Tomorrow the eighth annual FanTasia Festival kick off in Montreal, Canada for almost an entire month of movie madness and Dom is going to be there almost every step of the way bringing you the inside goods from this huge event. Inside you’ll find his first report along with pictures of what’s to come and an exclusive interview with Cindy Canavan, the Queen of the festival!
By: Dominic F. Marceau
The line up for tickets today was a lengthy one. The people that were waiting in line for tickets yesterday, I mean, it was going all the way around the mezzanine and up the street!” said Cindy Canavan, Concordia University’s manager of academic facilities and services. “Up the street?” I asked myself. Who in their right mind would wait in line for a few hours to see movies with titles like “The Calamari Wrestler”, “Enter…Zombie King!”, or “Thundercrack!”? Well, let me tell you who. For eight years now, foreigners have spotted these colorful folks lining the streets of Montreal, all with one purpose in mind: to see something they haven’t seen before and perhaps won’t ever see again. For five years, this merry bunch met up and rejoiced for a few weeks at the prestigious Imperial Cinema, one of Montreal’s oldest and most infamous cinemas, to see all kinds of films you wish you could see more of. There I saw Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” for the first time and my life hasn’t quite been the same since. David Warbeck, the star of the film, had just passed away, mere days before he was supposed to come to town to introduce the film. Sage Stallone, of Grindhouse releasing, went to the front of the audience and informed us of this unfortunate piece of news. The crowd was stunned. These fans knew Mr. Warbeck and they missed him already. A moment of silence followed, and then the film started in all its cinemascope glory. When his name appeared onto the screen, a roar of applause was heard throughout the cinema. When he made his first appearance in the film, another roar of applause was heard. And for the next 90-odd minutes, the place was on fire. Screams of laughter and fright were heard with every squished eyeball, followed with, you guessed it, a roar of applause. As the closing credits started to roll, every single patron stood up and gave the film, and its fallen star, a standing ovation. This IS what FanTasia is all about.
And then the roof caved in… Figuratively, of course…
The Imperial Cinema was in dire need of repairs, and when it came time for the sixth edition of this truly amazing festival, we didn’t have a Cinema host it. So, for one long summer, we went without our cinematic fix. I don’t remember a longer summer in my entire life. I started paying attention to baseball scores. Yeah, it was THAT bad!
But then, like a knight in shining armor, Concordia University stepped in and took hosting duties last year for the seventh edition. I was elated, along with all of my fellow genre freaks. So we went with all the hope in the world. After all, Concordia University has the best film studies program in the country! Their facilities should be top notch! We weren’t disappointed. The sound was state-of-the-art, the screen was a big mother, and the whole festival just felt “legitimate”. Don’t ask me why. There was an undiluted vibe about the place. Seeing “Beyond Re-Animator” in such a well-respected institution kind of put a big ol’ stamp of approval on the whole experience. It’s Ok to crave these films. It’s Ok to want more. It’s Ok to want it all. And now, as FanTasia returns to the Hallowed Halls of Concordia University for an eighth edition, we CAN have it all. Including a sore bum…
But what makes Concordia University the ideal setting for a bunch of freaks who want to take a cinematic beating? Who want to see what lurks beneath the scene? Who don’t give a Flying Dutchman what movie Hillary Duff is starring in these days? What follows in an interview I conducted with Mrs. Canavan. Every filmmaker attending this festival, every patron, every genre film aficionado, owes her a debt of gratitude because every single film shown at this festival is treated with the utmost respect and is shown in the best possible way.
Cut to the projection booth of Concordia University’s Hall Theatre…
DOM: Were these facilities purposely built for showing film, or for theater…?
CINDY: Originally, this was built in the sixties. It was a teaching classroom and it was outfitted with rear-screen projection, and this here (the projection room) was the simultaneous translation booth. Eventually, in the seventies, it got converted into a projection booth. When the new building across the street was built, it was outfitted with a theatre as well (The J.A. De Sève Theatre). They are both used to teach cinema classes, as we offer the biggest film studies program in Canada. But now times are changing. There’s a lot more going on. We’re in the center of an incredible amount of culture, right downtown, there’s so much going on, all of these festivals, we’re right near a Metro station, it about 700 seat capacity, easy to get to, and now it’s becoming better and better. Every year, we’re enhancing technically; we’ve put in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, we have Dolby Digital for video as well, we have a DLP video projector, the screen size is 18X37, we can put out an image size of 17X36, it’s a really big image. We pride ourselves of having this crisp picture that’s really sharp. We can put out what some of the best theatres in town can put out.
DOM: And since this is the second year that the festival is shown in these facilities, well last year, and maybe still this year, you have a lot to prove to everybody who’s been going to the Imperial Cinema for five years.
CINDY: Absolutely! The fans of this festival have their own culture and they bring that with them wherever they go. They’re dynamic, they’re full of energy, and they pump themselves up wherever they are. Of course no matter where you go, you’re going to have some problems. Every venue is going to have a few things to be upset about or pick at. But in our case, what counts the most, which is the quality of the image and the sound is really tops, I have to say. It’s fantastic. Anytime we have to do a little bit of improvement, we do it. Where we’re falling down, almost literally, are the seats. This was built in the sixties and I have a feeling people were smaller then or something! (Laughs) Really, it’s a bit cramped but it’s the nature of the style of the seats and the way that they were installed.
DOM: And also that they have that little tablet that you can pull up in front of you to take notes on…
CINDY: But we’re getting new seats, it’s a done deal, they’re going in next year. They are going to be installed in May and June. They are going to be very comfortable seats, yes they’ll have a tablet because there are still classes going on here. But the way they are designed, they are going to fold back into the arms. They’re not going to take any extra room. Then, the year after that, we’re going to be full accessible for people with disabilities. Our goal is to make this festival the most enjoyable experience possible for all parties involved.
