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Latin American Horror Film Festivals Part 1: FANTASPOA

Wednesday, January 13, 2021 | South of Heaven


This is the first of a four-part set of interviews in which we chat with the directors of the most important genre film festivals in Latin America. Fantaspoa happens once a year in Porto Alegre, Brazil, (the city from which it takes its name) and is widely regarded as one of the wildest horror film festivals on the planet: a place where you can have adventures with Ruggero Deodato, watch movies inside a bank vault, or catch a once in a lifetime concert between screenings. The festival has hosted legends like Richard Stanley, Simon Boswell, Roger Corman, and Stuart Gordon, just to name a few, and is currently accepting submissions for its 17th edition. We talked to one of its founders, Joao Fleck (the other being his partner in crime, Nicolas Tonsho) about all things Fantaspoa!

When did Fantaspoa start and how did you guys decide to set it up?

Fantaspoa started 17 years ago, in 2005. During the Easter Holiday, Nicolas Tonsho and me went with other cinema club friends to the Festival Cinematográfico Internacional del Uruguay, a festival in Montevideo. There, Nicolas and I – along with another two guys that created the festival with us but that are no longer connected to it – talked about trying to create a festival in Porto Alegre, but one that was closer to our liking, such as Imagine, Sitges or BiFFF [ the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival ]. When we came back, we had meetings with two arthouse cinemas and we created, later that year, the first edition of what would become Fantaspoa.

It’s become of the most important Fantastic Films Fests in Latin America… how do you feel about this?

When we started, we had no idea where we’d get or how big the festival would become. I think it was around our third or fourth edition that we decided, based on some other festivals that we knew by then, that we should either cease to exist or put all the effort we could to become relevant on an international level. We see that many publications mention that we are the most important fantastic film festival in Lat Am. Being true to our core (i.e. genre films), what we try is to be a festival that could cater to anybody’s taste. Let’s say that you like dramas, comedies or indie films, there will be something in Fantaspoa to please you.

We are the only festival in Brazil to be a part of the list recently released by Dread Central [The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021], the only festival from South America listed as a top festival at MovieMaker Magazine, and the only South American member in the Méliès Federation…I think this says a lot about us and we feel really good about playing a role in international relevance.

Filmmaker Stuart Gordon, Festival Director Nicolas Tonsho, Filmmaker David Schmoeller, and Festival Director Joao Fleck.

What’s the thing about Fantaspoa that has made you proudest?

I think that nothing gives me as much pride as to continue to exist after quite intense years, maintaining our independence. Of course we need sponsors and financial support from private institutions or public funds, but our program remains exactly what we decide to play year after year and that means a lot to us. Along with our continued existence, the kind of community that we were able to create around the festival means a lot to us. There are many people who talk about how communal our festival is, or how they feel at home or welcomed into a family here. Nowadays, about 100 people have our festival logo branded on their body for life and this is something that means a lot to us.

You’ve had a lot of musical guests perform live during the festival,  including Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti, Simon Boswell, and Fabio Frizzi. Tell us about these concerts, which I believe are free, and how you got the idea to set them up.

The concerts at Fantaspoa were great! We had them in five editions, if I’m correct. They were created due to a partnership that we’ve had with one of the main concert producers from Porto Alegre, Branco Produções. This company was the one in charge of doing the musical programming of Santander Cultural and we’ve managed to include the Fantaspoa concerts in their yearly activities. That way, we’ve managed to have these great guests playing with tickets that cost, as you’ve mentioned, practically nothing. They were not free, but cost 2 dollars – which, let’s face it, is nothing.

Which concert was your favourite?

I think that Simonetti was my favourite. That was a very special year, it was the year I met Ruggero Deodato [Cannibal Holocaust], the year I got married, and all in all a great year for the festival.

Ruggero Deodato celebrates his 80th birthday with Fantaspoa and a very special cake.

Fantaspoa is regarded as a “wild” festival. What are the craziest things that happened during the fest that you can recall without getting anyone arrested, of course?

Honestly, throughout the years, we’ve had many crazy things happen at Fantaspoa…I think, of the stories I can recall the best, one was about a filmmaker that came all the way from Switzerland to present his film. At the beginning of a second showing he just wasn’t at the cinema, and later on, we discovered that he had spent the whole night partying, which culminated with him arm-wrestling a beggar in the streets. The beggar asked him for a cigarette, but he didn’t understand a word of Portuguese! When he understood that he wanted a cigarette, through miming, the director told him that he would give him a one if the beggar beat him at arm wrestling, which would be done right there, on the ground of downtown Porto Alegre…

“To persevere and to know that we’re still here, promoting the best in genre cinema worldwide, is everything we could hope for.”

