The Slovenia Times

Grossmann festival: in genre film veritas

Grossmann Fantastic Film and Wine Festival. Photo: STA

Last week saw the 20th iteration of the Grossman Fantastic Film and Wine Festival, which brings gore, zombies and legends of genre film to a scenic wine region in northeastern Slovenia. The event is a perfect opportunity to take a breather from social conventions and embrace your inner freak.

Running for five days, the festival took place in the small town of Ljutomer, in the heart of the wine country Prlekija, known for its rolling hills and well-stocked wine cellars.

It ended on 15 June with an awards ceremony where the main accolade, the Vicious Cat, went to The Funeral, a Turkish road trip horror film directed by Orcun Behram. The Soul Eater by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, a French-Belgian thriller, won the audience darling award.

If you are a genre film fan or a wine lover, or ideally both, Ljutomer is the place to be in mid-June. In addition to seeing films that are unlikely to be found while browsing Netflix, visitors can also enjoy many other events, including wine-tastings and talks with festival guests.

They can stop by the subculture fair to comb through vinyl records, comic books, T-shirts and other geek paraphernalia, or seize the opportunity to meet some of the genre film legends.

Walk of Fame featuring Christopher Lee and others

The organisers, most of whom have been with the festival since its modest beginnings, are known to impress with their selection of guests of honour - last year it was John McTiernan, an American filmmaker known for directing hits such as Predator and Die Hard, and this year it was Serbian director and screenwriter Slobodan Šijan, who made several classics of Yugoslav cinema, including the dark comedy Who's Singin' Over There?

Both of them have been honoured with a star on the Walk of Fame of Prlekija in Ljutomer's Main Square to join other genre film celebrities, such as Christopher Lee, Roger Corman, Udo Kier and Robert Englund.

The organisers have said that the presence of quality wine has helped loosened their guests' tongues - not to the extent of them being drunk, but helping them feel comfortable enough to share stories that are not usually part of their public appearances repertoire.

The late Christopher Lee, a legend of British cinema best known for portraying villains in horror and franchise films, was the festival's guest of honour in 2011. One of the anecdotes says that after the initial reticence on his part, Lee and the organisers stayed up late talking about everything. The actor then disappeared for two days to cure his hangover but managed to bring himself back from "the dead" in his Dracula-like fashion.

Zombies devour status quo

One look at this year's line-up of visitors showed that genre film knows no gender or generational divide: there were not just teenagers, the prototypical representatives of the fandom, but also parents with their children, middle-aged couples and groups of elderly women and men. A father and son, for example, could be seen attending screenings in comfortable silence, their exchange of knowing looks a testament to their shared love of horror films.

One of the highlights of the festival is the traditional Zombie Walk through Ljutomer, where visitors turn into the undead with the help of a make-up artist and her assistants. This year the zombies marched through the streets in town centre led by a procession float transporting the band Surf Truckerz. Some of them emitted hungry groans while growling "music" and "spritzer", the latter a locally popular mixture of white wine and mineral water.

There was a large masked creature enrobed completely in black, a walking skull and a zombie queen holding a snake around her neck who attempted to coax a radio journalist into coming closer by repeatedly hissing "it's just a snaaaaake".

At first sight, genre film might not seem to be about changing the world, but most filmmakers active in this area have an ambition to achieve more than just jump scares and shocking twists. They aim to tell their truth and provide a social commentary or criticism in a subversive bid to help rattle the status quo, and the festival, named after the first Slovenian amateur filmmaker Karol Grossmann, has internalised this aim. It is not only in wine that there is truth.

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