Ottawa's Cellar Door Film Festival Returns Nov. 5-7!

Cellar Door Film Festival opens with Liza, the Fox-Fairy
The Cellar Door is open once again! Cellar Door Film Festival, Ottawa's first film festival devoted to the speculative genres of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, returns with a world tour of strange and unusual cinema. Full disclosure: I'm one of the programmers for the festival, but I think there's a great mix of films for everyone this Halloween season.

CDFF kicks off its second year with the Hungarian fantasy/comedy Liza, the Fox-Fairy, which is a hit from the international film festival circuit and comes to Ottawa after sweeping awards at genre festivals such as Fantaspoa and Nocturna (where it won every prize in the competion). This darkly funny fairy tale for grown ups makes a big opener for CDFF, as the festival moves to the Mayfair Theatre this year for opening night! The film screens with the French short film A Good Deal, a comedy/fantasy film that, like Liza, makes opening night a whimsical evening of escapism.

Other features at CDFF include the Greek horror film Norway, which is a feverish disco vampire flick in the vein of alternative horror films like Only Lovers Left Alive that take back the vampire after YA crap sucked the life out of them. The Russian/German co-pro III offers a head-trip into the subconscious as director Pavel Khvaleev plunges a young woman into layers of the mind to save her sister from their darkest fears. Finally, the closing night selection of The Incident offers an exciting and trippy time loop for audiences with a selection of Mexican sci-fi.

CDFF also includes a local spotlight with four short films with strong Ottawa connections. Boots, directed by Magill Foote, is a fun homage to Soviet industrial cinema with a comedy/horror film reminiscent of Mickey Mouse's battle with the broomsticks in Fantasia. Screening with Boots in the CDFF shorts programme "We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes" is the African experimental horror film Curl Up and DYE! by Duduzile Chinyenze, who is currently attending Algonquin College. Saturday night features two shorts with local flavour. George, an unsettling tale of bullying, screens with Norway, and in attendance at the screening will be director Jullian Ablaza, producer/assistant director Kyle Steffler, and co-writer/producer Alix Van Pelt, the latter of whom is an Ottawa native and a grad of the Screenwriting program at Algonquin College. (As is Boots director Magill Foote.) Finally, the screening of The Incident features the ambitious experimental sci-fi film Odd One Out from Christopher Rohde. This project--six years in the making!--has its Ottawa festival premiere at CDFF after winning the prize for Best Director (Experimental) at SAW Video's Ottawa Independent Video Awards earlier this year.

The spotlight on local talent is just one way the CDFF highlights work from diverse and underrepresented independent filmmakers. All of the CDFF selections are independent productions, and three of the four features are the feature debuts of their directors. The festival also includes three films director by female filmmakers: Curl Up and DYE!, Cetaphobia (dir. Erin Coates and Anna Nazzari), and Willa (dir. Helena Hufnagel), the latter of which adapts a popular short story by Stephen King. There's also animation with the farting ghost story The Urge 2: It Lies Within (dir. Christopher Angus), and experimental cinema. Films come from around the world, including Australia, India, Spain, South Africa, and, yes, Canada.

Here's what's playing this year at CDFF:

Opening Night

Thursday, Nov. 5 6:30 PM, Mayfair Theatre

Liza, the Fox Fairy (Liza, a rókatündér)

Dir. Károly Ujj Mészáros
Hungary | Fantasy/comedy | 2015 | 98 min. | Ottawa Premiere
In Hungarian with English subtitles

Description: Liza, the Fox-Fairy is a sarcastic fairy tale for grown-ups. This hit from the international film festival circuit takes an imaginative flight of escapism when Liza (Mónika Balsai) searches for love. Still single at thirty, Liza has only her imaginary friend, Tomy Tani (David Sakurai), who happens to be the ghost of a Japanese crooner from the 50s, to guide her. Some bizarre dating games ensue, but as Liza’s beaus pile up in a comical body count, it seems that love isn’t in the cards for her. This whimsical and fantastical film takes a speculative twist as Liza’s fascination for Japanese culture gradually burrows deep within her and she sees herself becoming a fox-fairy, which is a demon of Japanese folklore that takes the lives of men. The film offers a fun take on the stigma of spinsterhood as Liza’s power becomes deadlier the more she blossoms from dowdy old-maid to foxy lady. Dark, strange, and sexy, Liza, the Fox Fairy enchants with its black humour and magical aesthetics: the colours of the mythical fairy-world are intoxicatingly vibrant compared to the drab ho-hum burger joints where Liza has dinner for one, while director Károly Ujj Mészáros dresses Liza’s frisky world in fixings tailor-made for the Mad Men crowd. This smart, sophisticated fairy tale opens a door to a world one never wants to leave.

