If you're a hardcore movie geek and you've been to Austin at least once, you're probably familiar with the magical Tim League. Along with his wife/partner Karrie, Mr. League is the man behind not only the sublime Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters, but he also unleashed Fantastic Fest upon the world AND found time to create a karaoke bar/bowling alley called The Highball. Obviously Mr. League does none of these things by himself. But he does captain one hell of a movie shrine.
Anyway, the man loves nothing more than scouring the planet for the finest in lunatic cinema, and if he doesn't track it down, one of his many scouts probably will. Logically, with SXSW 2010 freshly underway, I thought it'd be fun to chat with Tim about his obsession with international genre fare, and the man certainly didn't disappoint. Let's get to it:
How many North America film festivals do you go to each year? And how many outside North America?
Tim: Other than Fantastic Fest, of course, I personally attend about four North American festivals a year and probably four more outside of North America. In addition, the Fantastic Fest scouting team generally hits another four or five international festivals beyond what I attend. My anchors are the European Film Market/Berlin Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival. We go to those two every year.
What countries would you say hold the most respect (or reverence) for genre films? More specifically, which countries/festivals love horror flicks the most?
Tim: Japan is the country we watch the most. There's a huge and loyal genre audience in Japan, they have a long tradition of really crazy movies and continue to surprise us every year with new talent. Spain is fantastic as well. This may be changing soon, but there has been strong government subsidies for Spanish film production and we keep tabs on an incredibly robust group of young genre filmmakers. We are also watching Indonesia very closely right now as well as Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. We are seeing a lot of promising young genre filmmakers emerge from those countries.
As far as a genre film community, two of the most important worldwide events are the giants of the genre film festival world: Sitges in Spain and BIFFF (Brussels). Sitges has been running for 43 years, Brussels for 28. They have built the best genre film audiences in the world. It was at Sitges back in 2001 that Harry Knowles and I first aspired to create Fantastic Fest.
Why is it important for a genre festival to find offerings from every corner of the globe?
Where else would American film producers find source material for remakes?
And what the hell do you have against American genre films, anyway?
Nothing! I love all genre films, as long as they are good. House of the Devil was one of my favorite titles of last year's fest for example. I honestly have zero quotas by country. If I were to find an amazing crop of American genre films each year, I would probably play them all. What I don't have much of a tolerance for in my personal programming, however, are films that set out to simply hit the marks and mandatory horror cues. We try to find fresh visions and new spins on genre concepts.
The unfortunate reality of American genre film financing is that the vast majority of the financiers want to take a safe bet and trod down a very familiar path. At Fantastic Fest, we are looking for films that surprise us, excite us or absolutely blow our minds. The reality is that in other countries, there is more money available to support visionary filmmaking. American film production is far more bottom-line driven and that leads too many projects to tried-and-true territory.
Aside from the ability to offer a week of awesomeness, where would you place the "importance" of an event like Fantastic Fest, in a cinematic sense?
Aw, I don't know about importance. Fantastic Fest is a gathering of genre-obsessed fans and genre-obsessed filmmakers. Connections are made and I know that deals and future deals are spawned. But what's most important to all of the Fantastic Fest team is that everyone who attends has an awesome time watching crazy movies together. If something of greater significance comes out of that setting, that's great too.
Name three countries who have yet to have a film/filmmaker represented at Fantastic Fest. And explain what you're doing to get them there!
We are very excited to be showing our first Serbian film (called simply enough Serbian Film) at SX Fantastic next week. I've only seen two genre films out of Serbia. They were both outstanding, and they have both been within the past year. Something is definitely happening in Serbia and we will be staying in touch with both of these filmmakers to find out who else is creating the good stuff. One of our programmers is attending the Guadalajara Film Festival this week. They host a large South and Central American film market there and we hope to find deeper Latin American film connections.
The other country in which we hope to strike pay dirt is Nigeria. Last year saw two separate documentaries about the crazy world of Nigerian low-budget genre film production (dubbed Nollywood). We've been trying to find a good Nigerian title for Fantastic Fest for a couple of years now, but as of yet, haven't found anything suitable. I'll be hitting up the Nigerian Film office again at Cannes this year.
Is there anything better than seeing a 19-year-old German kid bring his first film to Fantastic Fest, only to have it met with huge applause and sincere affection?
I love it. That is one of the most satisfying aspects of running the festival. Every genre filmmaker in the world has been deeply impacted by American film. There's no denying the staggering impact of the cumulative force the American genre film oeuvre . To come to a festival in the United States to debut your first film to an American audience and have them love it must be close to spiritual. No matter where the festival grows, a core mission will always be to bring first-time filmmakers to attend the festival and debut their films. We also look to these young filmmakers to point towards other young talent in their native country. That's one important way in which our network grows.
The French have been kicking some ass in the horror field lately. What country is next to step up?
Russia is due for some breakouts, I mentioned Serbia before - I'm not sure if what we are seeing with Serbian Film and Life and Death of Porno Gang is a blip on the radar or the arrival of a storm. I hope for the latter. Singapore and Indonesia are strong right now, and I'm also hopeful about Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.
Explain the appeal of the "weird foreign" stuff. Not action, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy, necessarily, but those films that defy description and dazzle your programmers.
I've always loved weird movies. My core programming team shares that love too. I mentioned before about Japan being one of the countries that we watch carefully. Bizarre cinema is where they truly stand as giants. Past Fantastic Fest selections from Japan such as Naisu No Mori, Big Man Japan, Yatterman, Love Exposure, Uncle's Paradise, and The Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn may not be the absolute top audience favorites, but they are films that shatter the boundaries of traditional narrative.
Love Exposure, for example, is a 4 hour epic about ninja-trained peek-a-panty photographers intertwined with stories of Catholic guilt and a religious death cult hell-bent on overtaking the world. The Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn is a tender relationship drama about a blind farmer and his cow, whom he loves more than any human on earth. When the cow dies, a naked woman takes the place of the cow to be "milked" each morning to spare the farmer's suffering. It's an arthouse drama smashed together with a soft-core sex film. You simply don't find these films everywhere, and it's our mission at Fantastic Fest to scour the globe for these rare exports and bring them to a wider audience.
Let's wrap it up with a quick rundown of your latest finds, all of which will be playing next week as part of the Fantastic Fest slate at the wonderful South By Southwest Film Festival.
Higanjama is a Japanese/Korean coproduction vampire movie that I saw at the American Film Market. It's a lot of fun and should play well at midnight. Monsters is a UK sci-fi thriller that was written and directed by first-time helmer Garreth Edwards, who also produced all of the amazing CGI and just about everything else for the film. I love this film, it truly shows what amazing scale can be achieved on a low budget by one man's obsessive vision.
Outcast, an Irish witchcraft horror film is the debut feasture from Colm McCarthy, a UK TV helmer, and Serbian Film (actually directed in Serbia by first time Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic), without a doubt, may be the most controversial film to ever play SXSW. And one of the most entertaining films I saw in Berlin was Centurion, which is Gladiator scope with a Neil Marshall panache and some wildly inventive bloodshed.
For more on fun and amusing ways in which to discover the finest in weird foreign cinema, check out SXSW, Fantastic Fest, and the combination of both!