Quebec’s Fantasia International Film Festival is best known for showcasing genre-bending, bewitching international and Canadian films each year. Some push boundaries and embrace dark humour while others address social issues through a story of spiritual witches in a small California community, for example.
This year, the Fantasia International Film Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary, entirely online. From August 5 to 25, virtual audiences will have the chance to stream captivating films spanning a variety of genres by emerging artists.
Everyone’s taste in film differs, but we can all agree there just aren’t enough modern-day witch films being produced lately. King Knight, written and directed by Robert Bates Jr., is a stand-out exception.
“Most of my other films are satire, a heightened version of reality, but with everything going on politically in the United States, I was unable to be cynical and just wanted to write something sweet and comical,” says Bates Jr. in a phone interview from his home office in Los Angeles, which is filled with stacks of witch literature he’s collected over the years. “I found myself writing about witches because, believe it or not, I really like witches.
“When I was in New York at film school, one of the first mini-documentaries I made was about a Wiccan store in the East Village,” he adds. “The witches were always so nice and I’ve loved them ever since.”
King Knight follows two deeply connected Wiccan life partners, Thorn and Willow, as they navigate Thorn’s unnerving secret past, which is revealed on the evening of their Beltane celebrations.
Thorn (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is the revered high priest of a modern Californian coven. The beautiful high priestess, Willow (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan) has a difficult time comprehending her partner’s disconcerting, and frankly quite sickening, past life. In attempts to make amends with Willow and show devotion to his coven, Thorn sets out on a soul-searching journey back to his hometown.
King Knight will be Bates Jr.’s fifth film to land a coveted spot in the Fantasia International Film Festival. His other films, which include Excision, Surburban Gothic, Trash Fire and Tone-Deaf, all made a lasting impression on the festival’s audiences thanks to the filmmaker’s unconventional humour. The film also marks his fourth time joining forces with the absurdly talented Gubler.
“Tone-Deaf was honestly such an exhausting experience. I had to remind myself how much I love making movies and why I love making them. So I wrote this ludicrous comedy and figured maybe a few friends of mine would want to make it,” he says.
Actors Barbara Crampton, Ray Wise, Nelson Franklin, Johnny Pemberton and Andy Milonakis – to name a few – all have fantastic roles in his independently financed film. Audiences may also recognize the voices of Aubrey Plaza and AnnaLynne McCord.
Even though this unpredictably wacky movie is filled with impeccably delivered one-liners and an ayahuasca trip, it also has a meaningful underlying message.
“Regardless of how we look or our religion, we’re all searching for the same answers to the same questions,” says Bates Jr. “We’re all doing that and we are all full of shit. If we would all just accept that, it would be a nice starting point for everything to come together.”
For Bates Jr., seeing his stories translate onto the big screen and the excitement audiences have toward his twisted films has been a dream come true.
Growing up in Virginia, he fell in love with cinema at the age of six, which he attributes to spending his Saturday mornings watching movies with his father. It was a common ground, a passion that they both shared. Throughout his childhood, he would happily attend film camp while his friends went to baseball or basketball camp.
“The way King Knight turned out brings me so much joy. I asked my usual assistant editor to put this movie together because she was just the right fit. She owns like 40 Nine Inch Nails t-shirts and wears a new one every day so I knew she would love this movie in the same way that I did,” says Bates Jr. “We, we cut the whole thing in my garage and at the end, we grinned at each other like proud teenagers. We’ve done bigger movies but there’s something so pure about this one. It makes me unbelievably happy.”
For more information on the festival and its 2021 lineup, visit fantasiafestival.com.
The 25th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will be presented by Videotron in collaboration with Desjardins and will be made possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Government of Quebec, SODEC, Telefilm Canada, the City of Montreal, the Conseil des arts of Montreal and Tourism Montréal.