Simon Rieth’s “Summer Scars,” a seaside tale of fraternal love cast in a woozy glow and cut with shocking spikes of violence, won top honors at this year’s Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival, claiming the Narcisse Award for best feature film, and with it $10,200 in prize money and a trophy designed Switzerland’s own H.R. Giger.
Del Kathryn Barton’s “Blaze,” an hallucinatory Australian drama that carries a young murder witness into a kaleidoscopic fantasy world, received honorable mention and won the Imaging the Future award for best production design, which comes with a $5100 grant.
Other prizes went to Tunisian director Youssef Chebbi’s “Ashkal,” which won the international critics award; to Italy’s Gabriele Mainetti, whose circus-superhero mashup “Freaks Out” won the RTS audience awards; and to Chris Huang Wen-chang’s “Demigod: The Legend Begins,” a martial arts epic told entirely with puppets, which won the audience award for best Asian film.
“These prizes reflect the diversity of this year’s edition,” NIFFF artistic director Pierre-Yves Walder tells Variety. “Our festival showcases the fantastic in all its forms, promoting divers styles, points of view, themes, and aesthetics – and I think these winners really show as much.”
Wrapping up its 21st edition, Neuchatel held 160 screenings while breaking in person records with more than 30,000 admissions and 50,000 attendees – a number that dwarfs the very population of the lakeside Swiss town.
“Our public continues to diversify and grow,” Walder says. “From our Scream Queer retrospective to our talks with Joyce Carol Oates, we came at this edition from a slightly different angle than in previous years, and that paid off. We kept our traditional public interested and invested while welcoming many new attendees.”
“While presenting screenings I would see faces I recognized,” Walder continues. “That is to say, faces of people who I knew don’t usually come to NIFFF, and that was extremely encouraging. We were able to put on the festival that our public expects, while also exploring new directions. We took great pride in bringing in a different public and introducing them to our festival.”
Winner of this year’s Denis-De-Rougemont youth award, “Hypochondriac” director Addison Heimann was one new attendee – and you can bet that he’ll be back.
“This is the best festival I’ve been to so far,” Heimann says with a grin. “Our films play in full theaters. The fans really turn out, shouting along at ads onscreen before the movie starts and coming by to see you after the screening.”
“My movie’s about my own mental breakdown,” he continues. “It’s very personal. And people come up to me afterwards and share their own stories and journeys, I’m very grateful. ‘Hypochondriac’ is a really American movie, so coming over here, and having people see themselves in it is really cool. To do this festival before our U.S. release – I couldn’t ask for more.”