This month 'Dead by Dawn' festival director Adele Hartley shows us what a (ahem) hard life those Industry folk lead in Part One of her very own...
What? Spend three weeks in Montreal, eternal sunshine, balmy nights under the stars with beer by the pitcher and four movies a day? Oh, do I have to?
Such a hard life….
When I'm programming for Dead by Dawn, I'm mainly looking for two things - classic movies that will make people feel nostalgic, warm and fuzzy about the genre and the most exciting, bizarre and unusual new horror cinema from every part of the globe I can find to put up on the big screen in Scotland.
One of the best places to do both these things is at other festivals and one of the biggest treats of my year is a trip to Montreal for FantAsia which is not only a thrill for lovers of cinema, but is a glimpse of heaven for genre fans.
FantAsia is a near-impossible creature to categorise. It describes itself as "a film festival dedicated to genre cinema from around the world from fantasy to action, horror, martial arts, animation, heavy drama, comedy, erotic and much more - every year offering a panel of films ready to take you by surprise and leave you breathless, over-saturated with cinematic emotions that can often be hard to get from the sometimes foreseeable world we live in."
What more can you say? For someone who puts quite a lot of work into a three-day event, the scale of FantAsia leaves me in awe of the commitment and effort that goes into such an eclectic and satisfying programme.
What follows is mostly an account of my FantAsia 2000.
When I got booked up for my trip last year, the only major drawback was a 6am departure from Glasgow, for which my wonderful father offered a lift to the airport, although I'm not sure he was feeling quite so benevolent when we met over breakfast at 4 that morning. Not a great time of the day for either of us! Still, by the time I was checking in, he was heading back to bed and I would soon be in London and en route to a connection that would land me in sunny Montreal seven hours and three dreadful in-flight movies later (thank all the gods for the free bar which almost made Erin Brokovich, My Dog Skip and The Whole Nine Yards bearable!).
I was met by my friend Aliza who had kindly arranged transport for me, and we started the 40 minute drive into the city during which we kept passing billboards for Scary Movie, which was still almost unheard of back home. I had already decided, after ten of these boards, that the movie looked crap. More on that in a minute.
The day I arrived it was blisteringly hot with not a breath of a breeze and with the festival's Opening Film a whole 24 hours away, we dumped my luggage, changed into something smaller and did a quick run to the local market for (what else?) chocolate and cold beer, and then wasted the afternoon sitting on the balcony outside her bedroom window, soaking up some sun and catching up on all the news. It made having to get up at 4am worthwhile, although by 4pm, I'd been awake for 17 hours and was feeling a little weary.
Occasional forays round the corner for sorbet was about as energetic as we got that day, and we eventually decided to get a little closer to the action and head into the city for some dinner.
There are those who will disagree with me, but Piz Pistol is by far one of my favourite hang-outs in Montreal. Not so much for the food (it's ok), or the booze (it's over-priced) or the service (depends how hot it is) but more because its right on the corner of a crossroads in down-town Montreal and in the summer heat they roll the shutters up to the roof and leave you, feet on the sill, with a glass of fine wine to watch the world go by.
Every nutter, busker, religious zealot, tourist and occasional local passes by there at some point and I really love to sit there and indulge the gawper that lurks within! It's also a damn fine way to soak up the buzz of Montreal without having to do anything more vigourous than lift glass from table to mouth
As we were demolishing the first of many pitchers of Sangria (definitely my tipple of choice over there - cool, fruity and ridiculously alcoholic), Synapse DVDs president Don May appeared by the window, looking wonderful having lost lots of weight and gained a new haircut. Despite reservations due to his new healthier lifestyle, we broke his resolve in a matter of minutes and forced him to help us down the remainder of the pitcher. By the time we'd wolfed down a munchie-induced pizza, his diet was a thing of the past, and we had a head start on the diet that would get us through the next two and a half weeks!
Four hours (and several more pitchers later) was the pre-Opening Film - a sold-out screening of X-MEN for which, I must confess, we were pretty well-lubricated. Arriving late (all seats were taken) we three ran down to the front row and cajoled (ok, bullied and coerced) people into shuffling along a bit so we could sit together. Drunk and obnoxious, I confess.... Still, it was all in vain as although I distinctly remember seeing the opening ten and closing ten minutes of the movie, Don distinctly remembers me snoring through the remainder. Damn! Slumped drunk and knackered in my seat, Don and Aliza dragged me to the bar where I yawned a lot, drank a lot and eventually admitted defeat and bailed. At 3am I'd been up for 30 hours and it showed.
