The beautiful Spanish town of Sitges may not seem like the obvious place for a horror and fantasy film festival. Its near-perfect, sandy-white beaches combined with the cobbled streets of the old town and its rich history make it an idyllic holiday destination, often over-run with tourists in the summer. But it’s a town that is known for its thriving cultural scene, being home to the Institute of the Arts Barcelona (widely thought of as Europe’s home for performing arts education), and Sitgestiu Cultural Festival, which takes place from July to September each year. It’s also the gay capital of Catalonia.
The highlight of the year remains the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, which has taken place every October since 1968. The festival has attracted the crème de la crème of talent over the years, from Guillermo del Toro and Antonio Banderas to Oliver Stone and Robert Pattinson (although not for the Twilight films).
The best way to take it all in if you’re a tourist or first timer, is to mix up some of the bigger name screenings with some independent and local productions. You can also mingle with the movie stars on the red carpet, and watch as the paparazzi go mad over the latest arrival: perfect for a touch of celeb spotting.
Highlights in recent years have included the last film produced by horror legend Wes Craven, who redefined the genre with his teen slasher series Scream, as well as the now infamous Zombie Walk. Here you spend the day getting made up to look like a zombie and then parade through the town at night getting to know your fellow zombies a little bit better. It’s a must-have film festival experience, and you can normally spot the wannabe actors from their excellent undead impressions, grunting, groaning, and howling like there’s no tomorrow.
There are a lot of different types of movies to choose from at the film festival, with some of the most unique coming from special programs for animation and the extreme collection. The latter is definitely not for the fainthearted or squeamish. Sitges also has a strong tradition of celebrating short films, with the Brigadoon Section of the program which presents some often rather bizarre independently produced short films, many of which have (or will) attained cult status. If you’re into the weird and wonderful, be sure to check some of those out. Another innovative addition to Sitges’s film festival line up is that of the TV series, as well as TV movies and, moving further into the digital age, TV programs and films made for the web.
One of the areas where the festival excels is ability to bring together the big Hollywood stars, such as Banderas and Stone, with unknown directors, actors and producers. ESCAC Week, for example, is centered on film students that are studying in the area, with cultural activities and screenings of their work. Sitges also promotes local talent, showcasing movies each year from Catalan directors and producers, with the SGAE Nova Autoria screenings providing a first look at short films from across the region.
In 1971, the festival began its awards program, recognizing not only the best film, actor, and actress, but also makeup, special effects, and short films. Notable past winners include Christian Bale for The Machinist (2004), Robert Downey Jr for The Singing Detective (2003), and Michael Gambon for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). If all that isn’t enough, pencil in some time to walk through the town, chat with other movie goers and try some food in the delicious restaurants. Although a word of warning, many restaurants close after the lunch time rush and only open again for Spanish dinner time (ie late). But it’s a unique experience, and you won’t find a better film festival for fantasy and horror fans.