Fantastic Fest Preview

todaySeptember 22, 2015 9 1

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by Andrew Nogay
Assistant Web Content Manager

Fantastic Fest
Photo via Fons PR.

For the past eleven years, in the last week of September, one of the most unique festivals happens in a city full of them. It goes without the notoriety of the other Austin festivals like ACL and SXSW, and other major film festivals around the world. However Fantastic Fest, a film festival put on by the Alamo Drafthouse, is quickly gaining esteem as it heads into its second decade. It is the largest genre film festival in the United States, meaning it plays movies that are on the extreme end of the spectrum. If you’re looking for an action movie, a sci-fi film, or a horror flick, Fantastic Fest is a great place to look. Unlike a festival like the Toronto International Film Festival or Cannes, for the most part the movies that play there aren’t looking to get Oscar nominations. They aren’t made for prestige, they’re made just for enjoyment. Fantastic Fest has been described as a film festival put on by people who actually love movies, and it shows. It is very attendee-friendly, and the staff rarely messes up. I’ve gone to Fantastic Fest for the past three years, and will be this year as well, and it may very well be my favorite week of the year.

Now for some more specific information about Fantastic Fest…

Who is behind Fantastic Fest?

Fantastic Fest is put on by The Alamo Drafthouse, the empire of grindhouse movies and alcohol that was started by Tim League back in 1997. Notable for being movie theaters that serves food and drinks as you watch a movie, as well as making people use proper manners in the theater, the Drafthouse has expanded beyond its Austin borders, into several different cities and states. It is one of the most unique companies based in Central Texas, as well as one of the more successful.

An interesting new aspect of the Drafthouse is its distribution arm, Drafthouse Films. They have put out a few critically acclaimed films, as well as a few important re-releases, but an interesting thing about it is how many of the films they distribute were screened at Fantastic Fest. By my count, about half of the movies under the Drafthouse Films moniker played at Fantastic Fest. The reason this is fantastic is because many times a movie will play at film festivals, even get good reviews, but never be picked up for distribution and fall by the wayside. With Fantastic Fest working in conjunction with Drafthouse Films, it seems like if you have a quality movie, and play at Fantastic Fest without a distribution company behind you, Drafthouse Films will pick you up. This is amazingly important for young independent filmmakers.

What are some movies that have premiered there?

Despite being a festival that prides itself on being a genre film festival, Fantastic Fest was validated early on by playing possibly the best drama of the 21st century. Back in 2007, There Will Be Blood had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, and of course went on to be nominated for a ton of Oscars. Now that time has passed, There Will Be Blood is being regarded as a momentous event in recent film history, and it was first shown to the world at Fantastic Fest. Fantastic Fest went on to host the world premiere of Zombieland, among many other notable films. These include Antichrist, Bronson, You’re Next, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Take Shelter, Tusk and Nightcrawler, among many others.

How is the schedule set up?

There are two parts to the week of Fantastic Fest: the opening weekend, and the second half. The way it normally works is the opening weekend serves as the premieres of the movies, and if people who are involved with the movie come to Fantastic Fest, they’re around during the weekend. It’s very crowded, but interesting nonetheless because there are Q&As for many of the films involving the stars or filmmakers. The second half of the week is more relaxed, and basically replays the movies of the weekend. That way, if there’s a movie you couldn’t get into from the first few days, you have another opportunity to see it. Also, if a movie gets a lot of buzz, there is more space in the second half of the week to put in additional screenings.

As far as the schedule of a singular day, I appreciate how efficient Fantastic Fest makes it. Every day, there are five waves of about four movies that play at around the same time. You get to pick what film you want to see for each wave, and you should be able to see five movies in a day. The first wave starts at around 11 a.m., and these are mostly the less-known movies. The next wave starts around 2 p.m., and these films tend to be a little more notable. The third wave begins around 5 p.m., and these are some of the marquee movies playing at Fantastic Fest. The next wave is similar to the one before it, where the big-hitting movies play, the ones that are likely to use Fantastic Fest as a jumping off point. This wave starts around 8 p.m. The last wave starts at around 11 p.m., and these are where the really weird movies play. Since it’s late at night, those movies are usually horror movies, or any movie that is extreme. So if you play it right, a person going to Fantastic Fest should be able to get a solid 14 hours of movie watching in a single day.

Are there things other than movies at Fantastic Fest?

Between movies, I normally go to the Fantastic Fest Arcade, which is a part of the festival that has a bunch of indie video games, on display and ready to play. It’s sort of like a mini-festival for video games. There is also a bar connected to the South Lamar Drafthouse, which is where Fantastic Fest takes place, if you’re so inclined. There are also a gluttony of events that aren’t just film screenings, which seem really interesting, I mostly stick to movies though.

What are some things to look forward to this year?

Perhaps the main attraction this year at Fantastic Fest is the premiere of Anomalisa, the newest Charlie Kaufman film. Kaufman might be the best screenwriter in the world, and Anomalisa is only the second feature he’s directed, as well as the first animated project he’s been involved with. A movie I’m personally very excited about is Green Room, the third movie by Jeremy Saulnier, after the amazing Blue Ruin and the tragically unknown Murder Party. It’s about a punk band who has to survive a siege put on by a gang of neo-nazis, who are led by Patrick Stewart. If you could make a checklist of everything I desire in a movie, Green Room hits just about all of them. There are new films by Yorgos Lanthimos, Ben Wheatley and Shion Sono playing this year, all of which I am looking forward to very much. Also a short film called More than Four Hours, made by one of our amazing teachers here at Texas State, Brian Poyser, is playing at Fantastic Fest. Speaking of shorts, Don Hertzfeldt has one playing this year as well which I plan on seeing. The closing night film, the spot I saw Nightcrawler in last year, is going to be Bone Tomahawk, which is a horror/western that stars Kurt Russell. Obviously I am excited for that one beyond what is reasonable.

So that is a quick preview of Fantastic Fest. As I said it’s my favorite week of the year. I mean, when else can I see five awesome festival-circuit films in a single day? It’s great because going to Fantastic Fest makes you think you’re at the beginning of something great. Some of the best movies I’ve seen over the past four years have been from Fantastic Fest, and what makes it truly fantastic is how special everything is. Nothing is normal, and that’s the way they mean it to be. Honestly, it’s how I wish more things were. But, unfortunately, there can only be one Fantastic Fest.

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