Back to IndieWire

Human BBQ, Beer Showers, Great Movies: The Fantastic Fest Oral History

Human BBQ, Beer Showers, Great Movies: The Fantastic Fest Oral History

It’s extreme understatement to say that Fantastic Fest isn’t like most film festivals. However, as the Austin-based genre festival kicks off its 10th year at Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location today, its ability to stand out in the overrun festival circuit remains its crowning achievement. Co-founded by Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League and Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, Fantastic Fest doesn’t just celebrate horror, outrageous comedy, and other outré cinema — it assembles moviegoers who celebrate those sensibilities as a community.

READ MORE: How ‘Tusk’ Ignited a Fire in Kevin Smith’s Spine

The rowdy group spends a week not only watching movies but also engaging in rambunctious debates followed by boxing matches, drunken trivia sessions, unruly karaoke performances and trips to the shooting range. The programming, a notably international selection, is hardly an afterthought — but it’s matched by an equally crazed experience.

“I was trying to create something built around my taste and sensibilities in film,” League said. “It has done that. I like the attitude people have about film. They love really challenging, bizarre, original work. There are people I only see once a year who I consider good friends now.”

As Fantastic Fest opens its 10th edition with Kevin Smith’s “Tusk,” League and several other festival regulars shared their favorite memories.


In the festival’s first year, highlights included a work-in-progress cut of “Hostel,” a sneak peek at the director’s cut of “Sin City,” and the premiere of “Zathura

TIM LEAGUE: The most significant thing from my perspective this year — and what ended up changing the festival — was the filmmaker who came on his own time because we didn’t have a travel budget. That was Eugenio Mira [with the Texas premiere of “The Birthday”]. I became really good friends with him at the festival. He had a great time and then took his film to Sitges [the genre festival that inspired Fantastic Fest]. So he became our first unofficial spokesperson. Since then, we’ve had a huge run of Spanish films at the festival, because he became this evangelist for us. And because of that, we now have a Spanish-language focus at the Fantastic market. 


Highlights included the world premiere of “Roman,” Simon
Rumley’s “The Living and the Dead,” “Firefly,” and Mel Gibson’s

LEAGUE: “Apocalypto” was crazy. Mel Gibson came and hung out for quite a bit. But the most important thing for me was the relationship with [British filmmaker] Simon Rumley. He had a great time at the festival. That ended up influencing him to write a script about Austin that eventually became “Red, White & Blue.” I agreed to let the cast and crew stay in my house, even film in my basement. 


There Will Be Blood” was a surprise secret screening at the festival, which was the de facto world premiere for the film. 

LEAGUE: I got to know Paul [Thomas-Anderson] during a retrospective in L.A. while he was editing “There Will Be Blood.” Because I worked in the oil industry, I was one of the first people who gave a shit about his accurate rendition of the early oil business. So it just happened that we were friendly and he brought the film to our festival.

That was the start of the tradition of our secret screenings. I love surprises. It’s a really fun way to get people to trust you.

It was a big period of exposure for us. That same year, Tom Quinn — who was an executive at Magnolia Pictures at the time — bought Nacho Vigalondo’s “Timecrimes” out of the festival. People started to notice us. 

TOM QUINN, RADIUS-TWC (FORMERLY MAGNOLIA): The first time I met Tim League, he had this retro blue polyester zip-up on. I’d never seen anything more ridiculous, but many drinks later I’d come to the conclusion it would look better on me with my new  — also blue — “Mirageman” t-shirt (we’d brought that film the festival that year). Fast forward to an incoherent 2 a.m. conversation: I’d finally convinced Tim to sell it to me for $200. Needless to say, my new purchase did not go over so well the following night at the New York Film Festival opening party.

SCOTT WEINBERG, FILM CRITIC AND “FANTASTIC FEUD” MODERATOR: The very first Fantastic Feud transformed into a karaoke dance party that would rival the wildest paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. My brain can only remember it in 25-second segments. 

