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In the Belly of the Beast (dir. Alex Chisholm) (Rel. 2001)

Shot in 1997, during the Canadian film festival Fant-Asia, Alex Chisholm's In the Belly of the Beast contains interviews with several indy filmmakers who attended the occasion. They share their thoughts about their films, other peoples films, themselves, other people and the film industry in general. Not surprisingly, the wild bunch of interviewees included Stanley.

"Fantasia's home movie

>> The Fest itself inspires a doc


The opening scene of In the Belly of the Beast, Alex Chisholm's loving ode to Fantasia, is truly funny and inspired. While announcing a film at the festival's second run in '97, fest organizer Karim Hussain informs a bummed-out audience that the print of one cult film has arrived, sans a crucial reel.

But Hussain's solution is simple and inspired: he gets up, microphone in hand, and acts out the missing scene, adding his own colourful commentary. The crowd shrieks their delighted approval.

The story has become local film lore, something I wasn't even aware had been captured by a camera. Which is what's so great about In the Belly of the Beast. It works to reflect the spirit and magical chemistry of Fantasia, arguably the most exciting film event in Montreal's highly cinema'd cultural landscape. Filmmaker Chisholm recognized a great opportunity: take the passion of the people who make up the Fest and try to encapsulate at least some of it in a feature doc.

As well as fest co-organizers Mitch Davis and Hussain (who are also seen here as fledgling filmmakers), Belly of the Beast features enlightening interviews with filmmakers who've guested Fantasia, including Dust Devil's Richard Stanley, Aftermath's Nacho Cerda, Charlie's Family's Jim Van Bebber and (my personal faves) A Gun for Jennifer's Todd Morris and Deborah Twiss. The gang spin multiple horror stories of guerrilla filmmaking on a nothing budget.

Van Bebber recounts, at the very depths of his financial woes, having to sell some blood for a bit of cash (the fine people at the plasma clinic gave him $30 for his first batch, then whittled him down to $15 a shot after realizing he was dependent on them for sustenance). And Twiss describes the mistreatment she endured while exotic dancing, which served as inspiration for the vigilante feminist epic A Gun for Jennifer.

But the most human moment in Beast comes with Hussain, after a screening of a (very) rough cut of his work in progress, Subconscious Cruelty. The director buckles emotionally when the film gets decidedly mixed reviews. It's a telling moment, a poignant snapshot of a dedicated cinephile and filmmaker, undeniably and inevitably affected by an audience's response to his work." [Originally appeared in Montreal Mirror, July 22nd 1999.]

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