Although circumstances dictate that I don't attend nearly as many film festivals as my colleagues do, it soon became clear that my last-minute decision to head out for last year's Fantastic Fest was a wise one. FF veterans were quick to note that the event had grown in proportion to its popularity, and the relatively young festival has similarly changed things up in its fifth year out of hopes of accommodating even more attendees than ever before.
However, this is not a think-piece about a mid-level film festival struggling with the limitations of stardom. No, this will merely be a list of seven reasons why we at Cinematical and the Squads are about to very much dwell on Fantastic Fest for the week to come -- well, seven reasons other than the movies.
We'll get around to those in due time.
1. The Venues - Okay, so we've gushed before about the Austin locations of the Alamo Drafthouse, and about the far more old-fashioned Paramount Theatre, but Tim and Karrie League have a new trick up their sleeve for FF: the Highball, a wait space of sorts near the South Lamar theater that just happens to have bowling lanes, karaoke rooms, and plenty of alcohol to spare in time for its soft opening later this week. Look, I'm sorry, Telluride, but until you install skeeball lanes of your own, you can keep your converted high school auditorium...
2. The Parties - The Highball will now be the de facto party space for most FF shindigs, which range from a Michael Jackson dance party (FWIW, the Alamo's been all about M.J. before he became R.I.P.) to a celebration of 100 different kill scenes (it's exactly what it sounds like) to a nutso-sounding 3-D party that -- and forgive me for this -- probably has to be seen to be believed. Did I mention that last year's Closing Night Party was a rave in a cave with Bill Murray in attendance? And that we were then given brown bag lunches for the late-night bus ride back into Austin? Yeah, it was kinda great.
3. The Day Trips - This might be a bit of a cheat, seeing as many of these events are restricted to filmmakers, press, jurors and out-of-town guests, but they nonetheless run the gamut from shooting shotguns to getting burritos to shooting sniper rifles to getting barbecue. That's not to mention the flight of bats downtown, or the river tubing at New Braunfels, or the luncheon on Tim and Karrie's own front yard. Trust me, it never gets boring, and hey, one can always take in a movie or two if they have the time.
4. The Fantastic Debates - Two men enter a boxing ring. Two men leave, but only after having an incredibly geeky spat from behind two podiums (podia?). And then another two men do the same. And then so on, and so forth, until the end, where two of said men return the ring to pummel the living daylights out of one another. It's a battle of brains AND brawn that draws a good crowd and makes for some great laughs/bruises. When's the last time you saw that at a film festival? (Get a glimpse of the magic here.)
5. The Fantastic Feud - Participants of this Scott Weinberg brainchild put their wits up against their will to drink, as two teams boozily work their way through a game show composed of the tiniest scraps of horror trivia imaginable (and believe me you, if there's ever a crowd that has these tidbits covered, it's this one). Scott is pictured above alongside co-host Devin Steuerwald, Alamo programmer Zack Carlson and Not Quite Hollywood director Mark Hartley during last year's Feud.
6. The Guests - Last year saw appearances by Bill Murray, Bill Pullman, Kevin Smith, David Wain, Paul Rudd, Darren Lynn Bousman, Rian Johnson and many others, who were more often than not easy to meet and greet with little formal hubbub in between. This year suggest schmoozing opportunities with the likes of Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Mike White, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, John C. Reilly and George A. Romero among others, just so long as you don't come barreling over with your new great script in hand.
7. The Secret Screenings - I know, I said I wasn't going to talk about the movies, but in this case, I really can't... because, well, they're secret screenings. FF '08 brought forth early looks at The Brothers Bloom, Role Models, Appaloosa and RocknRolla -- none strictly genre-fitting, no, but all ideal for the type of filmgoers already in attendance. There's plenty of speculation to be had for this year's five (!) slots, but then again, that's part of the fun. (And if any of you get wind of something, don't you dare Twitter-spoil it. We didn't have to worry about that last year, but now, it's a very real and looming threat to all that is supposed to be a surprise.)