The founders on Fantastic Fest
It begins, as these things so often do, with a pair of starry-eyed dreamers playing What If? while queuing outside a movie theatre.
Tim McCanlies, director of Secondhand Lions and writer of The Iron Giant, and South by Southwest Producer Matt Dentler were lamenting the fact that Austin, home to more film festivals per capita than any other town in the South or Southwest, was shy a fest in three key areas: fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.
Harry Knowles' annual 24-hour Butt-Numb-a-Thon movie marathon notwithstanding, the lack of a genre festival in the 512 not to mention the country as a whole struck both men as not only inexcusable, given the city's largish base of geek stalwarts, but, more to the point, easily remedied. After all, if not here a city of cineastes with announced proclivities toward the fantastic where? And if not now it is festival season, after all when? Thus are film festivals birthed.
McCanlies, Dentler, and producer/filmmaker Paul Alvarado-Dykstra officially joined forces a mere four months back, quickly bringing on board Knowles, Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League, and League's programmer, Kier-La Janisse (whose own Cinemuerte International Horror Film Festival kicks off round VII in Vancouver at the end of this month), meaning the first annual Fantastic Fest has had one of the shortest gestation times on record. No matter: With Dentler's logistical savvy, Knowles' Aint-It-Cool Tinseltown connections, Alvarado-Dykstra's unquenchable (chocolate-Silk-fueled) energy, McCanlies' financial infusions, and League's and Janisse's programming and exhibition skills, the Fantastic Fest was hurriedly shepherded through a crash version of normal preproduction, netting sponsors (Jackson Walker LLP, Milkshake Media, ME Television), filmmakers (Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez, Jon Favreau), and, most importantly, films. More than 30 of 'em.
Ah, yes, the films. Among them, Hostel, the hotly anticipated sophomore effort from Cabin Fever director Eli Roth, which will be arriving in rough-cut form minus official scoring and effects work; John Gulager's Project Greenlight offering, Feast; opening-night revelation Zathura, from Jon Favreau; and a special presentation of Richard Linklater's upcoming animated feature A Scanner Darkly.
"First and foremost, we wanted to do a festival with all the boring films cut out," Alvarado-Dykstra explains. "We wanted to do a festival where we actually want to see every single movie. And that doesn't happen too often. Our feeling was that if we could find an intersection of tastes between the six of us and had our seal of approval attached, then that would probably be something that a whole lot of other people would be interested in. Unless we're just complete freaks, which come to think of it, is not in any way mutually exclusive to what we're trying to do."
"The whole point of this kind of festival," added McCanlies during a momentary respite from his current quintet of film and television projects, "is to provide a way to see the kinds of films we don't normally see, especially a lot of the Asian stuff. There's really no great genre festivals in the U.S. like there are elsewhere. Montreal has the Fantasia Fest, Barcelona has their Sitges Fest, but there's not any great fantasy/sci-fi/horror festivals here. And Austin seems to be the best place to do that, with the Alamo, and Harry, and all the great, nutty Austin filmgoers."
Nutty, maybe, but the Alamo's commitment to the fest (and to exhibitionary niceties) had led them to ramp up their usual projection equipment with a state-of-the-art DLP projection system to accommodate Robert Rodriguez's recut Sin City trilogy, as well as Roth's Hostel and Gulager's Feast, all three of which were lensed using hi-def cameras.
Not content to merely bring in a wealth of hard-to-see contemporary genre offerings, the fest will also be screening several classic cult outsiders.
"Some of the prints are pretty rare," Janisse says. "The print of No Blade of Grass [Cornel Wilde's 1970 environmental shocker] is archival and coming from the BBC. And [Steve De Jarnatt's 1988 apocalypse love story] Miracle Mile is one of these movies that gets overlooked so much. People have probably seen the box at the video store a million times but don't realize how great a movie it is, so this was the perfect opportunity to plug in something like that."
Not to mention the only place we know of where audiences will have a chance to see the Rodriguez/Mignola/Tarantino Sin City triptych on the big screen, as well as a host of Asian mindwarpers like Takashi Shimizu's Marebito; Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse; and the genuinely freakish, if not freakishly genuine, The Fuccon Family, aka OH! Mikey, from Japanese cult director Yoshimasa Ishibashi.
Dentler: "Ultimately, for me, doing the Fantastic Fest is just another great way to bring film audiences together with filmmakers and their work. I really think it's going to be a great complement to the film landscape of Austin."