Screens with:

A Good Deal (Une bonne affaire)

Dir. Denis Larzillière
France | Fantasy/comedy | 2014 | 20 min. | Canadian Premiere
In French with English subtitles

Description: A factory worker in the daytime, Guillaume spends every evening obsessively scouring flyers and coupons. Imagine his dismay, then, when one day he finds all his treasured flyers already picked up. Dripping with a stellar dark humour, A Good Deal is a scathing glance at the culture of consumerism that trespasses into the territory of sci-fi.

Friday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 PM, Live on Elgin

“We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes”: Speculative Shorts



Dir. Helena Hufnagel
Germany | Horror | 2015 | 14 min. | Canadian Premiere
In German with English subtitles
Description: Two lovers waiting for a train find themselves in limbo in this haunting adaptation of a short story by Stephen King. Willa culminates with a spectacular shot that freezes time, space, life, and death.

The Stomach

Dir. Ben Steiner
UK | Horror | 2014 | 15 min. | Ottawa Premiere
Description: Body horror filters through Brit-gangster- flick fare in this tale about brotherhood and double-crossing. To recover a stashed sum of money the assistance of a ‘ventro-medium’ is sought, but the medium is already fed-up with ardour of his hosting experience.

Curl Up and DYE!

Dir. Duduzile Chinyenze
South Africa | Horror/Experimental | 2014 | 4 min. | North American Premiere
Description: Snips to one’s face, fat re-assignment surgery - whose perceptions of beauty are actually being created? This African experimental films puts a psychological twist on body-horror and questions to what point are we willing to let others manipulate us?

The Urge 2: It Lies Within

Dir. Christopher Angus
Canada | Animated | 2014 | 8 min. | Ottawa Premiere
Description:  An inept vampire is foiled by his own uncontrollable flatulence when he tries to consume his victims in this animated send-up of horror films of yore. Trapped by a rising sun (and fierce woodland creatures), he finds freedom and redemption in the unlikeliest of places. Or is it?


Dir. Magill Foote
Canada (Ottawa) | Horror/comedy | 2015 | 9 min. | World Premiere
Description: An impoverished worker takes the opportunity to have a modicum of luxury in his life in this fun send-up to Soviet cinema. Everything has its price though, where do you draw the line?
*Filmmakers in attendance!

Blade of the Maiden

Dir. Keith Sicat
The Philippines | Fantasy | 2015 | 9 min. | Premiere status not confirmed
Description: The big day has arrived for every warrior across the land to square off and prove their prowess in combat that is half dance and half martial arts. What award awaits the victor of these ceremonial fights?


Dir. Erin Coates and Anna Nazzari
Australia | Horror | 2015 | 12 min. | Canadian Premiere
Description: After inscribing onto one of the whale’s last remnants, a tooth, the cetacean spirit forces them into the murky depths where he once reigned.


Dir. Bhargav Saikia
India | Horror | 2015 | 13 min. | Ottawa Premiere
In English and Hindi with English subtitles
Description: A governess confronts dark forces in this inspired re-imagining of Henry James’s timeless ghost story The Turn of the Screw.

Mr. Dentonn

Dir. Ivan Villamel
Spain | Horror | 2014 | 9 min. | Ottawa Premiere
In Spanish with English subtitles
Description: Be leery of where you find your bedtime books, or else prepare to for an uninvited guest hailing from the realm of shadows! 

