Every summer, the sprawling Fantasia International Film Festival fills Montreal’s cinemas with a smorgasbord of striking genre movies. The first wave of films playing at this year’s edition (July 11–August 1) has been announced — and, as ever, there is plenty for animation fans.

One highlight is the North American premiere of Away, a hugely atmospheric feature made entirely by one man: the 25-year-old Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis. Eschewing dialogue, the film has a freeform, meandering narrative reminiscent of adventure video games; it won in Annecy’s Contrechamp category for challenging and innovative features. Cartoon Brew recently spoke to Zilbalodis about his creative process.

Another tantalizing offering is Zhou Shengwei’s gonzo stop-motion feature SHe. Making a virtue of his small budget, the director filmed with found objects — particularly clothes, through which he constructs a piercing indictment of patriarchal social structures. Following Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day, this film will keep stoking interest in China’s indie animation scene.

SHe isn’t the only Chinese feature playing at Fantasia. The program also boasts White Snake, a cg epic based on a well-known folk tale. The film, directed by Amp Wong and Zhao Ji, premiered at Annecy and has been picked up for North America by distributor GKIDS. It was co-produced by Beijing’s Light Chaser Animation and Warner Bros.

Rounding out the animation program so far is the world premiere of the restoration of Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia), the cult 1981 work by Marcell Jankovics. The prolific filmmaker was at the vanguard of feature animation production in Hungary, and has exerted considerable influence on animation across the West, but he is not exactly a household name. This film, his masterpiece, is a good entry point.

Lastly, fans of Studio Ghibli and/or wistfully romantic orchestral scores will get to attend a concert of music by Joe Hisaishi, whose credits include the majority of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. His works will be performed by Montreal’s Orchestre à Vents de Musiques de Films.

In its 23 years, Fantasia has consistently featured interesting animated films, including many North American and even world premieres. In 2012, it consolidated its animation program into a permanent section, Axis. Each year, one film in the category is given a jury prize named after Satoshi Kon, the late anime director. This year’s full program will be announced in early July. For more details, visit FantasiaFestival.com.

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