Almost exactly halfway between the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar and nearby hangout the Highball resides the South Austin Gym, and for one night a year, the numerous nerds in attendance for Fantastic Fest make their way into this, an honest-to-goodness exercise establishment, in order to witness the exchanging of both barbs and blows at the Fantastic Debates.
Local comedian Owen Egerton once again played the part of emcee, promising "some sweaty, violent love here tonight" and flanked by podiums to the left and a boxing ring to the right. Each bout involved a formal debate, complete with rebuttals, followed by two rounds of proper fisticuffs while a proudly drunk crowd roared loud in support.
First came the sibling showdown of the Zellners on the topic, "Video Games Are S**t and All Players of Them Deserve to Be Damned to Hell". Older brother David strutted out in a blonde wig, while bigger brother Nathan boasted a too-small zebra tanktop and a Gallagher-worthy mustache. David argued that "there are no real winners in video games; you're all losers in God's eyes," while Nathan countered that "[Games] build character and give you goals you can ACTUALLY achieve!" After each tossed out a handful of facts -- David claimed that "54% of kids have wasted half of their lives playing Half-Life" -- they jumped into the ring and tossed out a couple of swings... only to slow by the 19-second mark. Egerton was quick to point out that "these two are known more for their shorts than their features..."
Next up were Spaniard filmmakers Nacho Vigalondo ('Timecrimes') and Eugenio Mira ('Agnosia') on the topic, "The TV Series 'Lost' is the Most Believable Depiction of Time Travel and the Greatest Depiction of Human Experience of the Past 700 Years". A raucous presence and the unofficial mascot of the Fest itself, Vigalondo was quick to argue that chaos reigned on that show, to borrow a phrase from Lars von Trier's controversial 'Antichrist' that took on legendary status at FF '09. "Who cares about the plot when you have crazy-ass s**t?," he argued. Mira, however, was not convinced: "Set-up, set-up, set-up, set-up... two years later... set-up, set-up, set-up, and NO PAYOFF." Egerton offered to translate their Spanish-language rebuttals for the audience, to amusing effect, before the two leapt into the ring and responded to chants of "Fight! Fight!" with what one might call a passionate embrace.
Things then took a turn for the tense as film critic Todd Brown and filmmaker Jon Ford took turns addressing whether or not "A Filmmaker Must Adhere to a Code of Conduct While Promoting Their Film Online". A month ago, the two had a very public blow-up regarding Ford's initially anonymous response to Brown's harsh coverage of the trailer for Ford's film, 'The Dead'. Brown argued that the director's remarks ought to have boasted a certain sense of decorum: "[Uwe] Boll, regardless of how much heat he's taken, always stands behind his own name." Ford, however, felt that Brown was wrong to trash a film that the writer had even yet to see: "Without independent film, what would they write about?... It's hard enough to get a movie made, let alone sold." Brown took to his iPhone in response, insisting that "there's a difference between defending and insulting." Their ensuing brawl came off as one in which the participants weer far more invested than those who scrapped earlier in the evening. Ford's head gear kept flying off, and the fight was eventually called on account of his left shoulder, apparently dislocated.
"You just saw someone injured," Egerton said. "In this round, you might see someone DIE." The time had finally come for the title fight: actress Michelle Rodriguez ('Girlfight', 'Avatar') vs. Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League on whether or not "'Avatar' Deserved to Win the Best Picture Oscar". League entered boasting a pink mohawk and a wifebeater with the word "Vicious" scribbled across it, in a nod to famous punk Sid; Egerton proceeded to describe him as "a throbbing example of what all men are and what all women want to be." (League's wife and business partner, Karrie, walked in with a black veil shortly thereafter.) Rodriguez would be aptly labeled by our sharp host as being "a woman we are all equally attracted to and intimidated by."
When League brought up 'The Hurt Locker''s win over 'Avatar', Rodriguez was quick to point out that "I'm happy for Kathryn Bigelow. I think it's time that women deserve recognition in Hollywood. But I'm not here for that. I'm here to kick your ass." And as Tim tried to insist that little of James Cameron's film, if any of it, was remarkable, the star merely responded with "I don't have to defend something that defends itself." They soon skipped the formal conversation format altogether in favor of fighting, with Rodriguez' evident boxing training helping her hold her own against a remarkably tenacious League. As the crowd cheered on, Egerton chimed in: "She's fast! She's furious! She's S.W.A.T.!"
The fight was a draw, just as all others had been called. Both Rodriguez and League (pictured below with Egerton) were crowned as champions and exchanged hugs, thus capping another spectacular night of uppercuts and low blows under the starry skies of Texas.