Sitges FanPitch: ‘Idaho Winter,’ ‘Malamuerte,’ ‘This Thing,’ Loneliness, Women’s Empowerment, and Gruesome Takes on the Zeitgeist
QuarXX’s “This Thing Inside of Me,” Caye Casas’ “Malamuerte” and maybe the biggest buzz title in the whole selection, Sean Wainsteim’s “Idaho Winter,” a multi-media mashup, feature in a robust, variegated lineup at Sitges FanPitch, which is quickly establishing itself as a key early fall global genre project platform drawing on titles from not only Spain but Europe, Latin and North America and Asia.
Unspooling Oct. 6-7, the FanPitch ranks as one industry centrepiece at the Sitges, International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, a hallowed genre fest Mecca and one of the most important in Europe.
Projects range widely from multiple psychological thrillers, often driving deep into protagonists’ deep trauma, to black horror-comedy, stylish scarefests, near-future allegories, the allegedly true-event paranormal, and vampire actioners.
One title, “Idaho Winter,” is billed as “YA meta-fiction.” Another, fantastical series “The Lost Gods of Memphis,” surely the biggest budgeted of all projects at this year’s FanPitch, is set between 1222 B.C. and the present day and billed as “modern mythological neo-Noir set along Mississippi River.”
“This year’s FanPitch is perhaps the harvest with the greatest variety of subgenres: Science fiction, satanic sects, black comedy… it is difficult to find a common denominator,” said Mónica García Massagué, Sitges Festival general manager.
Yet trends, both artistic and industrial, emerge.
“Perhaps the most obvious is the use of fantasy to try to explain the loneliness of certain characters. In several projects, the hero witnesses something extraordinary or terrible, which is not understood by society. The story focuses on the struggle to accept what is different or try to find the support of the community. Jordi López’s “The Day After” is a clear example.
“In terms of production, the film remains the star of a setting, few characters, limited budgets or productions with natural settings, which do not make the film too expensive either,” García Massagué added.
Of the 13 titles whose plot lines are known, eight have central women characters, while only three are male-centric.
The short “White Noise” explores “the invisibility of pain, and in particular the invisibility of women’s pain,” said director Tamara Scherbak.
“I want to shed light on men’s abusive behavior towards women, ranging from small actions to more serious circumstances,” director Lucía Nieto Salazar said of “The Visitor.” “Daddy’s Little Girl” “skewers the patriarchal dynamics within a family via a toxic relationship between father and daughter like an inverted Oedipal complex,” noted helmers Coral Amiga and Nicole Hartley.
At least two titles – “The Glimpse” and and “Sunward” – have adult women reaching out to save young girls in peril.
Other films tap into the Zeitgeist. “‘Malamuerte’ is not just a black comedy, period. This is a multi-layered story that deals with important and topical issues,” Casas observed. One is a big city diaspora emptying rural Spain.
“Our story deals with this new fear that is slowly materializing in many of us. The fear of the future,” director Kevin Kopacka told Variety about “All the World Drops Dead.”
“Although Sitges FanPitch has its central event dedicated to pitching, this program is surrounded by multiple networking activities,” said García Massagué, noting that participants opt for prizes that are travel bags to participate in other international markets.
“But the most interesting thing is to be accompanied by companies and experts who value their projects. Likewise, we have more unified the presentation of feature film and serialized production projects, so that development and cooperation opportunities are enhanced,” she told Variety.
A brief drill-down of film and TV projects:
“All the World Drops Dead,” (Kevin Kopacka, Germany)
A standout at Locarno’s Match Me! in August, the next stylish scarefest from Austria’s Kevin Kopacka, director of 2021’s noteworthy “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes.” In plot, “All the World” turns on nihilistic backpacker Fonda (23) who plans to end her life, but is tricked by a park ranger. The revenge-driven road movie and mystery horror drama goes in to ask what if we die, and posits an afterlife with its own, sinister and gruesome rules.
“Daddy’s Little Girl,” (Coral Amiga, Nicole Hartley, )
Laura and b.f. Jeremy’s Italian idyll at her father’s villa is interrupted by Dad, jealous of Jeremy. The psychological horror-thriller is envisaged as a U.K.-Italy co-pro and the feature debut of Amiga and Hartley (“Bored”). Written by Nick Nessling-Jessup (“Crosshairs”) and produced by Federica Omodei, it was presented at Fantasia’s Frontières.
“The Day After,” (“El día después,” (Jordi López, Spain)
The feature debut as a director of Spain’s López, a specialist genre editor (“Animals,” “Extinction,” “Killing God”). A sci-fi story told from a realistic POV driven by a thriller plot as Toni returns to his family claiming he has been abducted by aliens, an assertion that distances him from his family and village neighbours. Backed by Contraria, a new production company founded in Barcelona in 2022 by Albert Aynés Clapés and Laura Egidos Plaja.
“The Glimpse,” (“El Destello,” Guillermo Carbonell, Uruguay)
Produced by Pedro Lafferranderie and set up at Montevideo Murdoc, a commercials house turned films-TV producer where Carbonell and Lafferranderie are partnered by Fede Alvarez (“Evil Dead,” “Don’t Breathe”).
A double winner at Ventana Sur’s 2022 Blood Widow, “The Glimpse” has two sisters – one, Inés, dying from leukaemia – battling vampire attacks, defending a 15-year-old girl with whom Inés develops a motherly bond. A horror drama and, from Act 2, an “action adventure with a lot of gore,” says Carbonell.