DOR DOTSON, FILM FESTIVAL JUNKIE: Fantastic Fest changed my life. While hanging out in the tent outside of the Alamo South Lamar on the first night of the festival in 2012, a guy came up to me who’d recently started following me on Twitter. “Are you Dor?” was the first thing he asked. We sat together at many movies during the rest of the festival, and we’ll be married in April of 2015.

READ MORE: Kevin Smith’s Tusk is Completely Insane

JOE LYNCH, FILMMAKER: My first experience with Fantastic Fest was to premiere my first feature, Fox’s “Wrong Turn 2,” in 2007. You’re already going, “Wait, they made a sequel to ‘Wrong Turn'”? (They’ve made five sequels now, actually.) Or, “They played THAT at a Film Festival?” They did, and that’s only one reason why I love Fantastic Fest: They love ALL movies, not just the prestige flicks that usually saturate film festivals. I premiered my scrappy little horror movie in the same festival that played “There Will Be Blood,” “Timecrimes,” and “Son of Rambow,” to name a few that year…legit cinema, right? But they never turn their noses up to the different, the unique, the fringe…and “Wrong Turn 2” was a little of all of that wrapped up in an unassuming direct-to-video package that likely had no right or reason on paper to premiere at a film festival. But the brave programmers at Fantastic Fest embraced my little splatter love letter and the film played like gangbusters.

Being the Alamo Drafthouse, where they love to do things different, they even handed out skewers of meat during a crucial scene where the main characters are unknowingly chowing down on human BBQ, which definitely added to the fun (and squirm) factor. And what other film festival would champion the director passing wind into the microphone during his Q&A introduction? That’s how they do it at the Alamo, and I’ve been a fan for life. Since then, whenever I’ve been writing or considering new stories to tell, one question that I ALWAYS pose — like I did with my film “Everly” when I conceived it — is, “Would this rock at Fantastic Fest?.” It’s my new motto in life. 


The festival included an Ozploitation retrospective (Australian exploitation films from the ’70s and ’80s), along with a documentary about the genre, “Not Quite Hollywood,” directed by Mark Hartley. 

MARC WALKOW, SUBWAY CINEMA: During the screening of “Not Quite Hollywood,” sponsor Fosters Lager placed a giant oilcan of beer at each one of the seats in the cinema, for free. Lots of people either didn’t drink beer, or didn’t want it then (or didn’t want Fosters), so those of us who didn’t care each drank two or three of these giant cans during the show. Needless to say, it got messy and raucous, also due to the fact that the movie was amazing and fun. I actually won the “Crack a Tube” contest during the introduction, which involved shaking a Fosters can and opening it onstage to see who could get the biggest blast of foam. What other theater or film festival would not only give free beer to each of their audience members, but also mess up their theater with sprays of beer?

BRIAN UDOVICH, PRODUCER: My mind was blown in 2008 attending “100 Greatest Kills” hosted by Zack Carlson and Lars Nilsen. I saw clips from films I had no idea existed. I remember scribbling down movies titles frantically (“Riki Oh The Story of Ricki,” “Hausu”) onto the order slips at the table as Twitch Film’s Todd Brown identified every single film to me with encyclopedic knowledge. I knew I was playing cinematic chess against masters.

WALKOW: The karaoke party was held in one of the Drafthouse theaters. It was one of the most drunken, insane events I’ve ever attended here. I have a vague memory of Tim League climbing up onto a column of speakers and jumping down onto four of us who were singing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and crowds of people spraying him with champagne as he did so. 

UDOVICH: I found myself on my first day at the festival in a van loaded with filmmakers and critics (all strangers) heading 30 miles out of town for barbecue. Usually at film festivals everyone exchanges pleasantries with each other, but the conversation never gets too deep. Not here. In this van someone asked “Has anyone see film X yet?” and the van erupted into a debate. Half the van loved it. Half the van hated it. It was an electric debate and everyone in the van became friends immediately and bonded over the best barbecue I’d ever had. I was in love with this festival.


Highlights included U.K. director Ben Wheatley’s breakout debut feature “Down Terrance” and Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist.”

