Fantastic Zagreb: Fourth Edition Celebrates A Fantastic Spirit (Gallery)

Jim Mickle's Cold in July had its first post-Cannes film festival presentation at a gorgeous and inspiring location - an open-air screening in castle Medvedgrad, overlooking the city of Zagreb halfway up the mountain of Medvednica. The wonderful location was site to one of the premiere events for Fantastic Zagreb, the Zagreb Fantastic Film Festival, a labor of love by film and festivals veteran and festival director Stjepan Hundic and co-founder Mirjana Mia Pećina.

The Medvedgard event was a true celebration of fantastic spirit - the winding, scantly lit and creepy road up the mountain was the stuff of dark fantasy and horror. While we were not ambushed by any werewolves, vampires, orcs or escaped mental patients / murderers, I had the distinct feeling their eyes were leering at us from the depths of the forest around. Closer to the castle, festival volunteers added to the atmosphere with red robes and medieval costumes and weaponry.

The wonderful open-air location and event were one of the high-points for the Croatian festival and a great way to celebrate both the fantastic genre and the open and open-air atmosphere of Fantastic Zagreb that celebrated its 4th annual program June 29 to July 5 this year.

The only fantastic film festival of Croatia, Fantastic Zagreb selection employs the wide definition for the fantastic - including not only hardcore fantasy, science fiction and horror, but also thrillers, mystery, revenge, action animation as well as cult classics. The programs include Panorama, Orient Express, Midnight Madness, Visions, Americana, Short Films and Happy Birthday (classics).

The festival opened with the Australian suspense horror The Babadook by Jennifer Kent. A festival favorite for this year that had debuted this past Sundance, one must remember and admire Monster, the short Kent had made 9 years ago which had become this feature adaptation. The festival program brought together some of the very best of the past year in genre cinema, among which are the self-explanatory Spanish-Romanian drama Cannibal by Manuel Martín Cuenca, the Serbian fantastic horror Nymph by Milan Todorovic and the awarded Spanish SF thriller The Last Days by brother David and Àlex Pastor about a deadly agoraphobia that spreads from Barcelona to other parts of the world like an epidemic.

The Orient Express program featured recently released Asian films, among them Gareth Evans' brilliant sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal, The biographical anime The Wind Rises by the Oscar-winning director Hayao Miyazaki and Killers, the new intense action thriller drama, updating serial killing to the millennial age, created by the director-duo Tim Tjahjanta and Kim Stamboel. Notables from other programs included the Austrian creature horror film Blood Glacier, The crazy, dark thriller-comedy Cheap Thrills, Moebius by South-Korean director Kim Ki-duk, the Argentinean giallo suspense horror Deep Sleep, the brilliant You're Next by Adam Wingard, Blue Ruin by Jeremy Saulnier, and many other highly-acclaimed titles, crowd pleasers and festival favorites.

The Classics "Happy Birthday" program celebrated the 40th anniversary of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the 35th of Mad Max, The Warriors and Alien, 30 years of Dune and Fantastic Zagreb concluded with festivities for Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, celebrating its 20th anniversary.

One of the unique and fun attributes of Fantastic Zagreb is it being majorly an outdoor open-air festival. Screenings are at night, at extraordinary venues that are brilliant for the festival offering of science fiction, fantasy, horror and thrillers, utilizing the best the city of Zagreb has to offer for locals and tourists alike.

A great gimmick this year was it being a dog friendly and dog-owners' friendly festival - as the films are screened in open-air theaters, dog owners were invited and encouraged to bring their dogs with them. The result was a huge success, and in the screenings this reporter had attended there were no problems that one might have expected with dozens of dogs and horror / action / sci-fi movies.

If you're not Croatian the festival affords one the pleasure of visiting Zagreb, a wonderful tourist location. The two spots to point out to the festival aficionado are the world famous Museum of Broken Relationships and 22000 Milja. You may have heard about The Museum of Broken Relationships through countless pop-ups in museums and galleries around the world, but this is the original, a place that curates broken hearts, broken promises and broken lives from the world over...  It's in Uptown, the old town of Zagreb and a nice place to stroll through, especially if accompanied and guided by festival volunteers. For refreshment go to 22000 Milya, a steam-punkish coffee shop and bar design in homage and inspiration from the Nautilus, Captain Nemo's submarine in the Jules Verne novel "20000 Leagues Under the Sea".

As with any festival, the make or break of it is the staff and atmosphere, and according to that, Fantastic Zagreb has a long and successful future ahead of it.
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