After being mistaken for a nonexistent journalist named Sebastiá, having a few tickets lost in the process of simply being press, and seeing a woman holding her child over a hotel trash can to urinate, I’m back to adventuring about the surreal world of Sitges 2014. And this time, things begin to get crazy, and not only because people have been lined up to be made up like zombies by industry professionals since noon.
To warm up to the coming chaos, I sneak into a mostly full screening of Under the Skin, that film you may have seen in which Scarlett Johansson plays a very curious and soft spoken alien creature that seduces men then melts their innards in a weird alien liquid. Rather devoid of dialogue, it’s a beautiful cinematic experience, set in the Scottish highlands with lots of spooky fog, rustling leaves, and massive shots of hills. In the end, not the most frenetically enjoyable piece of cinema, but it definitely leaves you with a haunted feeling and distrusting of women found on the side of the road.
Most unexpected about the experience of Under the Skin, actually, is the reaction of the audience. In one shot, Johansson’s character trains a lamp on her lady bits, and at least half the crowd guffawed. And at the end of the film, there was merry laughter, suggesting that it didn’t haunt a good portion of the audience, only making them giggle at the whole weird spectacle. Which is strange, because it’s not what you’d call laughable B-movie fare.
Post having my brain turned to mush at an artistically glacial pace, I race from the Retiro theater back to the my favorite, the Prado, to see a grouping of short films comprising a mini competition within the grander scope of the festival. According to officials speaking at the event, the films were chosen by the SGAE Foundation out of a pool of many different short pieces created by students attending film schools in Catalonia. Student filmmakers, many in attendance, are competing here for the new author prizes of best screenplay, best direction, and best music.
I’m there specifically to see the short ‘Why Do Flamingos Stand On One Leg?’ directed by Eva Romero with creative and production assistance by her brother Benjamin, both of whom granted me an interview late last week. Their eerie, engaging film follows an awkward conversation between friends about an absent member of their group, taking place just moments after another friend leaves the apartment to get more beers for the tense party. With an excellent and morbid twist at the end, it’s one of the standout films of the event. As well, there’s Garra charrúa, a highly entertaining and energetic memoir peace about a Uruguayan kid who has to prove himself as a football star after moving to Catalonia and encountering the most nationalistic little bully you’ve ever seen.
Eventually, the hour begins to creep toward the event everyone is waiting for, the Zombie Walk. Other events, such as an outdoor screening of the train dystopia Snowpiercer and other fun if films, are supposed to take place, but all eyes are on the large beachside tent in which hundreds and hundreds of families, couples, friends, and individuals are being made up to look like rather convincing zombies. A BaDoink photographer is able to capture several excellently terrifying zombies wandering the streets before complete bedlam occurs.
Also before said faux catastrophe, I stumble upon a press conference in the FNAC booth featuring Kiah Roache-Turner, director of Wyrmwood, Thierry Poiraud, one of the creators of Goal of the Dead, and Alexandre O. Philippe, the man behind Doc of the Dead.
Answering the question of what makes zombies special in cinema, Philippe, paying homage to S.G. Browne, states that werewolves are the frat boys, vampires are jocks, while zombies are the nerds and geeks of the monster kingdom. They are “extraordinarily versatile,” says Philippe, commenting that zombies are the “everyman.” Zombies, according to Poiraud, are more like a “costume” to put whatever you want inside.
“Zombie is a style,” says Poiraud.
Roache-Turner, who jokes, “I am a zombie right now,” because of jet lag, says that every film is unique and it’s the “job of the filmmaker” to constantly reimagine zombies.
In response to a question about the comedic nature of the trudging and sprinting dead, Roache-Turner says that anything post apocalyptic is inherently funny. You “have to laugh at it,” he says, referencing the comedic turns in the actually very dark Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick’s end of the world masterpiece.
“When someone says the word zombie, it’s silly,” he says. There’s always the expectation of laughs for the filmmaker working in the zombie genre.
The final question posed to the three filmmakers almost stumps them; one of the organizers of the event asks, “What is a zombie film?” Poiraud reasons that there’s a zombie genre with lots of sub genres, as there are many different species of zombie.
“You can’t define it,” says Roache-Turner, “you can riff endlessly” on the genre. According to him, there are no rules to zombie films, beside the idea that “zombies are everywhere” as a constant “threat” to characters in the film. Philippe concludes that in a zombie film, you are “dealing with a collective who are no longer in control.” For Philippe, the danger of the collective is part of the definition of zombie filmmaking.
After this illuminating talk on zombies by some industry greats, it’s time to lay low for coming bedlam. With a zombie apocalypse fast approaching, this writer in particular needs a moment of repose. Just one-and-a-half days in, and this festival is proving one of the craziest events any horror, fantasy, or science fiction fan could ask for.
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