Everything Went Black: Why Fantastic Fest is as Fantastic As it Is

The best place to recalibrate your cinematic soul

Everything Went Black: Why Fantastic Fest is as Fantastic As it Is

It's dawn on the final day of Fantastic Fest 2012 as I write this. My favorite time of day here in downtown Austin. The mechanical thud and clang of our incessant urban growth has yet to begin, my dog is snuffling in her sleep, and my bay windows are wide open. The air smells sweet now, even in the heart of the city. And, too, Halloween is within biting distance.

I had planned on spending this week's column talking about a few of the films I saw at FF2012 that I didn't have the time (or the energy -- I am so not 30 anymore) to write up earlier in the week. Great, creative, and inspiring films like Ernesto Diaz Espinosa's Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman, Leos Carax's Holy Motors, James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson's Tower Block, and Quentin Dupieux's wonderfully bizarre Wrong.

I was going to remind you (and myself) that Fantastic Fest, maybe more than any other of the myriad film festivals and events that now saturate Austin year-round, serves as a palliative and palate cleanser that, for me, mitigates much of the cookie cutter crud that has become "the industry"'s ultra-safe, over-familiar genre output of late. (And if you're not sure what I'm referring to, feel free to buy a ticket to House at the End of the Street, currently taking up precious screen space at your nearest multiplex.)

I thought I'd write about how important it is for both cinema and those who love -- and occasionally, abruptly hate -- cinema to hit "reset" at least once a year, to supplant the mental echoes of the bad, lazy, or just plain unimaginative filmmaking many of us encounter every week, in one form or another, with poppin' fresh memories of genuinely creative moviemaking that always make up the better part of Fantastic Fest.

I've been guarding against the film writer's twinned demons -- cynicism and a jaded sort of ennui -- almost since Day One, 22 years ago. But it can be difficult at times, if not impossible, to view at the modern Hollywood dream machine as little more than a corporate-owned, lowest-common-denominator battery farm for superhero franchises and family-oriented fluffbombs.

There's precious few easy riders on raging bulls bucking the system in H'wood these days. To be sure, there is a yearly handful of films and filmmakers who strain for art over artifice, an honest emotional connection with the audience over weekend box office receipts, and stories with substance, insight, and acute creativity. But, you know, sometimes that's hard to find.

But not at Fantastic Fest. Not at all. It serves, for me, as an annual reminder that truly astonishing works of art are still being dreamed up and then turned into 24fps reality every day, in every corner of the world, by people who weren't even born when I started this gig.

It's a deeply rejuvenating realization: right now, somewhere in Ghana, or Indonesia, or, who knows, Myanmar, some young filmmaker is just starting out on a path that may very well lead him (or her) to Fantastic Fest 2020. Tim League and his posse may see such a film at Sitges, or Fantasia, or maybe it'll be submitted directly to FF.

There's no telling where that amazing film, the one that kickstarts your adrenals and forces you to reconsider the possibilities and probabilities of contemporary cinema, will come from, or when it will arrive. Just in the nick of time, most likely. Just when you're about to say, "Fuck it. I'm not going to be lying on my death bed and regretting the umpteen hours of life I surrendered to some hack director's non-vision when I could have been watching Preston Sturges movies or Vincent Price films instead." (Hey, you think of these things when you're older. Trust me.)

So tonight I'll go to the closing party, and have some fun, say my goodbyes, and move on into the next fest in Austin's increasingly packed year-round schedule of cinematic riches. But to be honest, I'll really just be waiting for Fantastic Fest 2013.

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Everything Went Black, FF2012, Fantastic Fest 2012

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