Fantastic Fest Canceled For 2020

Alamo's genre festival hopes to be back in 2021

Chingu, the Fantastic Fest mascot, takes a year off as the Alamo Drafthouse's genre film festival is canceled for 2020. Management say they plan to return in 2021.

Another, seemingly inevitable hit to Austin's film festival scene has landed: Fantastic Fest, the annual celebration of global genre film run by the Alamo Drafthouse, has been canceled for 2020.

The festival was scheduled to run Sept. 24 to Oct. 1 at the Alamo South Lamar. However, with no clear timeline for the cinema to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, and major question marks hanging over film festivals globally, today's announcement will not be a huge surprise.

Launched in 2005, the annual event has become a mainstay of the local and global festival calendar. It's often seen as an American launching pad for talents, with filmmakers who got an early big break there including luminaries such as Eli Roth (Hostel), Ti West (House of the Devil), Sion Sono (Cold Fish), Adam Green (Hatchet), Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, currently working on Godzilla Vs. Kong), and dozens more. However, it's increasingly become a venue for studios to premiere what they see as the fall heavy-hitter titles like Knives Out and Halloween. Its reputation as a taste maker festival as well as its immersive nature (eight solid days of films and parties) has built up a remarkably loyal fan base.

However, that loyalty has been tested recently by the lack of information about what exactly was happening, especially as it's less than three months before the scheduled start date. Peer genre festivals such as Fantasia and the Chattanooga Film Festival had made the jump to an online format, while several Austin events, including Austin Asian American Film Festival, ATX Television Festival, Cine las Americas, and Indie Meme, had launched free or reduced-price cut down online versions to fill the gap before returning later this year or early next.

The cancellation of both Rooster Teeth's RTX convention and the ACL music festival in the last two weeks made it clear that large-scale gatherings like Fantastic Fest were unlikely. With no statement by the fest management since May, fans - including many who had already purchased expensive passes and booked flights - were taking to social media to ask what was happening.

What FF laid out today was that, rather than pushing to an online format, this year will be completely canceled. Explaining the decision, the team wrote in a statement, "Interactions that make the festival 'Fantastic' simply cannot be recreated through Zoom, and we therefore don’t believe a 'virtual film festival' would capture the spirit of Fantastic Fest."

Filmmakers who submitted their titles to the fest will get a full refund of their fees. Badge holders will be given the option of a refund, or having their badge rolled over to the planned next festival, scheduled for September 24-30, 2021. So far, the social media response has been predominantly positive, with many regulars (often dubbed the Fantastic Fest Fiends, after the Facebook group of the same name) saying they will roll their badge over to next year.

However, while there will not be an online festival, the team is organizing what they're calling a “Celebration of Fantastic Fest,” a program of streaming content (exact details TBA) running the week of the original festival dates (Sept. 24-Oct. 1).

Here's the full statement:

Today, with a heavy heart, we must announce that this year's Fantastic Fest has been canceled. We are beginning the process of refunding filmmaker submission fees and offering refunds to badge holders.

Up until just a couple of weeks ago, the Fantastic Fest team had been diligently poring over screeners and considering movies from the Cannes Film Market. While we knew it wouldn’t be the same as pre-COVID fests, we were clinging to the hope that the trajectory of the virus would improve and we would be able to execute some manner of safe, socially-distanced, film festival at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

While the interactions that happen between, before and after films, interactions that make the festival "Fantastic" simply cannot be recreated through Zoom, and we therefore don’t believe a “virtual film festival” would capture the spirit of Fantastic Fest, we do still want to gather the Fantastic Fest community on our regular dates for an online event, a “Celebration of Fantastic Fest,” to reconnect and share an online experience.

We’re currently in the lab working on a program of fun online gatherings and events for that celebration. Our goal will be to have a virtual event every night from September 24th through October 1st – shorts programs, 100 Best Kills, secret screenings, an online Fantastic Feud, other fun surprises, and a look back at some amazing films from Fantastic Fest history – for us all to interact and reunite. We aren’t ready to announce all the details, but we’ll be in touch in the weeks ahead.

We also want to assure our community that we are committed to returning in 2021 with a proper 16th edition of the festival. It is currently scheduled for September 24-30, 2021. Fantastic Fest is our favorite week of the year, and while we have no favorite week of 2020, we're taking this time to plan ways of making the 2021 edition the greatest Fantastic Fest ever. Our intent is to deliver an amazing experience when it is safe to gather and socialize again.

Before Friday, we’ll reach out to badge holders via email. For those who are willing, we will roll your badge purchase over to 2021. Rolling over your badge purchase to 2021 is significant to sustaining the festival while we plan for the next installment. However, we fully understand that may not be possible, feasible, or desirable for everyone and will quickly process any requested refunds. Badge holders who choose to roll over to 2021 will be invited to an exclusive special event the night before the festival, and also receive a (similarly exclusive) 2021 Fantastic Fest commemorative gift.

We also acknowledge that the future is obviously uncertain. If the festival still isn’t possible to safely execute by this time next year, we will fully refund all badges that rolled over.

Filmmakers, we are still committed to supporting your films in the ways we can. It is our intent to curate and present a shorts program from the 2020 submissions. We will curate a list of official selection films and make them available to buyers and distributors, and hope to present a few of these selections during the “Celebration of Fantastic Fest” virtual event in September. But this is not the full Fantastic Fest experience, and therefore, we will be fully refunding all film submission fees for all filmmakers. We’ll reach out separately to each of you shortly with details, timing, and process.

We will desperately miss seeing all of you in person this September but look forward to our virtual connection in September and a long and amazing future of thrills, chills, and hugs when the world is ready for such things.

- The Fantastic Fest Team

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Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2020, Coronavirus, COVID-19

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