LEAGUE: This was our first year with FonsPR. They’ve been huge in shaping the festival. Brandy [Fons] even programs for us. She secures many of the big films, like “Nightcrawler” and “Frankenweenie.”

Each year I think of a filmmaker who I’ve got a relationship with. Ben Wheatley is a true talent. We distributed his last film, “A Field in England.” I remember how nervous he was addressing the audience for the first time. The fact that his film won the Next Wave award was very gratifying to him. On a more commercial front, it was so interesting that with “Antichrist,” after we showed it, “chaos reigns” became a kind of anthem for the festival. But what’s interesting for that was not that it became the anthem, but that this was a movie that wasn’t tested in genre circles during the festival. The enthusiasm of the response from the genre circles was insane. Everyone responded to the mixture of absurdity and the storytelling in the film. It was exciting to the sales agent and distributor to see how loud we were on the film. 

READ MORE: ‘Kill List’ Director Ben Wheatley Talks About ‘That’ Ending and Why the Film’s So Personal

NACHO VIGALONDO, DIRECTOR, “TIMECRIMES”: My favorite memory is screaming “Chaos reigns!” on stage from pure joy and drunkenness and watching it written on hundreds of T-shirts the next day!

TOM QUINN: Nacho Vigalondo any year and every single debate/fight are all priceless memories.

UDOVICH: I was part of the Fantastic Feud this year and the category I was given was “Splatter Math.”  I think the math problem I was given was: Number of “Friday the 13th”‘s plus the number of “Nightmare on Elm Street”‘s divided by the number of “Child’s Play” movies.  My team convened and came up with the right answer.  This was next level cinephilia.  

TOM QUINN: Tim League is the world’s coolest host. Another late night at the South Lamar and it’s last call. Nobody wants to go home, so leave it to Tim to come up with a plan — Impromptu whiskey party with 50 people (including Alexander Skarsgard) in the walk-in-freezer ensues. Everyone goes shirtless just to make it even cooler.


Highlights included the Sundance sleeper hit “Buried,” which featured Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin for the duration of its running time. As a promotional event for the Fantastic Fest screening, several women were “kidnapped” after signing up for a contest.

LEAGUE: The girls didn’t know what was happening. We stuck them in a van and buried them in coffins, where they watched “Buried” on TV screens. The prize was that they got to meet Ryan Reynolds. We conceived of this idea at Sundance and assumed we would never be able to pull it off because of the liability. But it was the best stunt we ever did. 

JAROD NEECE, PROGRAMMER, SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: The first thing that came to mind was Tim League’s magical intro to the opening night film, “Let Me In.” There were viking outfits and costume changes, at least one “happy birthday,” and we toasted vials of green blood. Then we transitioned to the much more low key Texas Boy’s Choir singing songs from the the film’s score and led by the film’s composer, Michael Giacchino. It was a magical night – one of many I have experienced at Fantastic Fest. 

BRANDY FONS, HEAD OF FESTIVAL PUBLICITY AND STUDIO PROGRAMMER/LIASION: When Tim League fought Michelle Rodriguez in the Fantastic Debates, she really went for it.

SIMON RUMLEY, DIRECTOR, “RED WHITE & BLUE”: Even though I’ve only been twice, one of my favorite memories is screening “Red White & Blue” and then traveling around Austin in two buses, each with a stripper pole, a bottle of tequila and about 25 friends and fans each, visiting the bar locations where we filmed. Some of those bars are sadly no longer there, but the memories remain. I ended the evening drinking Moonshine with the Butcher Brothers at about five in the morning.


Michael Roskam’s “Bullhead” won several categories in the Next Wave section of the festival. Drafthouse’s newly launched distribution arm picked up the film and launched a successful campaign to get it nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. 

LEAGUE: It was during the festival that we closed the deal on Michael’s film. We had released “Four Lions” and had taken a break as a company. This was the first time we were really working as a team. At the same time, we heard that the Dardenne brothers had been passed over for Belgium’s Oscar submission [for “The Kid With the Bike”]. It was going to be “Bullhead” instead. That all happened during Fantastic Fest. 