I spent much of the next day asleep, doing laundry when awake, and sneezing a lot as I am violently allergic to Aliza's three cats who just love walking over all my stuff and getting cat hair in some seriously unwanted places! That aside, the day was lazy, sunny and all was well with the world. We sauntered over the road to Cafe Cosmo for breakfast sometime early in the afternoon - this place is unbelievable! Not only is the food so cheap you think its a joke, but they do a sandwich that makes Scooby-snacks look like a leftover Railtrack effort. Between two slices of toast (so far apart all they can do is wave to each other) is bacon, sausage, egg, cheese, tomato, salad, fried things, onions, salami - a heart attack on a plate, which is probably why it tastes so good! Lots of free top-up coffee, loads of orange juice, and cute waiters. Just what a jet-lagged hungover girl needs!
Before long, it was time to shower and change (again! Damn this humidity!) and make tracks for the Imperial. The Opening Movie proper that night was local film-maker Attila Bertalan's BETWEEN THE MOON AND MONTEVIDEO (see the FantAsia site for a write up) and before it I pretty much managed to catch up with all the lovely people I'd met the year before - David Whitten (Greycat Releasing), Anthony Timpson (Director of Incredibly Strange Film Festival in Auckland), Mitch Davis and Karim Hussein (both film-makers and FantAsia programmers), Phil Spurrell and Patricia McNeil (cult event organisers - everything from Anime to Ape-O-Thon's!).
The cinema was packed out and so a bit of a sauna and movie over, my only thought as a true Scot was 'take me to a bar!' The opening night party was held in Bar Tokyo which I just have to describe to you. We all meandered over there from the Imperial and helped ourselves to some of the free beer, nashed on some of the free sushi and thought, yeah this is alright. Bit small though. Then we were told that upstairs was reserved for us. Upstairs turns out to be a decking-floored roof-top, open to the night sky, with a bar in the middle and Superman vs the Amazon Women screening on a wall courtesy of Phil and Patricia. Somehow, some Mariachi musicians were there too, looking for all the world like the 3 Amigos. There are some times in your life when you just can't believe your spawny luck, and this was one of them. A fab party, great company, bizarre music, strange movies, (mostly) free beer and a whole year's worth of gossip to catch up on.
The beer flowed, so did the drivel, and before long, rather a lot of industry professionals were reduced to slavering, bitchy, incoherent, hammered wrecks. Nothing changes, then!
The party over, we all trundled home (after some obligatory pizza in a vain attempt to soak up at least some of the beer), and prepared for the movie onslaught that would start later that day.
Some swift negotiations with FantAsia meant that I was able to relocate to a B&B for the remainder of the festival (with a bit of room-shuffling going on every couple of days) as my allergy to Aliza's cats was getting out of control and I was starting to look as if I had space mumps.
I lugged my stuff across town (actually, this is a lie. I took it to the street corner and hailed an air-conditioned cab, lightweight that I am) and unpacked, took another shower (damn this place is hot) and hooked up with Don again as he was staying in the same place. We headed up to Prince Arthur, a pedestrianised street stacked with great restaurants, and found the Greek place we'd fallen in love with in '99 and spent a pleasant couple of hours munching through artichokes, salad, bread, feta and cold beer.
A walk in the city that afternoon took us past the Paramount on St Catherine where I spotted an LED with Scary Movie screening times. I muttered to Don that it looked crap at which point he looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Much arm-waving and jumping up and down later, he convinced me that the movie was totally worth seeing, not least because the cinema would be air-conditioned, which I admit was what sold it to me. But I thank him for his persistence because I laughed until I was nearly sick. Don't care what anyone else thinks, I really enjoyed this movie. The Paramount itself is like hell on earth. Five storeys of cinemas, each with linking escalators which have uniformed, underpaid staff at top and bottom telling you to have a nice day. Urk. Also, you can order your dinner at any one of a dozen stalls and take it into the cinema on a tray and REALLY piss off the punters who are capable of getting through an hour and a half without stuffing their faces. But that's another rant entirely. Also, these poor underpaid uniformed staff are ritually humiliated as they are expected to pop into the auditorium before the movie and tell a joke, or sing something, or tap dance or god knows what, and it's never less than cringingly awful!
The place is bizarre, and Don and I go there a lot throughout the festival afternoons because we can, and it's VERY air-conditioned which in muggy, humid, hot-as-hell Montreal is wonderful! We went to see a 3D show there last year, which was an underwater/rollercoaster/shark thing which proved to us, beyond doubt, that you should NEVER go see a 3D show when drunk. EVER. Although we had already made ourselves ill laughing at the stern announcement that preceded the show telling us that if anyone tried to leave the building with the funky wraparound headsets they'd be shot on sight. Ish. The Paramount takes itself very seriously, which is slightly ridiculous considering it's just an ugly façade for a ten-dollar corporate whore.
It could never, however, be quite as soul-destroyingly awful as Celine Dion's diner. I ate in here only once, and that's because I was very hungry and Mitch convinced me it might be an ironic experience. It wasn't. The food is sub-standard and over-priced but you tend not to notice because you are too busy clicking your heels together and repeating 'there's no place like Little Chef' because this is the only place on earth that makes the 'Chef look appealing….
