When you arrive at a film festival at 1:30 a.m. from the airport and are asked to drive a different way because they’re about to have a food fight in the alley and then a door flies open and you see a conga line being led by a man in a Carmen Miranda costume, and that man is the guy who founded the festival, you know you’re in the right place. I know you’re thinking, “Hey, Wolfman, could you stop talking about Robert Redford and his banana for five minutes?” to which I’ll say, “No.” I’m also going to say that this isn’t Sundance, this is Fantastic Fest, the ultimate destination for weirdo nerd film fanatics and is the closest thing we can get to revisiting summer camp.
What may seem like just any other film festival to most people is something that you can only truly embrace by attending. Fantastic Fest isn’t just a film festival, it’s a film celebration. For as much as the festival is deservedly lauded for showcasing the best and boldest films and filmmakers, it also provides a place free of cynicism from even the most jaded of people. Everyone goes to Fantastic Fest for slightly different reasons, so before I veer off into wild tangents, I’ll speak to my personal experiences. My reasons for going are to see as many movies as my body will allow with friends I don’t get to see too often in one of the greatest theaters in the country, the Alamo Drafthouse. Their zero tolerance policy for distractions in a theater ensure that everyone gets to do what they came to the theater for: enjoy a movie free from distractions.
There are five rounds of films each day, and press get an extra early opportunity to enjoy an additional round. My first day at Fantastic Fest resulted in seeing a film for all six rounds. My day started at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 1:30 a.m. The following day, I took things a little bit easier and only saw five films. I didn’t want to overdo it, ya know? I skipped the last round of films to attend an event that can only happen at Fantastic Fest: the Fantastic Debates.
Each year, a list of controversial opinions are debated between two people in the film industry. They might be filmmakers, film critics, or even just film fans. The one thing they all have in common is they remain steadfast in their beliefs and fight tooth and nail to prove it. In some cases, this is meant to be taken literally. The subjects being argued this year were Samurais vs. Cowboys, if Bittorrent was the savior of independent film or the enemy, whether or not literature should ever be adapted into film, and the idea that found footage movies are a cancer on the artform. All topics make for an interesting debate, but what sets the Fantastic Debates apart from any other discourse on film you’ll ever see is that it also features a physical component in which the debaters get to beat the shit out of one another. Yup, that’s right, once the debaters flap their gums arguing their points, they put their money where there mouths are and box one another.
Remember how I said it’s great to see the founder of a film festival take such spirited involvement in opening night ceremonies? Well, Fantastic Fest founder Tim League doesn’t stray away from controversy as he challenged filmmaker Ti West on the merits, or lack thereof, in found footage horror movies. Both debaters came to the conclusion that there should be less found footage movies made, as they were both quick to get to the fighting. West had boasted about how no one has really given League a run for his money, and he aimed to do just that. And, well, he did. West managed to knock down League four times in their short match, but that didn’t stop League from winning. No, there wasn’t some technical disqualification, but the bouts were judged by audience applause. When it comes to who festival-goers love endlessly, League will always be their champion.
My energy drained over the next day and a half and I only ended up seeing four more films, bringing the total to 15. I did manage to leave the theater campus long enough to get some barbecue and also skipped some rounds in which there weren’t many movies being shown that I was all that interested in seeing. Although I did manage to see a 70 year old man win a nerd rap contest before singing Limp Bizkit karaoke in a room modeled after a freak show.
It’s always bittersweet to leave a film festival because you know you have to get back to the real world. I was able to take some comfort in the fact that, now in L.A., I can see some of my friends more often. And when you’re seeing four or five movies a day while also eating fried food and doing karaoke, your body and mind start to decay and fog. Knowing that I didn’t even stay for half of the festival means I missed lots of great times with great people watching great movies. But don’t worry, there’s always next year, right?! Be on the lookout for reviews of some of my favorite movies from the fest in the coming days and weeks! Thanks to everyone at Fantastic Fest, Alamao Drafthouse, Fons PR, and all the movies fans in attendance. Fantastic Fest….you’re cool.