When you last heard from me, I was knee deep in the experience that is Fantastic Fest, the craziest, most amazing film festival in the history of film festivals. I had seen a lot of movies, met a lot of people and had essentially not slept for 72 hours.
Another day, another early morning arrival at the Alamo Drafthouse to brave the lines. It's during these waits that you truly begin to realize the true power of your film festival badge: in addition to granting your admittance to all of the screenings, it serves as an instant conversation starter. One quick glance and you already know a person's name, where they're from, who they're writing for if they're press and, most importantly, their Twitter name. Yeah...
Rule #12: Be on Twitter. Seriously.
Your Twitter name being put on the badge itself (and in font larger than your actual name) is a new addition this year and a truly inspired decision. You'll be standing around, usually waiting in line, and someone will amble right on up to you and ask "Are you Jacob Hall? As in @jacobshall?" and you'll say "Yes" and glance at their badge and realize that you've been following him for months and would never have recognized his face but voila, you know exactly who this guy is and just like that, you've got a new festival buddy.
Twitter has also become the go-to way to track your friends around the festival, see how others are reacting to movies, organize trips to local eateries for artery-killing BBQ and publicly beg for someone, anyone, to save you a seat at the next screening. I asked a seasoned film critic what film festivals were like before Twitter. He couldn't even remember.
After the morning lines, I sit down for the disturbing and polarizing 'Red, White and Blue,' followed by Takeshi Kitano's giddily violent Yakuza crime thriller 'Outrage' and the martial arts flick 'Ip Man 2,' which finds Chinese ass-kicker-supreme Donnie Yen laying the brilliantly choreographed hurt on countless lesser men. It is in this screening that the already obvious becomes re-emphasized for me:
Rule #13: The Alamo Drafthouse is the best movie theater in the world. Period.
There's a reason this theater is world famous, folks. You have large seats with tons of leg room. You have a friendly and helpful staff. You have a diverse and delicious menu that includes everything from standard popcorn and candy to an impressive beer selection and pork stew. You have pre-movie messages threatening that talkers and cell phone users will be removed from the theater without a refund. These folks don't screw around.
Because of these factors, the cream of the moviegoer crop can be found here every day. And because of that-
Rule #14: Fantastic Fest audiences are the best audiences in the world.
Put a couple hundred die-hard movie fans in one room and you're guaranteed for something interesting to happen. Just because these are the folks who will never talk through movies doesn't mean you're sitting in a cold, silent audience. Quite the contrary, actually. Where else will you find an audience that cheers like rapid sports fans when Donnie Yen performs a particularly awesome feat and butt-kicking in 'Ip Man 2'? Where else will you find an audience that breaks into spontaneous, non-ironic applause when a brutalized heroine finally fights back against her tormentors in the stunning Korean thriller 'Bedevilled'?
Want to know if you're movie is any good? Put it in front of a Fantastic Fest audience. They'll let you know.
Rule #15: Ssshhh...be careful. The filmmakers are here.
Nothing is worse than loudly bad-mouthing a film only to learn that a producer of said film is sitting in the row in front of you. Well, at least nothing is worse for a polite pushover like me, who declared a movie that will not be named a "total friggin' disaster" only to be met with chalk white faces and a whispered explanation as to the identity of a man three feet away from me.
Movies are playing festivals to garner acclaim and to build buzz. It's a chance to filmmakers to see how audiences react to their work firsthand and, if necessary, to stand up for it. When 'Hatchet 2' was set to screen to two sold-out theaters, director Adam Green joked that he was going to jump between between theaters and stick with the crowd that laughed the most and cheered the loudest. Although 'Hatchet 2' is not my cup of tea, it played like gangbusters to the horror junkies in attendance. I can only imagine it being a total rush for Green, who made the film as a "gift" for horror fans.
Sometimes, the filmmaker presence doesn't do the movie any favors. Sometimes, a director-who-shall-not-be-named will intro his movie and immediately go on the defensive, pre-emptively challenging any naysayers. This is not the way to win over an audience, but it is an excellent way to look like an a**hole.