The anthology horror film “The ABC’s of Death,” co-produced by League and Ant Timpson, screened at the festival. 

LEAGUE: The whole concept for that movie was born out of Fantastic Fest. It’s crazy. And now we’ve made a sequel. 

ANT TIMPSON, PRODUCER, “ABC’S OF DEATH”: The impromptu and cringe-worthy moment was when Je$$ica — the Japanese actress from our “The ABC’s of Death” — disrobed during the Q&A and did a strange dance to no music. My wife told me I’d hit a new low point in my career afterwards.

ADRIAN GARCIA BOGLIANO, FILMMAKER: My film “Here Comes the Devil” wins all the awards from Horror Category. That was quite a surprise, because I would never thought that would be possible. The best of it was that Barbara Crampton was on the jury for that category — I’m a huge fan of her — and she gave me those awards. I had to chug all those beers [prize-winners at Fantastic Fest must chug beer from their trophies] because the actors weren’t there — but thankfully, Barbara and Tim League were there to help me.

BRANDY FONS: We booked the world premiere of “Frankenweenie” and had an all DOG/OWNER screening/red carpet with the whole cast and Tim Burton. That was crazy. We painted the outside of the Lamar for it, too.

We also did a secret screening of “Cloud Altas” with the Wachowskis as secret guests, who then partied with us at the Highball.


Highlights included “Blue Ruin” and a rowdy “Cheap Thrills” Q&A that included an audience member getting a tattoo. 

ZACK CARLSON, ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE/FANTASTIC FEST COORDINATOR: Though I’ve been with Fantastic Fest since the beginning, my favorite Fantastic Fest moment was only last year, at the 2013 festival. We did an event called “Danger Gods,” where the four most legendary, indestructible stuntmen of the 1970s got together and relived all of their greatest jumps, crashes, smashes and fiery detonations. This was done with video clips and hilarious, crazy anecdotes. BUT…we then all went out to the theater parking lot, where they actually flipped exploding cars and jumped off the roof while on fire. Note: Three of these guys are in their 80s. It was a heroic testament to the power of actual, pre-CGI stuntwork, and a night that none of us will forget.

ROXANNE BENJAMIN, PRODUCER, SNOOT PRODUCTIONS: Out of all the festivals — genre or otherwise — Fantastic Fest is the one I look forward to most each year. For one thing, you get to see your L.A. filmmaker friends more over Fantastic Fest week than you ever do in L.A.…But more importantly, Tim and Karrie League and the whole Fantastic Fest and Drafthouse teams open their homes and pour their blood and guts (sometimes quite literally) into making this festival a home for the international genre film community. It’s more of a Fantastic Family Reunion for genre filmmakers, producers, and festival programmers from around the world — it’s truly a film-lover’s festival. That also involves karaoke and barbecue and at some point a shirtless Nacho Vigalando. There’s nothing else like it. 

LEAGUE: For me, it was all about getting to know the director of “Almost Human” [Joe Begos]. He was just so into the festival and had this debut feature film. He and the cast stayed the whole time and they’re coming back now for the whole thing without a film because they believe in this community. Josh introduced a new tradition that we’re bringing back this year — “Milton Shots.” You take shots of whiskey and slap people. Now we’re doing it in a bigger way with slo-mo replays. 

QUINN: Fantastic Fest is the festival that is nearest and dearest to me in so many ways both personally and professionally. It represents the kinds of films, fans, and filmmakers that I admire and love most. It’s also the best time you’ll have all year long. 

LEAGUE: My hope is that we can find financing for people to bring their films here. We’ve invited a film to the festival that was at last year’s Fantastic market, a South American feature called “The Incident.” I think we’re an incredible place to launch a film. Our audience is loud, connected and passionate. We like to think we can go the extra mile and build enthusiasm around our films. That’s our role.

READ MORE: How Jeremy Saulnier Went From Corporate Videos to Making ‘Blue Ruin’

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox