You wait in line for what seems an eternity and a half before reaching the ticket counter. You produce your badge from under the George Romero tee-shirt, already sticky with the remnants of a humid Austin morning, and triumphantly call out the titles of the films for which you will be needing tickets. These are films you spent all night reading about in the guide in and wrestling with the b-side website in a stressful attempt to maintain your six movie efficiency. But then, like something out of a black-and-white movie, the attendant executes the equivalent of pulling down the box office shade by uttering the most harsh couplet of words this festival can offer: sold out.
Especially if you are lacking a VIP badge, this moment is becoming more and more commonplace as the festival continues to grow. Our own Jacob Hall, in his riveting Diary of a Fantastic Fest Virgin, has experienced this and it is very easy to get bogged down with the crushing disappointment of this scenario. But to Jacob, and all the Fantastic Fest newbies, I submit to you that you are in a remarkably advantageous situation.
I respectfully ask you to consider this radical notion: it is sometimes a good thing to not get into a film.
Already many of you are cocking your heads, furrowing your brows, and, in the case of that less-than-subtle gentleman in the back, flipping me the bird. I understand that this sounds completely counter-intuitive, but trust me. I was in your shoes and got locked out of more than my fair share of screenings; even before the days when we had the convenience of ticketing for each screening. But I offer you this counterpoint, how much do you really know about the film you wanted to see in the first place? We are all drawing from the same sundry wells of information regarding these films; word-of-mouth, internet chatter, or the Fantastic Fest guidebook. Consider however that word-of-mouth is subjective, the internet can be a zoo of uninformed or agenda-laden diatribes, and it is impossible to capture the essence of a film within the 300 words confines of the guide.
Film festivals are supposed to be about discovery; about giving smaller films their moment in the spotlight. This is the arena of the unsung and a golden opportunity to expose yourself to films that you, for all intents and purposes, know nothing about and potentially falling in love out of the blue. It's all very romantic for a cinephile, but I fear we lose sight of this in the torrent of petty frustrations. Some of the best films I've seen over my four year tenure with Fantastic Fest were the ones I had no initial interest in seeing at all. When a movie I wanted to see was full, or if I had to skip them entirely to wait five hours in line in the hopes of getting into a secret screening that then failed to pan out, I was forced to see whatever was playing at that time; to live in the moment essentially.
One such film was 'Mirageman.' I had no desire to see a low-budget superhero film from Chile and wanted to see something else instead; the fact that I can now no longer recall the name of my first choice should be a portent for where I'm heading with this. I was blown out of the back of the theater by this incredibly human, but still wildly entertaining martial arts romp and have since sought it out and purchased it. When I call it one of my favorite superhero films of all time, I am not simply manufacturing hyperbole in order to serve my point. The star of the film and the director, Marko Zaror and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza respectively, have gone on to become festival mainstays and any time we are lucky enough to host one of their subsequent films, it amounts to the highlight of that year.
So I beseech you not to let this most trivial of setbacks obscure your perspective of the opportunity dropped into your lap. The films you have no interest in are at the festival for a reason. You may not like what you are forced to see as a contingency, you may even hate it, but at least you are giving yourself the chance to A.) become more diverse in your film knowledge and B.) participate in subsequent conversations that may cultivate both friendships and recommendations from your new movie geek compatriots. Just because it's called a FILM fest, doesn't mean there is only one showing.