DOM: How hard is it to get money for all of these technological advances since this is a non-lucrative facility?
CINDY: Timing is everything. This venue has sat here for so long, its usage has gone up and down. These festivals have come along, the Imperial had closed, the timing was just right to show what I have been saying for years, that this is a gem. This could really bring a lot of PR to the University; it would show the public who we are, what we are, and what we have to offer.
DOM: And it’s only fitting that since Concordia has the best film program in Canada it should host the premier genre film festival…
CINDY: Well yeah! That we use it for “post-education” end of films. The timing turned out to be just right that it was really time for this room to be renovated. And as soon as FanTasia came in, we got “Vues D’Afrique”, we got the documentary film festival, and others like the Arabic film festival…
DOM: They saw what you could provide for them…
CINDY: And they came! They came, we screened, and uh…they rented! (Laughs) Timing is everything. Educational institutions cannot make money. We’re not a business, we can’t compete. We’re here as an educational institution and any time the public uses any of our facilities for any other purpose, it’s really our way of participating with the community. As this place starts to draw in more festivals and more public events, we start to shine a little bit as a center of culture, not just of education.
DOM: It’s amazing because you hear of these types of festivals where the films are shown in fringe cinemas where the screen is patched up, for you to provide quality that rivals the big multiplexes is amazing because to see these films under that light is a rare treat.
CINDY: Well I have to give FanTasia credit for that because what happened was when they first came in here, they had been cancelled at the Imperial, and they really didn’t want to be cancelled two years in a row. They were really determined to have a festival last year. They were looking all over the place for a venue and when they came here, they saw that the room was the right size for their crowd. The fans at FanTasia are like a huge family, everybody’s together laughing and screaming, and having a good time. You need a room this size. And when they saw that we had that, and you don’t have that just anywhere. We had that but we had a Mono sound system. They said, “Well, if you can upgrade your sound system,” which I knew had to be done anyway, “we’ll stay with you and sign for a few years”. I worked at that and things fell into place. The university put up the money and we ended up getting the Dolby sound system. It was for me a lot of sweat and about ten pounds (Laughs), it was right to the edge: the installation began seven days before the festival was set to begin! So it was pretty nerve-racking. But, the acoustics are unbelievable. The architects did very well. On top of that, this room is tunable! I don’t know if you’ve noticed but these wooded panels on the sides are actually… each panel has a lever, which can be moved by hand!
DOM: So the sound won’t bounce anywhere!
CINDY: It’s got a really nice flat response. When we knew that we were going to get the sound and FanTasia was set to come here, the next thing was the screen. The old screen was about 15X25. If I took off all of the border and the curtains, I could maybe make it 17X28, but, I couldn’t say that it was bigger than the Imperial. So, Mitch (Davis. Director of international programming), in his usual enthusiastic way said, “Wow! So like in the future, what we can do is you know…l-look at the ceiling!” Because the ceiling really breaks down sharply at the front and we thought we could just bring the screen forward a few feet. That way, we could fit a huge screen. We were debating and Mitch of course goes, “No, no, no, no, no, it HAS to be bigger than the Imperial! It’s GOTTA be! You HAVE TO make it bigger!” So I said, “Let me see what I can do”. Because the fans would see that, and they need that, and they gotta have it. Right? So I spoke to my screen guy. So, he designed it and put it up in a week! It was only a temporary thing because we didn’t have the money to pay him. We were going to take it down after the festival. But then, we had another festival, then another, then another… and it wound up staying there and it will eventually pay for itself! The screen is bringing in these crowds. It’s thanks to FanTasia we have this huge screen.
DOM: And besides, the fans would have noticed and would have felt cheated!
CINDY: Yeah that’s sucky! And not in a good way! (Laughs)
CINDY: It’s nice to do it for an audience that appreciates it. At FanTasia, everybody notices.
DOM: Fantasia fans are a rare breed. There are people I only see for a couple of weeks every summer.
CINDY: Oh, it’s a family all right!
DOM: We’re all messed up in our own way…
CINDY: The people that were waiting in line for tickets yesterday, I mean, it was going all the way around the mezzanine and up the street! We were having a problem printing the tickets. It could print out hundreds but if you wanted ten, it would just cough and print out three!
CINDY: (Laughs) We were telling them that they can be purchased and printed out online but they were all staying in line, chatting away, looking at the program, talking to each other, and they’re there for hours!
DOM: I’ve stood in line for a few hours in front of the Imperial and wound up having more fun waiting in line that seeing the actual film!
CINDY: I think people won’t have that problem this year. There’s a bunch of little gems and historical things like “Thundercrack!”
DOM: Oh, I’ll be there for THAT one!
CINDY: Just the idea of showing that and having the police rip the film out of the projector! (Laughs)
DOM: The police won’t come.
CINDY: Hopefully people will! Last year, the question was would the fans come from the Imperial, which has such cachet, you know to “a school”? Who wants to see a movie in a school? The nerves were like… We’re all a bit on edge. The lobby situation, there’s no real concession, just a fake concession stand (Laughs), is this going to put people off? But it didn’t really make a difference. The people were here for the films.
DOM: That’s what counts!
CINDY: I was almost glad that they had the seats to bitch about because they are bloody awful and, you know, GREAT! If that’s the only thing people were complaining about, well, we can do something about that!
DOM: And it’s always been my belief that the true film buff WILL suffer for his art.
CINDY: Absolutely. And since we have a beer company as one of our sponsors this year, the campus bar will be open!
DOM: Oh well, you’ll know where to find me then…