“The Hive,” (Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, Ireland)
Billed as a journey through the moral turpitude of a streamer broadcast live, the feature debut of writer-director-producer Ní Grioghair, whose horror short “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You” won the 2022 Aer Lingus Discovery Award and was selected for SXSW. She has also attracted attention with other shorts such as the effective female empowerment heist “Break Us” and sci-fi allegory “Neon.”
“Horrordomo,” (Jordi Jimeno, Ignacio Malagón, Spain)
Writer-directors of the “Spinal Tap”-ish “El último tren al Rock’n’Roll,” picked up by Netflix and Prime Video, now back with “Horrordomo,” a finalist in the project category of Molins de Rei Film Festival. It centers on an ancient attraction at a neighbourhood fair which materializes visitors’ darkest fears. Billed as ultimately feel-good YA adventure exploring a wide range of different horror film styles.
“Idaho Winter,” (Sean Wainsteim, Canada)
A big buzz title at FanPitch, described as “broken YA meta fiction,” the comedy adapts Tony Burgess’ same-titled Trillium Award finalist novel, turning on an inept storyteller who must stop the preteen protagonist he created from destroying reality. Moving from classic YA live action to lo-fi animation and recycled cardboard sets to climax in raw observational documentary, it’s “a wild ride,” says Wainsteim.
“Malamuerte,” (Caye Casas, Spain)
Directed by the multi-prized Caye Casas, a rising star of pitch-black Spanish comedy, whose “The Coffee Table,” a Tallinn Black Nights world premiere, was picked up by MPM Premium.
Based on Casas’ 2017 “RIP,” a Sitges best short winner, and co-written with Cristina Borobia, Casas’ regular art director and “Coffee Table” co-writer. A deep Spain comedy which has won project awards at Sitges, BIFF and Ibiza’s Ibicine.
“Please Bear With Me,” (Gabriela Serrano, Philippines)
Winning three prizes at Bucheon’s Bifan Industry Gathering (BIG) – the Asian Discovery, Mocha Chai and Sitges FanPitch awards – Gabriela Serrano’s first feature ranks as another selection buzz projects. Set in a near future Philippines where people no longer dream, consequently suffering memory loss, Elena, a call-center worker, gets paid in dream time in which she dreams back to her glory days as a rising pop diva.
“Shadow Work,” (Areito Echeverría, Raqi Syed, New Zealand)
Hailed at Annecy this year where it was presented as one of its three selected animated feature projects at the fest’s artistic residency program. A psychological horror film set in the suburbs of Wellington which centers on a young woman rejected by her family in favor of her own doppelganger. The project uses motion capture and real-time rendering, creating 3D images meant to discomfort rather than wow, Variety wrote in June.
“Sunward,” (aka “Dusk Souls,” “Ruta del Sol,” Jorge Leyva, Mexico)
Next from Sonora-based Leyva, who impressed at 2017’s Los Cabos with “My Demons Never Swore Solitude,” a claustrophobic, hypnotic Western with horror beats.
Leyva now returns with “Sunward,” a desert-set folk/backwoods confrontation to memorably grisly deaths which won two prizes at Guadalajara’s Coproduction Meeting.
“This Thing Inside Me,” (“Cette Chose en moi,” QuarXX, France)
Set up at Paris-based To Be Continued (“Onoda, 10,000 Nights in the Jungle”), the third feature from QuarXX, set on society’s margins as Sundance-selected “All the Gods in the Sky” and “Pandemonium,” screening at Sitges. The tale of two teens’ thwarted emancipation, a son confronting his inner demons and a mother her madness.
“The Visitor,” (Lucía Nieto Salazar, Uruguay, Spain)
A young woman, suffering repressed trauma, has to welcome a friend of the owner of the house where she once worked as a maid. Two visitors arrive. A psychological suspense-thriller exploring sexual abuse, marking Nieto Salazar’s feature debut. A Ventana Sur Blood Window and José Ignacio Film Festival winner, set up at Uruguay’s Blackfox, the director’s label, and Dulce Cine.
“The Lost Gods of Memphis,” (Jon-Carlos Evans, Germany, U.S.)
Former Egyptian deities now surviving as eccentric jazz musicians are recruited by the king of the gods to solve a kidnapping. An admirably ambitious live action series created by Jon-Carlos Evans (“All Tomorrow’s Children”) and produced by Nici Brücker (“For Those Whose God is Dead”) and Waheed AlQawasmi (“Jacir”). Global sales: Gravel Road Distribution Group.
“Creepy Tuesdays,” (“Martes del Misterio,” Argentina)
Based on the hugely popular Argentine Spotify/Amazon Music podcast, a radio journalist interviews victims of paranormal events every Tuesday, unleashing a dark being which forces him, a psychic and medium to investigate. A 10-episode first season, produced by Buenos Aires’ Del Toro Films (“White Coffin,” “On the Third Day”).
“White Noise,” (Tamara Scherbak, Canada)
Selected as a writer-director for the Toronto Film Festival Talent Lab, Scherbak’s latest short, “White Noise,” about a woman tortured by her allergy to sound, reaped rave reviews at this year’s Fantasia. It went on to win its best Canadian short gold award. The series, each season focusing on a woman’s mysterious and debilitating sensory ailment, is described by Sherbak as a psychological thriller anthology in the tonal vein of “Dark Mirror,” “Handmaid’s Tale,” and “True Detective,” taking inspiration from David Cronenberg’s work of body horror.
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