I have a special place in my heart for Fantastic Fest because it was the first film festival I attended and covered professionally, for Cinematical back in 2005, the year the fest started. The 2005 fest was a long weekend of genre films, attended by a small enough crowd that you felt you knew everyone there by the time it was over. Since then, Fantastic Fest has expanded to nine days, added all kinds of crazy parties and events, become notorious for "secret screenings" that premiered films such as Southland Tales and There Will Be Blood, and introduced filmgoers to any number of international science-fiction, horror, animated, and other "fantastic" films.

In its fourth year, Fantastic Fest has grown so large and popular that its opening-night festivities moved from the genre festival's traditional Austin venue, the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, over to the Paramount, a hundred-year-old theater in the middle of downtown that seats about 1200 people. The theater was packed for the opening-night film, the U.S. premiere of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and writer-director Kevin Smith was also on hand.

The venue may have been the Paramount, but the minute the lights went down and a vintage trailer for Thunder Cops appeared onscreen, it felt like Fantastic Fest. Festival co-founder Tim League appeared onstage in a bright kimono, with a giant gong next to him, and announced, "With a stroke of this gong, I am about to declare this festival ... awesome!" Kevin Smith then introduced his film with a long and bizarre story about how he recently broke a toilet, then confessed that this had nothing to do with the film, he just wanted to tell the story.

Cinematical will have a Zack and Miri review available soon, but for now I'll just say that I enjoyed it a lot, in the same vein as Clerks 2. Once again, Smith took a sweet old-fashioned romantic story and wrapped it in as much nasty-ass humor as he could get away with ... and it worked for me. The audience seemed to love the film too, and I felt a little sorry for the festgoers who jumped out of their seats the minute the credits started to head to Alamo Drafthouse for another film ... because there were still about 5 minutes left in the movie. Remember that when the movie hits theaters next month.

After the credits rolled, Kevin Smith reappeared on stage with Scott Mosier, who has produced all the films Smith has written/directed, for a Q&A. This was a pretty short session as Kevin Smith Q&As go, with a minimum of irrelevancy or audience abuse. In fact, the audience nearly abused Smith when he told a story about watching Slacker and feeling impressed that Richard Linklater had made a movie in "f***ing Nowheresville, USA."

And then we had ... the World Air Sex Championships. At the Paramount. You have to understand that the Paramount is one of those historic legendary buildings in Austin, and normally serves as a venue for more highbrow entertainment, or classic movies, or things you could bring your grandma to see without her fainting. (However, both Clerks 2 and Grindhouse had big splashy Austin premieres in the theater.) I'm telling you this so you can get an idea of how I felt while watching contestants hump the air around them, mime all kinds of perverse and salacious activities, and occasionally strip down to the skimpiest of underthings onstage. Imagine someone performing Rocky Horror at your grandparents' house. Like that.

I didn't make it all the way through the Air Sex Championships -- after I saw a tableau involving an inflatable pig and people dressed as Sarah Palin, John McCain, a Secret Service agent and a giant moose, I figured I'd really seen all there was to see. Over at SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly has some video footage from the event, which will give you a much better idea of how things worked than I could ever describe.

I sat outside the theater for a few minutes before leaving, with Cinematical colleague Will Goss. Here's his take on the evening: "Tim League banged the gong and got it on (as T-Rex might say); Zack and Miri may have made a porno (that everyone else seemed to dig a bit more than I); and Bill Pullman and I shot the breeze for a bit, which -- all name-dropping aside -- is a swift and singular testament to how smoothly and low-key things go down at Fantastic Fest, and how they look to over these next few days.

"(Oh, and air sex is a lot like real sex: great in theory, fun in bursts, and downright lamentable from time to time.)"

And here's what our Managing Editor Scott Weinberg had to say -- and I notice he doesn't mention that every single person he's encountered at the festival has ragged on him about his new beard:

"I arrived at the airport and bolted over to the Paramount so I could catch the big gala screening of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which is a VERY funny flick -- but it also falls into the same trap as many of the most conventional rom-coms. Specifically, it gets halfway stuck in a third-act 'misunderstanding' that simplistically prevents our two leads from obtaining a happy ending. But that's a pretty small complaint to make in the face of a movie that made me laugh very hard and very often. It's pretty clear that Kevin Smith wants this to be his Apatow-style 'mainstream' breakout, and it just might be. The flick's best asset (by far) is not the sexiness or the nonstop vulgarity, but the strong ensemble that Smith's put together: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords (!), Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes (along with a few others) make for a very likeable comedy unit.

"Then I hung around the first annual World Air Sex Competition before chatting with a few journalists and filmmakers who somehow like me. Then it was back to the hotel -- as I hadn't slept in 31 hours -- but before sleep I watched, yes, another Fantastic Fest flick on my computer. Since that flick hasn't played yet (and I really disliked it) we won't get into it just yet.

"And then I slept until approximately 2:30 pm."
CATEGORIES Cinematical