There were rich pickings at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, which wrapped up this week in Montreal, Canada. One of the highlights was the world premiere of a digital restoration of Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia), Marcell Jankovics’s psychedelic wonder, which screened on Monday. The cult Hungarian feature has been broadly inaccessible to North American audiences until now.

Taking its cues from Hungarian myths, Son of the White Mare tells a tale of kings, dragons, and heroic derring-do. On the whole, the story plays second fiddle to the extraordinary design, an explosion of vivid colors and shifting shapes that have had viewers suspecting the influence of drugs. While the visuals take a cue from graphic styles of the era — the film was released in 1981 — they somehow manage to look strikingly contemporary, too.

The 4k restoration was a joint venture between the L.A.-based Arbelos Films and the Hungarian National Film Fund’s Film Archive and Film Lab. Arbelos is in distribution as well as restoration: its catalogue includes Eiichi Yamamoto’s erotic anime masterpiece Belladonna of Sadness. The company has picked up the North, Central, and South American rights to Jankovics’s film.

Son of the White Mare is one of the most stunningly beautiful and surreal movies I’ve ever seen, and a major discovery for animation and art house film fans,” Arbelos co-CEO David Marriott told Screen Daily. “We’re thrilled to be world premiering the restoration at Fantasia and proud that our innovative partnership with the Hungarian National Film Fund — Film Archive will allow us to introduce this remarkable film to a whole new generation of fans.”

In a wide-ranging career, Jankovics has created over 200 animated works, taught extensively, written and illustrated over a dozen books on mythology, and worked a short stint at Disney on Kingdom of The Sun (the film that would eventually become The Emperor’s New Groove). He made Hungary’s first animated feature, Johnny Corncob (János Vitéz), in 1973, and a few years later, his short film Sisyphus picked up an Oscar nomination. Like those works, Son of the White Mare was made in communist Hungary; the director had to contend with censorship, as he explained in a 2015 interview with Cartoon Brew:

I had originally constructed a basic tale out of several folktales, which explored the concept of the recurring nature of time and space. But the studio manager wouldn’t allow us to make it because of its anti-Marxist interpretation of time! According to Marxism, time is irreversible. Because of this I had to start again with an original folktale.

Son of the White Mare is now headed on an international festival tour — its next screening will be at Fantastic Fest (September 19–26), in Austin, Texas. The film will then get a limited U.S. theatrical release in spring 2020, followed by digital and special-edition Blu-ray releases.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Film Archive continues to restore films at a rate of 25 per year. This drive is part of a ten-year National Digital Film Restoration Program that was announced in 2017.

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