My favorite film festival of the year is back, Fantastic Fest, bringing to Austin once again an intricately curated selection of international horror, action, thriller, and science fiction. Of all the festivals in town, no one else traverses the Globe to find gems and bring them to town like Fantastic Fest. There’re only a few films in the program that I have even heard of, let alone seen at another festival. There is also a good deal of trust that has to go into making your schedule at Fantastic Fest, because most of the plot descriptions don’t really tell you all that much about the film. They more sort of set the mood, which is usually dark.
This year’s festival includes a few high-profile films like the upcoming Ridley Scott Matt Damon film “The Martian” and the Kurt Russell starring “Bone Tomahawk, but if you are spending the week at Fantastic Fest, you will see on a lot of films that may never make it to a theatrical release in the United States of America. In fact I would urge you to avoid the big names and seek out the shadows in the corners of the fest.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!
Take in the whole experience. There’s more than film at Fantastic Fest. There are debates, live band karaoke, fantastic feuds, nerd rap, trivia, and a giant arcade. There is no other festival that I can think of that has so much going on. You could go to the entirety of Fantastic Fest without ever seeing a movie. Don’t do that, But I’m just saying if possible.
The ticketing system is your friend. If you have a badge, you will be able to make all your selections the day before, and not wonder if you will see a particular film you were very excited about. And everyone with a badge is guaranteed a seat at a screening in that particular slot, an idea I stole for my own Other Worlds Austin Sci Fi Film Festival, because it’s so freaking brilliant.
Be ready for a week in the Drafthouse. And I do mean draft. The theaters, if they are not full, are often freezing. Wear long pants. Bring a jacket. You can always take the jacket off. Also be kind to those around you. Bathe, use deodorant. Change your clothes every once a while. Just because we’re all stuck in the same building for eight days, doesn’t mean it has to smell like it.
Remember you have other options for food. Drafthouse food is great but it’s going to get old after the second day. With more restaurants in the area than last year, you should be able to find some exciting alternatives. Plus your seat for whatever screening you’re about to attend is guaranteed see you don’t have to wait in long lines like you might at SXSW or AFF to be sure you see the film. Another great option is to bring a lunch in a lunchbox and eat it in your car. You might enjoy some me time away from the mob.
Everyone there loves the same kind of movies that you do. Make new friends, argue about what you just saw, share an Uber to a good barbecue place. Fantastic Fest filmgoers are a special breed. They don’t mind reading subtitles for 10 hours straight. They don’t mind watching films with talking mold. And they probably don’t even mind hearing about your Collection of THE PLANET OF THE APES action figures. They may even make an offer. Take advantage of this. Eventually you have to go back to the real world where everyone thinks we’re weird.
CAN'T MISS PICKS
Anomalisa – is the name Charlie Kaufman about to be synonymous with stop motion animation? This film about a man in a hopelessly unfulfilling job finding a new chance for joy sounds like the kind of story Kaufman excels at, in a new format that should keep some of his idiosyncrasies (like the extremely bloated and overwrought Synecdoche) at bay. With yet another unpronounceable title, Kaufman looks to add to his legacy as one of the most creative minds working in film today.
Assassination Classroom – one of the most fun films I saw at Fantasia, this light-hearted Science fiction coming of age story pits a classroom of misfits against a teacher from another world hell-bent at destroying our planet. If the students can kill him first, which he is trying to train them to do, we are all saved. This Japanese comedy should be a good pallet cleanser after the gore and grime that many of the other films in the program should offer up.
The Brand New Testament
– I find one of the funniest things on earth to be religion: groups of people creating rules about how to live, looking askance at other groups of people creating their own rules about how to live. This crowd-pleaser from Cannes centers on God’s daughter, who is fed up with how God oversees the world and runs away from home to create her own testament. Along the way she manages to tell everyone exactly when they are going to die. Which certainly causes a bit of upheaval to the way God had it planned. And hilarity ensues.
Camino – a photojournalist discovers a bit more than she bargained for after she snaps a photo of something she wasn’t meant to see in the jungle in Colombia. Starring action and ass-kicking heroine Zoe Bell, Camino promises to be a lot of running and fighting like director Josh Waller’s last film RAZE. The added bonus here is Nacho Vigalondo, a Fantastic Fest favorite as a director, chewing scenery as the villain.
Darling – Mickey Keating made quite a debut with his SXSW film POD, a snowy slow burn turned barely contained chaos in the third act about a man with an alien in his basement. His new film, a black-and-white haunted house story about a woman hired on as caretaker of the oldest home in New York, promises a different kind of terror. Let’s just be clear, when you find an odd necklace with an upside down cross on it, it’s time to find a new job. The film also reunites Keating with Pod cast members Lauren Ashley Carter and Brian Morvant.
Follow – Owen Egerton, known to Austin audiences as a founding member of Master Pancake and MC at the Fantastic Debates, makes his feature film debut with the story of a Christmas present with dangerous effects. Shot in Austin just this last May, the film is based on two of Egerton’s short stories from How Best To Avoid Dying. The film peaks in at a couple that rents a house from a kindly old man next door. When Quinn returns from work, his girlfriend has a present waiting for him. She is acting weird but before he can figure it out, he blacks out. When he wakes up, everything is different.
Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier made my top 10 list last year with his revenge thriller Blue Ruin. He and Macon Blair (star of Blue Ruin) return with what is being billed as an ultra violent and accomplished siege thriller (is that a thing? Panic Room? The Purge? Okay, I guess it is) about a struggling punk band that takes a gig at a bar infested with backwoods neo-Nazis. I really don’t know much more except that Captain Picard is in it and it looks freaking amazing.
Lazer Team – When Austin-based web creators Rooster Teeth raised $2.4 million for their first feature film, funding their indiegogo campaign 382%, the gauntlet had been thrown, whether they intended it or not. This live action sci-fi comedy entrusts our safety as a planet to four morons, each armed with one piece of intergalactic battle armor. With the silliness we rarely get in films these days (Turbo Kid being the only reason example I can think of), Lazer Team looks to bring a new crowd of fans to the already popular Rooster Teeth legion.
The Similars – Last year director Isaac Ezban delivered one of the most beguiling films of the entire festival, The Incident, the story of two groups of people stuck in two different places in a never-ending loop. It had one of the most amazing shots I have ever seen. He has his work cut out for him to top that film but he will try with this new story set in 1968 about eight characters waiting for a bus at a bus station in the middle of nowhere. Are they strangers? Are they connected somehow? And why are they foaming at the mouth in the trailer? I can’t wait to find out.
Victoria – The long single take has always been a gimmick. It was when Alfred Hitchcock utilized it in 10 minutes increments in The Rope. It was when it was only one thing worth watching in the Nicholas Cage movie Snake Eyes. It was when the art house snooze fest Russian Arc picked up a bunch of accolades for essentially being somebody’s home movie of a trip to a museum. None of it matters if there isn’t a good story. Victoria is a good story. It is also a 140 minute long single take. It’s not a bunch of people standing around talking. There scenes in dance clubs, in moving cars, up and down stairs, it’s really pretty amazing. But it wouldn’t matter all if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a great heist film with very well drawn characters. Yes, this is one of the films at Fantastic Fest that I’ve actually seen, and one I absolutely wouldn’t miss out on to see again.
Fantastic Fest opening Thursday September 24th and Runs through October 1st.
Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.