by Steve Rickinson

On Saturday, April 20, ten days of horror, science fiction and all around fantastic film concluded as Amsterdam’s Imagine Film Festivalwrapped its 34th edition.

Held at the city’s ultimate cinema venue, The Eye Film Museum, the Imagine Film Festival brought a slew of features, shorts, documentaries, talks, and events to open audience’s minds, stimulating alternative views on present and future realities.

Awards for achievement in filmmaking and careers went to an international selection of films including a career achievement award for American director William Lustig. Lustig’s prolific career includes some 3 decades working within the horror genre, including directing such seminal slasher favourites as Maniac (1980) and the Maniac Cop series. The festivals best in competition award aka The Black Tulip went to Brazilian film The Father’s Shadow with the jury describing it as “a beautiful dark fairytale. [Gabriela Amaral] Almeida creates a gorgeous atmosphere with little means, hiding beauty in small, innovative details. 

Awarded by the European Fantastic Film Festival Federation, the European feature and short film award Méliès d’argent (feature) went to Xaver Xylophon’s debut feature, O Beautiful Night with the EFFFF saying, “It’s as if this film was written during a walking daydream.” The festivals Méliès d’argent (short) film award was given to Jan Verdijk’s Wild with the jury describing it as a film “that ends with the sentence ‘Someday, o miracle! a flower will blossom,’ which sums up what this fantastic film is about. 

Imagine Film festival also invites aspiring Dutch and Flemish filmmakers to pitch their fresh ideas to an international jury with the winner invited to take part in the Montreal based, Fantasia festival oriented Frontières co-production market.

The winner was Martijn Smits pitch for Extraction – an environmentally critical take on suspense. Of course, no festival would be complete without an audience award. For Imagine, the award titles Silver Scream went to South Korean zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead. In second place came the coming of age superhero tale Freaks with the surreal animation of Ruben Brandt, Collector in third. Rounding out he top 5 audience favourites was the brutal, Berlinale premiered serial killer film Der Goldene Handschuh, followed by the Alien 40th anniversary celebratory documentary, MEMORY: The Origins of Alien.

Imagine 2019 was not just films in the traditional sense. On hand was also a robust Virtual Reality program featuring some 9 themes set across horror, animation, science fiction, and environmental themes. Nestled in The Eye‘s main hallway, the VR program was highlighted by competition winner Dispatch. Presented in episodic format, Edward Robles digitally animated tale of a lonely emergency dispatch volunteer working one fateful, lonely shift utilized the possibilities of the visual reality environment with complete immersion.

The rest of the virtual reality program offered an interesting glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of the still emerging presentation. With Samsung phones acting as chief technology clipped to Oculus VR headsets, the experience of virtual reality was highly subjective to the specific content presented. Animation, space travel, and environmental programs proved strongest with 360-degree set pieces, yet live action narrative proved weakest with difficult focus and less than stellar acting mostly responsible. Regardless, VR proves an interesting new terrain in filmmaking opportunity and presentation. One where, in a technological generation or two, can prove quite formidable.

An event like Imagine Film Festival is one of those where it is virtually impossible to be everywhere and cover everything – a testament to its broad scope, reputation, and international recognition in its field. With its 30+ films and virtual reality experiences supplemented with quirky themes like Slash-O-Rama and Lets Talk About Sects, as well as obscure presentations (superhero science) it proved a truly festive environment and a relief from the pretention of the art house from day 1.