and truly first hand perspective with all kinds of footage, monsters and madman.
Safe Neighborhood: I feel blessed to know director Chris Peckover and to have watched with him at Ithaca his latest film about Christmas gone horribly wrong: Safe Neighborhood. Not only can Peckover successfully execute an idea from script to screen, he is an incredible storyteller. Whether it is 2010’s Undocumented or his latest, he is one of the few filmmakers who can shape a horror tale out of some of the most noble and happy moments of anyone life – turning them into a living hell. A future Christmas classic, Safe Neighborhood takes the idea of home invasion and flips it down a mountain, into traffic, where it is run over by a sleigh and thrown into a dark cave where something stirs. Peckover blends the holly jolly hell into a framework of classic romantic comedy madness, inspired by John Hughes, right before your eyes!
Do I want to tell you more about the cast and the generational blend that brings tales to life like Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton? Yes, I do… Do I want to tell you more about the lines pushed? Yes, I do… Do I want to tell you more about the brilliance that soon everyone will be carolling… hell yes, I want to! However, like any perfect gift, it is wrapped and not allowed to be opened until maybe Christmas of next year. Until then, Peckover will be watching you and he hopes you are as naughty and nice as Safe Neighborhood is coming to town and it is everything you deserve in a wicked holiday treat!
Train to Busan: The best overall genre film of 2016… Yes, I said it and stand by it as are so many joining the call about the first film in years to get it right: the balance of horror, undead, humanity, effects and action. Starting off with very little exposition, Train to Busan creates heroes and villains amongst the living and the undead. Ripping out your heart in all the right ways, this crafted thrill ride was created by animator and filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon, whose various animation achievements have garnered him great respect and a fan base that has followed his first feature film. Train to Busan is unrelenting, tapping into the basic fears of the viewer as we connect to the themes of parenting, loss, love, bravery and fear during the duration of the train ride. This film has many memorable moments that you can’t help but be hooked by; the simplicity within the story, the overall intelligence of the process, and the execution. In a world where undead/infection films have taken over VOD platforms, Train to Busan is a fresh, last breath for this decaying genre. It offers characters that we see in ourselves and feel connected to. Action sequences are inspired by manga, tension, humor and feature incredibly well designed undead creatures, which have become this generation’s reflection of body horror. Run, don’t walk, to the store, theater screening or whatever VOD outlet you prefer to watch this modern horror classic that I was lucky enough to see three times on the big screen, one of which was of course at Ithaca Fantastik.
Other recommended films from the Ithaca Fantastik Festival:
Headshot (2016) by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto (Action/Martial Arts)
She’s Allergic to Cats (2016) by Michael Reich (Experimental)
Terror 5 (2016) by Sebastian Rotstein and Federico Rotstein (Horror Anthology)
The Handmaiden (2016) by Chan-wook Park (Dark Drama/Thriller)