And then there are the moments when a filmmaker's presence at his own screening creates an unforgettable moment. Fantastic Fest 2010 was the first time 'Bedevilled' was seen by American audiences. It was the first time director Jang Cheol-so had set foot on American soil (Through a translator: "Does everyone in this theater have a gun?"). And this was his first film.
A day later, 'Bedevilled' would win the Audience Award and all I could think of was the cheering audience who adored the film and young director, practically speechless and over-the-moon with joy, taking the time to shake the hand of everyone who approached him after the film. I remain convinced that Jang Cheol-so has the capacity to become an important filmmaker and to see the joy in his eyes after a perfect screening...well, that's just a special moment.
Rule #16: You are always missing something cool.
When so many cool things are happening at once, you're bound to miss something amazing because you were too busy doing another amazing thing. For example, Day Four ended with me missing the Fantastic Debates, which see two people, critics, writers, filmmakers, actors, etc, enter a boxing ring to debate a subject. And then they literally fight it out to prove who's right.
Have I mentioned this is the best film festival ever yet? Because it is.
After the post-apocalyptic vampire horror flick 'Stake Land', I settle in for the Korean action movie 'The Man From Nowhere' and something slowly dawns on me.
Rule #17: Never piss off a Korean. Their vengeance will be swift and brutal.
At Fantastic Fest, I see four Korean films: 'I Saw the Devil,' 'Bedevilled,' 'The Housemaid' and 'The Man From Nowhere.' They are all exceptional films. They are also all revenge films, featuring a wronged Korean protagonist seeking vengeance against the person and people who hurt him or someone he loves. Let me tell you, Korean vengeance makes American vengeance look like a frakking pacifist convention. So, be nice to every Korean you know, but also keep your distance. People they are close to tend to die horrifically in order to prompt their bloody revenge.
And if you're married to a Korean man and find yourself pregnant, you need to run. Get on a plane and get as far away as possible.
Rule #18: No child, born or unborn, is safe during Fantastic Fest.
At the rate in which pregnant Korean women find themselves six feet under in Fantastic Fest films, it's amazing that Korea still has a population at all. And it's not just Korean films. Maybe it's because Fantastic Fest isn't afraid to show brutal, unrelenting films but if a pregnant woman or a child popped up for whatever reason in any movie, there was about a 50/50 chance they'd bite the dust before the end credits rolled...or at least find themselves in mortal peril. Looking over my notes, I count fifteen films featuring a child faced with peril.
Fantastic Fest: not safe for children of any age.
My day continues with the cannibal drama 'We Are What We Are,' the awesomely silly Ozploitation movie 'Primal' and the ambitious, spaghetti western/samurai/kung fu action film 'Bunraku.' And then midnight rolls around, but I won't be seeing a movie. Not this night...
Rule #19: Do yourself a favor and attend the Fantastic Feud.
Imagine a horror movie trivia game show fueled by booze and playful xenophobia and you've got the Fantastic Feud, a competition that pits two teams of film writers and filmmakers against each other in the strangest, wildest movie competition you will ever see. Hosted by incomparable Scott Weinberg, the Feud is one of the highlights of my time at Fantastic Fest, an unmissable 90 minutes of trivia and heckling and drinking and chaos.
And I'm not just saying that because Mr. Weinberg is one of my editors. Hi, Scott. (Hi! -- Ed.)
Anyway, the Feud pits Americans versus "the World," with a panel of six Americans taking on a panel of international folks. There are rules, but they quickly get flung out the window to make way for beer spraying, swag throwing, man-on-man make-out sessions, Warriors cosplay and a lot of shouting. It is the only place in the world where you will get to see a completely drunk Nacho Vigalondo, the director of the brilliant Timecrimes, tackle Elijah Wood to the ground while wearing a 'Hausu' bandana over his face.
In the end, the Americans always win, a ridiculous amount of booze has been consumed and everyone agrees it was one of the best nights ever.
(Three days remain in my first Fantastic Fest adventure. Will this festival stick its landing? Signs point to yes. Keep your eyes open for the third and final part of this series, coming sooner rather than later.)