Friday, Nov. 6 at 9:00 PM, Live on Elgin


Dir. Pavel Khvaleev
Russia/Germany | Horror | 2015 | 80 min. | Ottawa Premiere
In Russian with English subtitles
Description: When a mysterious epidemic devastates a village in an unnamed European country, sisters Ayia and Mirra promise to look after each other to the end of their lives. When Mirra, the younger sister, falls victim to the disease, Ayia turns to the local priest for guidance. Ayia soon discovers a collection of Shamanic books containing a series of mystic drawings that she deciphers as a ritual for spiritual healing, which she believes will save her sister. The Shamanic cure involves a complete immersion into the patient’s mind, a journey into the deepest most hidden depths of their subconscious where terrifying monsters and demons roam. III channels layers of the subconscious world in a fever dream of nightmares as Ayia plunges into the depths of Mirra’s mind. This visionary first feature by Pavel Khavleev, co-founder of the electronic music project Moonbeam, intertwines myth, folklore, and religion to shake the foundation of the narratives that create our innermost fears. The film creates a visceral and all-consuming dream world with spectacular visuals and affecting score as Ayia confronts the dark demons that live within her sister and herself. The closer to the bottom of the ocean, the darker it gets…

Screens with:

The Prime of Life (La force de l’âge)
Dir. Quentin Lecocq
France | Thriller | 2014 | 13 min. | North American Premiere
In French with English subtitles
Description:Three young men, two employees and a nuisance of a trainee, are on their way to a new service assignment, but they are surprised by how they are received at their destination.

Saturday, Nov. 7, 6:30 pm, Live on Elgin

Norway (Norviyia)

Dir. Yannis Veslemes
Greece | Horror | 2014 | 73 min. | Canadian Premiere
In Greek with English subtitles.
Description: The newest product of Greek underground culture of film and music (director Yannis Veslemes himself has a renown as a musician), Norway recruits staples of horror together with a dash of meta-narrative elements for an unusual experience in alternative horror. Though there are hints at a parallel between blood drinking as a kind of addiction and use of drugs in the manner of Abel Ferrara’s Addiction, this is not the central point of the film. Instead, the vampirism is tied metaphorically to the underground music. The zany vampire of the film—fittingly dubbed Zano —is characterised by his unabated dancing to the beats, which, as he claims, are his lifeblood. Correspondingly, the Athens presented in the film has nothing to do with our typical idea of the city. Instead of the touristic landmarks, it is materialised in nightclubs and suburbs thronged by hustlers. This is a minimalist view of the city’s nights reflected through the mirror of the cult scene. References to the local underground culture and events abound, adding to the quirky pleasure of the film as they enrich the mystery, enshrouding the capering Zano and equally curious folks he meets along the way.

Screens with:


Dir. Jullian Ablaza
Canada | Horror | 2015 | 19 min.
Description: Egg and his friend George remind us that the scariest monsters can reside in ourselves with this chilling tale of bullying directed by Jullian Ablaza and produced/co-written by Algonquin grad Alix Van Pelt.
*Filmmakers in attendance

Closing Night

 Saturday, Nov. 7 at 9:00 pm, Live on Elgin

The Incident (El incidente)

Dir. Isaac Ezban
Mexico | Sci-fi/horror | 2014 | 100 min. | Ottawa Premiere
In Spanish with English subtitles
Description: The idea of eternal return, or Rust Cohle’s musing that “time is a flat circle,” gets a head-tripping spin in The Incident as director Isaac Ezban whirls a terrifying time loop. The round begins when a cataclysmic event rocks Mexico and traps the characters of two parallel storylines in endless cycles. A police officer and two brothers find themselves stuck in a stairwell that keeps going up and down, while a family on a road trip plays the most frightening game of “Are we there yet?” caught on film. They become hostages of illogical prisons for life sentences as The Incident reveals the hellish nightmare of eternal limbo. The repetitions are absurdly funny and horrifying alike as Ezban uses space and time as dark supernatural forces in this parable of history repeating itself and mankind’s failure to move forward. The Incident progresses these two stories with a rhythm that occasionally cuts to an aging bride who rides an escalator and goes around and around, much like the hamster who spins on a wheel and connects the fates of them all.

Screens with:

Odd One Out

Dir. Christopher Rohde
Canada | Sci-fi/experimental | 2014 | 20 min. | Ottawa Premiere
Description: An odyssey six years in the making, Odd One Out envisions a thoroughly original universe built by practical effects. Winner of the 2015 Ottawa Independent Video Award for Best Director (Experimental).
*Filmmaker in attendance!

Cellar Door Film Festival runs Nov. 5 - 7 at The Mayfair and Live on Elgin.
Advance tickets ($9) are available through Universe, and tickets at the door ($12, cash only) are available on the days of the screenings. 

Please visit cdff.ca for more info.

(PS: stay tuned for a chance to win tickets!)

Watch Trailers for the Films Below!