May 29, 2007
Fantasia Film Festival Programming Director Hired To Scout for Paramount

Fellow Convergence Culture Consortium Media Analyst Geoffrey Long recently passed some news my way that I found quite interesting. For those of you who might not have heard, the programming director of the Fantasia Film Festival has been hired by Paramount's Blumhouse Productions and its partner ROOM 101 to serve as a scout for international films that might be particularly ripe for Hollywood remakes.

Mitch Davis, the Fantasia director, is also a celebrated filmmaker in his own right and has served in a variety of capacities on the independent level.

The deal signals a continued and interesting shift in how films are sought out and produced, and Davis seems the perfect candidate, as he is directly poised in the international genre film community, particularly in regard to horror films. Mack at Twitch posted the release, which stated that "Fantasia Film Festival has been regularly cited as the place where the Western J-horror craze began. It was the first film festival in North America to screen a film by Takashi Miike (Audition), the original Ringu, and others.

Having seen Audition and knowing full well the success of titles like The Ring for American audiences, I see this as a pretty shrewd move on the part of ROOM 101 and Blumhouse.

Mack's piece shows a great deal of goodwill toward the news. He writes, "His hard work and devotion to genre film has paid off. [ . . . ] Well done Mitch."

The news raises a variety of issues. First, there is the growing influence of pop cosmopolitanism, with the popular culture of one country more openly affecting trends in another. It seems Davis is sought out because of his connections in international cult filmmaking, and particular in genre films. Considering the international popularity of Bollywood, of Japanese horror, and of Thai, Hong Kong, and South Korean films in recent years, it should be no surprise that companies are seeking new ways to keep their fingers on the pulse of these trends.

Second, Davis is positioned as a professional and as a fan, in a way that makes his recommendations have credibility. He may be someone who has enough respect with a hardcore cult film audience based on his work with the Fantasia Film Festival and his own merits as an independent filmmaker, while also proving valuable to the company as well.

One has to wonder, though, if there will be any negative feedback about the corporatization of Davis' work and his relationship with Paramount. The press release states that, "The first-look pact is designed to utilize Davis' knowledge of the international genre film scene and his position at Fantasia to deliver projects from talented new writers and directors, as well as to seek out exciting and high-concept foreign films as possible remakes."

I'm sure there are some fans--and creators--already afraid that this will fundamentally change the nature of Fantasia. Perhaps not, but I am interested in seeing what happens when enabling a visible member of the indy community as a "head hunter" of sorts for the company. There are a lot of exciting opportunities here for international genre filmmakers to get much wider distribution of their work and new revenue streams, such as American remakes, that would not be nearly as easy otherwise, but there might also be the risk of altering what made a cultural event like Fantasia work in the first place.

It seems so far that the company, and Davis, seems intent on retaining the ties and the feel of the independent genre film scene, and the deal will obviously only work if they are able to continue fostering an environment that facilitates an active and vibrant creative scene, but it will be interesting to see how Davis' new partnership with Parmount plays out.