Fantastic Fest Turns 15!


Poster by Chris Bilheimer

Greetings film freaks, movie geeks, and other peeps! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!! Fantastic Fest kicks off Thursday, September 19th and runs through Thursday, September 26th at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin, TX. If you’ve never attended or (God forbid) you’re not a rabid fan of cinema, allow me to break it down for you. FF is an 8-day movie extravaganza full of fantastic film screenings and unique events. What kinds of movies? All kinds of movies: New movies that are heavily anticipated, new movies that are seeking distribution, foreign movies from all corners of the globe, independent movies, lost movies that have been recovered and restored, weird movies you’ve never heard of, movies that are so bad they’re good, short movies, scary movies, animated movies, funny movies, midnight movies, documentaries, and more. FF is the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and the programming is always interesting and exceptional.

What separates Fantastic Fest from other film festivals? Many things, but the big one (aside from the programming) is the convenience factor. Most festivals don’t have the luxury of having a multi-screen theater complex that serves food and drinks that they can take over for a week plus. Having all of the screenings at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar eliminates much of the stress and logistical mayhem that often accompanies festivals that utilize multiple venues, requiring attendees to eat between screenings (usually offsite) and deal with traffic and parking between films and events. At Fantastic Fest a dedicated attendee can see 35+ films in 8 days from a variety of different countries and genres, all under the same roof.

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar

FF feels like movie camp for adults. Filmmakers from across the globe introduce their films and participate in insightful post-screening Q&As that are often quite entertaining due to the festival’s unique vibe. There are so many cool things to check out that it’s easy to run yourself ragged trying to do them all. Aside from the movies, there are themed parties, Nerd Rap and Karaoke competitions, cocktail contests, beer-fueled feuds, debates that combine verbal sparring and physical combat, live-recordings of podcasts by known personalities such as Doug Benson and Jessie & Leonard Maltin, and lots of other film festival oddities like food fights and parties in abandoned ghost towns. These are just a few of the reasons devoted attendees flock back to Austin year after year.

The Highball. Photo by Arnold Wells

This year Fantastic Fest turns fifteen. The big one five. Creative Director Evrim Ersoy touches on what we can expect from this year’s festival:

“Our fifteenth year is a one-of-a-kind of celebration of the cinema we champion: brilliant and out-there. It’s a 15-year-long love letter to the wide spectrum of daring, crazy films, filmmakers, and audience members whom we host in Austin each September. It’s an ode to the independent spirit of cinema that allows us to showcase the diversity of the world at large and helps us to understand it better!”

Hear, hear. Each year I wonder if they’ll be able to pull it off again. Will they be able to find enough worthy films to fill all the slots? And every year they pull it off with gusto and there’s a surprising amount of movies that I’m happy to have discovered. Cheers to the filmmakers all around the world who continue to make inspiring work and to the programming team for their thoughtful curation.

Jojo Rabbit

Fantastic Fest 2019’s first wave of feature programming was announced at the end of July and there is already much to look forward to including guest appearances by a trio of talented directors wielding new flicks. The festival opens with Jojo Rabbit, a darkly comic anti-hate satire from New Zealand Director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople). It takes place in Nazi Germany and features the director himself as a young German boy’s imaginary friend who just so happens to be Adolph Hitler. The film, produced by Fox Searchlight, was recently acquired by Disney when they purchased Fox, and there are recent reports that Disney execs are uneasy with the film’s edgy subject matter. The Q&A should be a good one.

Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, director of over 100 films including Audition, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and 13 Assassins, made one of my favorite films at Fantastic Fest 2017, Blade of the Immortal. His new film First Love was a sensation at Cannes and he’s bringing it to Austin for the US Premiere. Giddyup!

First Love

Director Jim Mickle (Cold In July) was previously at Fantastic Fest in 2013 with We Are What We Are. He’s back with the World Premiere of his new movie In the Shadow of the Moon described in the press release as “a mind-bending sci-fi film starring Boyd Holbrook as a Philadelphia police officer who begins tracking a serial killer who mysteriously resurfaces every nine years, defying all scientific explanation.” Sign me up for that.

Other films that grabbed my attention include the Romanian noir The Whistlers directed by Corneliu Porimbiou, the documentary Memory: The Origins of Alien by Alexandre Philippe (78/52) about the 1979 Ridley Scott classic, the World Premiere of Cosmic Candy by Rinio Dragasaki a female filmmaker from Greece, Rock, Paper, and Scissors a black comedy from Argentina, 4X4 a thriller about a petty thief and an inescapable SUV also from Argentina, Son of the White Mare a 1981 psychedelic animated cult classic that’s been newly restored, The Wave a mind-bending time travel adventure from director Gille Klabin, and Knives and Skin a psychological thriller about a missing high school girl from director Jennifer Reeder. A few of the movies grabbed my attention simply with their titles. These include Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, The Death of Dick Long, and You Don’t Nomi.

In the Shadow of the Moon

Only a fraction of the films have been revealed and new announcements (2nd Wave) are coming soon with the festival only a month away. Superfan Badges are sold out. Fan Badges, Second-Half Badges, and Midnight Badges are available here. Fan Badges typically sell out, so grab ’em while the grabbin’s good.

If you’re on the fence, a Second-Half Badge is a great option. A lot of the industry folks go home after the festive opening weekend and the second half of the festival is a bit more chill and relaxed. A majority of the films from the first half of the fest screen again in the second half as well.

I’m out for now. Check out these images and have a good one!

The Wave
Cosmic Candy
The Death of Dick Long
Son of the White Mare
Knives and Skin
The Whistlers
Memory: The Origins of Alien
The Peanut Butter Solution
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants

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Salty Winters

Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.