[Another story], one of the wildest and craziest moments we’ve ever had at Fantaspoa was during our 11th festival. We were going to play a great film from Holland, called Bro’s Before Ho’s, directed by Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil, two very crazy cool dudes. In this film they drink an immense amount of a drink called “Long Island Iced Tea,” and we had the idea of inviting the crew and owners of our favorite bar, Dirty Old Man, to prepare 20-liters [of the] drink (yes, for real, 20 full liters, there’s a video about that on YouTube) and present this to the audience before the screening. We knew that the cinema might not really approve of it in its entirety, so we tried to keep it a secret, which is almost impossible when you prepare 20 liters of an alcoholic concoction. So, the cinema asked us not to do it and, in the spur of the moment, we had the idea to take the drinking part to the front of the cinema, and it was packed, so we did it in front of the cinema and the whole crowd got out, enjoyed their drinks and then got back!

After the screening, we had an unforgettable Q&A! That same night was totally unforgettable because we managed to get free tickets to see [American-Brazilian heavy metal supergroup] Cavalera Conspiracy to some fans that were here from the lovely Max Cavalera himself, and then managed to get the filmmakers backstage to meet the band! Then we invited the band to go to our barbecue on the following night, so, on Sunday night, without anything scheduled, we had the Cavalera guys eating some nice Brazilian meat and drinking Caipirinha with Dennis Paoli, Fabio Frizzi, and the whole team of filmmakers that was here. Things like that only happen in a magical space and time called Fantaspoa.

There are way more than wild things that happen here, and I think that the communal experience is really what enhances everything. On that note, I think one of the most tender moments we’ve ever had was with the lovely (and recently departed, may he rest in peace), Stuart Gordon. That year, he and his good friend David Schmoeller were receiving their career achievement awards. I think that the days that they spent here were among the most magical ones we’ve ever had. Schmoeller went to pick Stuart up at the airport, using a small plaque with his name on it – and it was the first time that they’ve met in many many years, so it was like a family reunion. When it came time for Stuart to receive his award, he dedicated it to Schmoeller and told the audience that he would never have had such a filmmaking career if not for the help of his good friend. That Sunday, my brother prepared a great barbecue for us and there were some Argentinian musicians here – Germán Suane and Paulo Soria – and we stood there singing and having fun for hours. You could see the joy on the faces of those two cinema legends and, to be able to create such an international community in a city like Porto Alegre, that [once had] no real filmmaking or festival tradition is beyond our wildest dreams.

A film fan shows off her fresh Fantaspoa-inspired ink.

You’ve produced several movies, among them Skull: The Mask and documentaries like Fantasticozzi and Deodato Holocaust

The first feature film we produced was with two Argentinean brothers called Hermanos Quintana (Hernan and Gonzalo). In 2013, we were amazed with a film that they had produced called Making Off Sangriento, which won the award for best film here, despite it having been made for a small fraction of what many other feature films that we had played had. I think their company, El Desquicio, was the one that, at least until that year, was visiting our festival with the biggest crew. If I’m correct, six of them attended our 2013 edition. So, we talked one day, I think it was their last night here, and in the end, we said that we’d be able to invest 2,000 dollars to produce their next feature film if they were able to write, film it, and deliver it to play here in the next edition of Fantaspoa. I think we never actually thought that they would do it, but they did and that was the first of many experiences to come. From there up to now, Fantaspoa Produções [has] finished eleven feature films in seven years, a record that I think few people have, especially from someone that never intended to do so in the first place.

What have these filmmaking experiences been like so far?

Well, we did nine fictional feature films and two documentaries. We still have two documentaries in post-production. One, Fantastic Women, is about women working in genre cinema, and another is about Roger Corman. For us, it’s great to be able to collaborate with filmmakers that we love and give them space to talk about their careers in front of the camera and highlight the value of these somewhat undervalued masters. [It] makes us really proud, and we give a special thanks to our partner in crime, Felipe Guerra, who had these documentary ideas in the first place.

As for producing, it’s cool to be on the other side – to understand how the whole process of creating a film, putting it in a festival, and selling works. We’d like to continue to help our friends getting their films made or sold with the small contributions we can offer. Let’s see what the future holds for us.

Richard Stanley signs a poster for an eager fan.

What are your future plans and dreams for Fantaspoa?

I can’t tell you how many times in these 17 years we thought that we would not be able to continue doing the festival. To persevere and to know that we’re still here, promoting the best in genre cinema worldwide, is everything we could hope for. If we are able to maintain the festival at the same level of quality that we have achieved, nothing would make us happier.

As for dreams, there are filmmakers that we’d like to be able to bring to Brazil, such as Carpenter, Landis and Cronenberg, but we know that it’s not that easy. I think that as long as we continue to do what we do – have a top-notch program and keeping fans and filmmakers alike satisfied – we are [already] making a hell of a dream come true!

For more info and to submit your work for inclusion in the 17th edition of Fantaspoa, visit

Nic Loreti