Although that stretches ahead of me are days full of movies, lunch, beer and 3am pizza in great company, technically, I'm working. Derisory snorts all round? Fair enough - this definition of working mostly involves watching movies and talking to people which obviously is very difficult and demanding. Ahem.
So 2 and a half weeks without a day off, and 17 hangovers in a row aside, there's a kind of surreal routine that gets you through FantAsia.
For me, a typical FantAsia day starts at 9-ish when broken and tender, I stagger to breakfast for croissants, yummy jam, coffee, orange juice, raisin toast and chocolate and blueberry muffins, then crawl back to bed for a little more horizontal recovery. Three hours more sleep and a shower later, I make whatever calls need to be made and head into town to Chapters Bookstore to check my e-mail (and get some iced-tea), then find somewhere lovely to lunch. Afternoons are usually lazy and, sad addict that I am, time to find a multiplex and catch all the new movies a good six months before they make it back home.
The first FantAsia film of the day is at 6 mid-week, but around 3 at the weekends, and so I can usually find the usual suspects lurking in the cinema foyer a few minutes before the first film of the day. A good time to find out what you did last night (if you don't remember), to be reminded of it in graphic details (even if you do) and then to shrug it off and prepare to do it all again!
As a Festival Director, one of the most glorious things about FantAsia is that I get a VIP pass (hey, all that paperwork finally paid off!) and the immediate perks of that wee laminated thing are a seat in the reserved section with my buddies and all the free fizzy and popcorn you can get down your neck, which of course means that you are like a twitchy 6 year old all night.
Some days, Ben & Jerry's have a stall in the foyer where they give away ice-cream by the bucket-load. Did I mention this place was heaven? Festival supremo Pierre Corbeil is often to be found, quietly surveying the massing hordes as they jostle for another helping of Chunky Monkey and entry to the auditorium, eager for darkness and weirdness to come simultaneously!
On a marginally more professional note, my VIP Pass also means that I get to go drinking (hey, I said marginally) every single night with whichever cool, interesting, famous, annoying, deranged, spoilt, talented, eccentric or just plain lovely guests are in town* (delete as applicable). In theory, most of the networking gets done in the bar, although of course all this has to happen early on as beer comes by the pitcher and its never terribly long until whole sentences are completely out the question.
FantAsia has an official lounge called Luba and there's just a couple of things I have to tell you about Luba. First off, its pretty cool. Great pitchers, and they bring you munchie food at 3am. How could you not love them? It's very dark, with cool music, and the patio out back (which is FantAsia territory) is open to the night sky and just about big enough to handle a festival invasion. Only on the nights of torrential summer downpours have we bemoaned not having a roof over the place, but so long as it doesn't get in the beer, who cares? Even the rain is warm.
The other thing I have to confess about Luba is that I am, appropriately, shit-scared of their bathrooms. When you are drunk, its like having David Cronenberg offer to walk you home. Bladder-weakeningly frightening. The walls are a dark blood red, the floor is a different shade of red and the ceiling is black. The floor-to-ceiling curtains are a deep fleshy pink and are bolted to the wall, hiding not a window, but raw brick. The 40 watt bulb doesn't help, and the big red velvet armchair in the corner sags like someone died in it. Basically, it's such a Videodrome moment, or like going back to the Braindead womb, that I have made it through entire nights in agony waiting to go for a slash almost anywhere else on the planet. Pathetic, I know, but they have a real creepy vibe to them and I hate them. Also, right outside the door is a knackered old chest freezer and I just know that Leatherface has left me a present in there, if I ever work up the courage to look.
Basically, a trip to FantAsia means spending most of your time away from the cinema between Luba and whichever strip bar is flavour of the moment.
The favourite for some of us is Cleopatra's (I only ever get funny looks when I call it Clatty Pats!). It's known locally as the place old strippers go to die. Upstairs is a tranny bar with Madonna and Austin Powers dress-alikes mouthing along to appropriate music, and there's always time and room for us all to get up and dance (badly) in our drunken haze. Downstairs is a real strip bar and is always good for a laugh. The only real danger is the nights when you weave your drunken way back from the bathroom and your fuzzy view is full of gyrating, grinding arses and the last thing you want to do is trip over and reach out for something to steady yourself....
If you really want to see a festival regular go pale around the gills, ask to see the evidence of the night the pull of the poles was too much for some to refuse....
The other place you can guarantee to find us all when not in a movie is somewhere in Chinatown, although usually after 3am when the staff would all much rather go home, there we are stuffing our drunk faces. So although its knackering, exhausting, emotionally draining and otherwise intense, FantAsia is a truly wonderful place to be if you love your movies. And your beer. Sleep is an optional extra. There's great deals on offer for Passes, the venue is friendly and atmospheric, the crowds receptive and the programming inspirational. If you have the means, treat yourself to a couple of weeks in Montreal because I promise you that after one visit, just like me, you'll be hooked for life!