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For more than two decades, the Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF) has been a draw for genre filmmakers from across the globe and a pull for Swiss youth. Heading into its 22nd edition, which runs June 30 – July 8, the lakeside event will once again showcase the kind outré and audacious fare that Neuchatel’s reliable and devoted young public has come to expect, while continuing to bridge outward, welcoming more unfamiliar faces into the fold.

“By instinct, influence, and mutual attraction, genre cinema will always appeal to the young,” says NIFFF director Pierre-Yves Walder. “In fact, NIFFF attracts one of the youngest publics of any Swiss festival, but I’d like to convert different audiences of perhaps different ages as well. And not just for commercial reasons; I find it so interesting and essential to mix things up.”

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Showcasing 124 films, including eight world premieres and seven international launches, this year’s selection should speak to Neuchatel’s increasingly diversified base. Of the 14 titles screening in the festival’s international competition, nearly half are feature debuts, with projects like Sofia Alaoui’s Sundance-acclaimed “Animalia,” Bishal Dutta’s SXSW-breakout “It Lives Inside” and Amanda Nell Eu’s Cannes Critics’ Week winner “Tiger Stripes” leading the vanguard for a new generation of fantastic auteurs.

Set in a future vision of Prague, the reanimation whodunit “Restore Point,” from director Robert Hloz, has the Neuchatel chief particularly excited. “The film is considered to be the first Czech science fiction film in 40 years,” Walder enthuses. “The film is aesthetically striking, with a thriller, investigation plot, and very philosophical elements as well. And it’s part of our mission to present these different propositions, which are accessible, if not necessarily easy to get out.”

“Restore Point”

Now going into his second year as NIFFF director, Walder has also made it his mission to expand his festival’s scope. He set his intentions last year by inviting Joyce Carol Oates to lead the jury, and clarified his more expansive view by offering this year’s president slot to French actor and director Josiane Balasko, a comedian best known for cult comedies like “French Twist” and the “French Fried Vacation” series.

“I like the idea of reaching out to other audiences,” Walder explains. “Josiane Balasko is obviously ultra-famous for her comedic work, but she’s also a prolific author and fan of science fiction and fantasy stories. [Celebrating Balasko] helps us show the fantastic from a more unexpected angle, spotlighting someone very much connected to the world, but with broader and more unexpected edge.”

Rounding out the Balasko-led jury are Austrian director Veronika Franz (“Goodnight Mommy”), French director Olivier Babinet (“Fishlove”), action auteur John McTiernan (“Die Hard”) and acclaimed graphic novelistic Charles Burns (“Black Hole”), a motely mix that underscores the festival’s strong cross-media and interdisciplinary interests. “We try to showcase genre from every style and angle,” Walder says. “That means making connections between cinema, literature and contemporary art.”

This year’s edition will host the first-ever career retrospective to Katsuhito Ishii, with the cult Japanese filmmaker – who was tapped by Quentin Tarantino for the animated sections of “Kill Bill Vol. 1” – on-hand to present his live-action and animated work, and to world premiere two projects finished decades ago and unscreened for as many years.

“He’s one of those unmissable guests we’re delighted to welcome,” says Walder. “He really represents something a little edgier, and represents Neuchatel’s huge commitment to Asian cinema and representation.”

Though an annual fixture and a summer rendezvous for thousands of guests, the fantasy festival is also looking to build a more perennial outpost. NIFFF recently partnered with the municipality and with local resident John Howe – the acclaimed Tolkien illustrator and chief conceptual designer for everything and anything  “Lord of the Rings” – to rehabilitate and repurpose a former prison turret, and to rename it the Tower of the Fantastic.

Aiming for a 2025 open, the tower will offer Howe a permanent exhibition space and give NIFFF a fixed administrative home. Moreover, the project will also serve as an artistic incubator and embassy where screenwriters, authors, directors and inter-disciplinary fantasy fans can continue to find inspiration in Neuchatel throughout the year.

“Fantasy is always a place of possibility,” says Walder. “Nothing is off-limits in terms of the guests we receive or the themes we explore. We always manage to reinvent something; there’s constant renewal, and I find that very exciting.”

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