Anaïs Emery • Co-founder and artistic director, NIFFF
“We always talk about the magic of cinema, but it’s crucial to show how you create it”
by Marta Bałaga
- We chatted to Anaïs Emery, the co-founder and artistic director of the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, as she was about to wrap her last edition in charge
Appointed as executive and artistic director of the Geneva International Film Festival, Anaïs Emery, the co-founder and artistic director of the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF), is currently enjoying her last edition of the genre event, which was moved online this year yet is still set to properly celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. Well, maybe not her last edition. “I will be back,” she says. “In the audience!”
Cineuropa: With the first numbers in, it seems that your audience embraced the idea of an online festival. It’s a format that encourages new solutions – I loved the idea of having Luca Guadagnino talking from his car!
Anaïs Emery: Our goal was to organise a physical festival. Then we had a period of reflection, which also included our international peers, and ultimately, we decided to go on as an ecosystem composed of NIFFF TV, going online every day at 9pm, 20 pay-per-view films on the platform and an application, which serves as a tool to communicate with our audience.
When the pandemic exploded, we were already fully engrossed in organising our 20th edition, and we used that existing network to make it as interesting as we could, reaching out to Eli Roth, Nicolas Winding Refn and so on. It was a good excuse to interview a lot of people about the evolution of the fantastic genre, which I think is a fascinating topic, as it really has changed quite a lot. Genre is getting easier to “deal with”, so to speak, making its way into big Hollywood blockbusters and prestigious arthouse movies. That being said, some directors are still being looked down on. It’s strange, but these last few years have been really dynamic.
A few years ago, you mentioned the importance of championing inclusivity in genre, going beyond the “boys’ club” – something you have also done at the festival. Do you think it has changed?
The whole film industry is a “boys’ club”, and that’s already a problem. The genre community has made some efforts to open up, and we have had some great films helmed by women, like Julia Ducournau or Jennifer Kent. I think it’s moving in the right direction, but we need more respect and more flexibility. It’s enough to listen to our interview with Connie Nielsen, talking about #MeToo and working conditions for young actresses. Women need more credibility and security in their career and in the film industry. I see changes, and I am happy with that. But we are not there yet.
Big anniversaries offer a chance to look back. Is it the same in your case? Is there something you are particularly proud of achieving? I remember you recounting the time when you cried meeting Ray Harryhausen.
I am proud that, as a woman, I lasted that long as the festival evolved. I am glad to see what it has become. Of course I have regrets – I am a perfectionist. But NIFFF has a concept that sets it apart. We didn’t have to take somebody’s place; we found our own path. Yes, it was wonderful meeting all of these people who played an important role in the construction of my personality, but introducing them to the audience was probably the most touching. Seeing Harryhausen during his master class, with all these young kids listening – that was a great feeling. We always talk about the magic of cinema, and it’s important to maintain the fascination for stories. But I truly believe it’s also crucial – and that’s the role of a festival – to show how you tell them and how you create this magic.
Usually, festivals are divided: there is a red carpet and a back entrance. But NIFFF has a reputation for putting everyone on the same level.
There are different reasons for that. We started out small: I think that during our first edition, there were 3,000 people. Then it evolved, but we always wanted to have a festival that has no red carpet and keeps that close proximity intact. Being in Switzerland, in a small city during the summer, probably also helped. I hope these roots will stay protected in a way, this focus on freedom and closeness. Many people have already expressed their hope for it to remain subversive, as you can grow and keep this mentality intact. Knowing it is the first step.
Are you still planning to stay involved in some way? Not to mention bring this “subversion” to Geneva?
I will have to sever all ties. If I were a yoga instructor, I would stay in touch. But in this situation, it’s simply not possible. There is nothing good about this health crisis, but it gave me an opportunity to work with my team differently. We had a meeting this morning and said: “Well, if we have to do it again, we already know how.” So in this sense, it was a great experience, and I will leave with that in mind.
As for the next festival, it already has this subversive, innovative position. Which is also why I am going there! I will be a newcomer, and that’s a great switch of mindset. So I will learn all these new things, and then I will tell you what I brought.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.