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DISPATCH FROM AUSTIN | Fantastic Fest Comes Of Age

DISPATCH FROM AUSTIN | Fantastic Fest Comes Of Age

In a Fantastic Fest opening night Q&A for the US Premiere of his new comedy “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” in Austin’s downtown Paramount Theater last Thursday, director Kevin Smith reminisced about the first time he decided he wanted to make films. “It was actually when I saw Richard Linklater‘s ‘Slacker.’ I said, ‘if this counts as a movie and this guy can do that in fucking Nowheresville, USA,” Smith joked ironically, “then I can do that.'”

It’s not hard for one to speculate the causes for Fantastic Fest’s monumental amount of growth in the past year. Between the number of distributors that have opened up to releasing genre films and being noted publicly by Variety President Charles Koone as being one of the ten festivals that they love, Austin’s premiere genre film expose, perhaps best known for world premiering last year’s best picture nominee, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “There Will Be Blood,” has certainly broken out of the “fanboy” shell and caught the attention of the outside world. And now as another September rolls around, Fantastic Fest has come of age. It’s back, bigger and better than ever and between it and SXSW, Austin will never again be “Nowheresville, USA” in the film world.

One of the hottest tickets for the fest was the premiere of the highly anticipated “Repo! The Genetic Opera.” In this unique offering from director Darren Lynn Bousman, the mad mind behind the last three “Saw” sequels, we are presented with a disturbing vision of the future in which organ transplants are used as corporate leverage in a capitalist society and can be repossessed if the mortgage payments are not on schedule. Switching gears to generate a campy cult value in his pet project, Bousman presents us with an almost entirely computer generated goth-pop musical, save for the all star cast featuring Paul Sorvino, Paris Hilton and Broadway legend Sarah Brightman, who was reflected upon fondly by composer/supporting player Terrence Zdunich in a post screening Q&A. “What’s really cool about Sarah, and I never would have guessed this, is in real life she’s totally goth.” The addition of the film to the program generated so much interest that the festival had to add an extra screening which was generously populated with repeat viewers, placing “Repo!” well on its way to becoming the next “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Also on the bill was a special screening of Kyle Newman‘s “Fanboys.” “It’s been a long time coming,” noted Ain’t It Cool News Founder and Fantastic Fest Programmer Harry Knowles in a gleeful introduction. “Ten years ago I was sent the script for this movie.” A period piece set in December of 1998, “Fanboys” follows the adventures of four “Star Wars” crazed teenagers who go a quest to break into the Lucasfilm ranch and steal a print of “The Phantom Menace,” in the hopes of seeing it before any other fan in the world. Knowles, who is also a character in the film, reflected on some of the misadventures the production has taken. “At one point, I was even going to play myself.” Now in its final interaction, “Fanboys” is slated for a Weinstein Company release later this year.

A scene from Fantastic Fest Audience Award winner, Ji-Woon Kim’s “The Good, The Bad and the Weird.” Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest.

Perhaps the most special event, however, was the presentation of a series of shorts by fest poster boy Nacho Vigalondo, the director of “Timecrimes,” a 2007 Fantastic Fest world premiere that went on to be purchased by Magnolia Pictures and play the Sundance Film Festival. Vigalondo’s idiosyncratic sense of humor and innovation was perfectly showcased in this program of short works, which included the zany science-fiction spoof “Code 7,” the hilariously depressing “Gremlins 3” and the Academy Award-nominated “7:35 in the Morning.” The presentation was rounded off with behind-the-scenes of footage of a particularly gruesome vomiting sequence and uproarious interludes from Vigalondo himself, which ranged from being explanations of the coming films to spectacles of circus tricks involving honey and confetti.

When it came to heralding in the top prizes at Monday night’s awards ceremony, however, it wasn’t the premieres that mattered so much as the quality of filmmaking. Drawing a line in the sand between the industry mining un-bought gems and the seasoned Fantastic Fest veterans, the juries all chose to honor modern genre classics from major festivals around the world. Among the top winners were Tomas Alfredson’s brilliant child-vampire tale, “Let the Right One In,” Ji-Woon Kim‘s action packed western, “The Good, The Bad and The Weird,” and Anders Ronnow Klarlund‘s biting social satire, “How to Get Rid of the Others.”

But, for the most part, there was something for everyone and the greatest meeting of the two worlds, the curious industry first-timers and the die-hard genre alums, was Saturday night’s premiere of Eduardo Sanchez‘s “Seventh Moon,” a piece of classic horror fare starting Amy Smart and Tim Chiou. Buyers and geeks alike clamored into their seats as the longtime home and co-business venture of Fantastic Fest, The Alamo Drafthouse, put their signature touch on the screening by offering a custom designed Chinese meal featuring a roasted pig that was presented to the audience in an appropriate introduction for this often terrifying tale of a young couple honeymooning in Hong Kong who find themselves trapped in a deserted forest late one night where they are stalked by a clan of mysterious, bloodthirsty creatures. Sanchez, often noted for co-directed “The Blair Witch Project” along with Daniel Myrick, spoke in a Q&A about the challenges of the shoot. “The biggest problem is that in Hong Kong,” Sanchez remarked, “it’s very densely populated. So it’s hard to make it look like they’re in the middle of nowhere.”

One could say the same for Fantastic Fest these days, with the growing number of events and badge holders. But let’s get one thing straight: The buyer/press/industry presence may be bigger, the attendance may be sky rocketing so far through the roof that the festival has expanded to two more venues, and the private, insider, daily, rowdy, no-holds-barred parties may have become zoos where audiences can watch the ultimate nerdy arguments between festival guests, but, for the better, Fantastic Fest won’t really ever grow up. With its seven convenient screening slots a day, its maximum opportunity for filmmaker/audience interaction and its sheer dedication to everything fun and outrageous, the festival still manages to keep the addictively casual atmosphere that its boy-at-heart founder Tim League has managed to maintain with the Alamo Drafthouse. For all those present, it is the ultimate pampering.

The Full List of Winners at 2008 Fantastic Fest

Bloodshots 48 Hour Filmmaking Contest:
Team: Scottish Rite Productions
Film: “Meet the Maydays
Team Capt – Drew Thomas

Fantastic Fest Bumper Contest:
Team: Yer Dead
Film: “Report Card
Team Capt – Jason Eisener

Animated Shorts:
First Place: “Bernie’s Doll
Second Place: “Muto
Third Place: “Violeta
Special Jury Award for Technical Merit: “Facts In The Case Of Mr. Hollow

Fantastic Shorts:
First Place: “The Object
Second Place: “Spandex Man
Third Place: “Stagman
Special Jury Award for Visual Invention: “Rojo Red

Horror Shorts:
First Place:. “Electric Fence
Second Place: “I Love Sarah Jane
Third Place: “El Senor Puppe
Special Jury Award for sheer enjoyability: “The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon

Fantastic Features:
First Place: “How To Get Rid Of The Other
Second Place: “Cargo 200
Third Place: “Ex Drummer
Special Jury Award for originality and vision: “Santos

Horror Features:
First Place: “Let The Right One In
Second Place: “Acolytes
Third Place: “Donkey Punch
Special Jury Award for most politically incorrect gore: “Feast 2
Special Jury Award for best use of latex: “Jack Brooks Monster Slayer

Audience Award:
First Place: “The Good, The Bad and the Weird
Second Place: “Chocolate
Third Place: “JCVD

AMD Fantastic Fest Online:
Best Feature Film: “South of Heaven
Best Short Film: “Treevenge

AMD Next Wave:
First Place: “Tokyo Gore Police
Second Place: “Deadgirl
Third Place: “Le Creme

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