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Fantastic Fest Screenings of ‘The Square’ and Newly Unearthed Ed Wood Porn Film Draw Further Attention to Embattled Festival

The festival made some questionable programming choices, although they're not without defenders.

“The Square”

Last week, Austin’s annual Fantastic Fest bowed under a cloud that stemmed from the secret re-hiring of former Birth.Movies.Death. editor-in-chief Devin Faraci by Drafthouse founder Tim League and the continuing fallout of accusations directed at co-founder Harry Knowles. As the beloved genre festival kicks into its second half, it continues to draw attention for programming choices that reportedly left audience members on edge.

Over the weekend, Fanstastic Fest attendee Kim Sherman took to Instagram to share her experience with a Saturday afternoon showing of Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’or winner “The Square,” an event capped by a post-screening stunt that didn’t strike Sherman and other audience members as a wise choice.

Sherman wrote that, after the film concluded, “They asked us to remain seated after the film while they brought a ‘special guest’ into the room. Then they brought out an actor from the film to recreate the tension from one of the film’s most unsettling moments. It was enough to just have him enter the room. We all froze and watched him pace and stare us down. And then the actor in full character started throwing chairs, and then glasses at people.”

The actor in question was Terry Notary, a star of “The Square” and a lauded stuntman and motion-capture actor whose work has previously been on display in films like “King Kong” and the newest “Planet of the Apes.” In the film, Notary’s character — Oleg, a Swedish artist — breaks into ape-like behavior during a fancy dinner. In the film, it’s deeply unsettling and strange. That seemed to translate directly to the in-theater experience, and not in a positive way.

Sherman added, “As a pregnant woman, who has also witnessed very real violence by men, I did find myself becoming increasingly nervous/protective of myself and baby, and the people I was with.”

But Sherman also draws attention to a larger issue: Fantastic Fest isn’t in a position to throw wild, purposely uncomfortable events for an audience that’s already in turmoil.

As Sherman wrote, “More importantly, when it first started to escalate I thought ‘this situation requires an audience to trust that this festival is looking out for its audience, and won’t let this stunt get out of hand’ [sic]. But as I listened to some of the men in the audience nervously laugh at the tension, and watched the actor cross more boundaries and become more authentically destructive/violent for the sake of a bit, I was stunned that the fest thought they could ask this of an audience right now.”

You can see her full post below.

A post shared by Kim Sherman (@kimbototron) on

The fest’s annual secret screening also drew some social-media ire for showing Ed Wood’s 1970 softcore porno feature “Take It Out In Trade,” which has rarely been seen and never been available on home video.

At the Q&A at the end of the screening, an audience member asked why the festival would choose to show a pornographic film given the current situation at the festival. Lisa Petrucci of Something Weird, an indie film distributor that helped bring the film to Fantastic Fest, answered the question, and gave the person the opportunity to talk in greater length after the screening, despite initial reports to the contrary.

Later, Petrucci issued a statement:

“On behalf of Something Weird, I stand behind AGFA’s (American Genre Film Archive) decision to screen Ed Wood Jr.’s long lost film ‘Take It Out in Trade’ (1970) at the Secret Screening on Sunday, September 24. The film is historically important in that it was a long lost Ed Wood Jr. feature film, and the last one that he made before his death in 1978. Wood was reduced to making low-budget adult motion pictures and writing paperback smut. ‘Take It Out in Trade’ is a classic example of late 1960s sexploitation cinema. It’s also outlaw cinema, much like a John Waters film. The laws at this time allowed full frontal nudity in movie theaters. What was shown to audiences at the Secret Screening was NOT hardcore pornography (by definition meaning there was no actual or even implied penetration or oral to genital contact). Any one of us has seen just as much nudity and simulated sexual activity on premium cable television network. What I find alarming and hypocritical is that nobody seems to bat an eyelash at gratuitous violence and gore, and in fact a few of the films featured at this year’s Fantastic Fest are promoted for their ultra-violent over-the-top content. Which is fine if that’s what you want to watch. But sadly the mere sight of a naked female being silly and seemingly having fun or in the throes of sexual pleasure makes some people uncomfortable.

I am a film historian and preservationist. I’m also a woman and a feminist. I have watched and written about hundreds of sixties sexploitation films, many directed by women like Doris Wishman and Roberta Findlay. In my opinion, choosing to be in one of these underground films during that time was a brave and feminist decision. What audiences witnessed yesterday was a pop cultural time capsule, chock full of changing attitudes towards sexuality and nudity. If anything, ‘Take It Out in Trade’ is a thematically progressive adult motion picture. There’s a sexually androgynous married couple who are presented in a positive light. Even Ed Wood Jr. allows himself to be filmed in full drag (a state in which he was most his true self). And the actresses appear joyful and enthusiastic in their roles, not victimized. In fact the women get the last laugh in the end. I would put this film in the same category as ‘Multiple Maniacs’ and ‘Pink Flamingos,’ and those are cult arthouse classics.

AGFA’s Joe Ziemba gave an excellent and heartfelt introduction to ‘Take It Out in Trade.’ He also explained to the audience what they were about to see. And anyone who was offended could have left the theatre at any time. So, it’s not fair or right to accuse AGFA for insensitivity. This was hardly the case. I can vouch for these guys, they are some of the most thoughtful and genuinely sincere people I’ve ever worked with. They worked hard on this restoration and many people in the audience were thrilled and excited to be amongst the first to see this movie in over 40 years. And I would go as far as to say that the screening was historically significant and I am proud to be associated with AGFA and Alamo Drafthouse.”

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