When Fantastic Fest kicks off today in Austin, it will open without at least one long-time supporter: the influential fan site Ain’t It Cool News has been dropped as a sponsor, and founder Harry Knowles will not be attending the festival. The move is the latest development in the still-unfurling Alamo Drafthouse controversy surrounding the re-hiring of former Birth.Movies.Death editor-in-chief Devin Faraci after he was accused of sexual assault last year.
Knowles confirmed the decision in a phone call with IndieWire today, adding that it seemed like the right thing to do, and that Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League would be sitting out the festival as well.
“I’m minding the store this time,” he said, noting that the site would have writers covering the festival. “I’ll be able to get stories up on time — silver linings, you know?”
He added that his decision was partly motivated by accusations about his own activity. “There was a rumor about me and an ex-girlfriend that felt ugly,” he said. “They’re a complete fabrication and lie.” He said he would “address the rumors on the other side of Fantastic Fest.”
Knowles also acknowledged the widely circulated statements by former international programmer Todd Brown, who resigned from the festival when it was reported that Faraci was still being paid to work there. “Anyone who has ever suggested that Fantastic Fest and the Drafthouse is just the geek friendly equivalent of the classic Old Boys Club, you have just been proven correct,” Brown wrote.
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Asked about Brown’s statement, Knowles said, “As for any lascivious boys-club activity, I don’t understand that. I’m the guy who tries to see a movie [at all times]. I try to stay away from the parties, I’m in a wheelchair, plus I’m married. I’m not out trying to get laid. I never witnessed any boys-clubby type stuff.”
Alamo Drafthouse head Tim League has repeatedly apologized for his choice to re-hire Faraci after he left the Drafthouse-owned movie news site Birth.Movies.Death last year. “Tim needs to address some of the statements he’s made, and he’s doing that,” Knowles said. “Devin removing himself [from the organization] is a good thing.”
Knowles was an original founder of the festival and has been a vocal supporter of it since its creation in 2005. In years past, AICN has both covered the festival as an outlet and supported it as a sponsor. Knowles and AICN frequently hosted secret screenings at festival, and the site also runs the annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon screening event at the Alamo Drafthouse.
The departure of Knowles and AICN came just hours before the event opens at the Drafthouse’s South Lamar location. The site’s banner was dropped from Fantastic Fest’s website earlier in the week. Reps for Fantastic Fest and the Alamo Drafthouse did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
In light of the controversy, Fox Searchlight decided to pull Martin McDonagh’s new film “Three Billboards Oustide Ebbing, Missouri” from the festival last week.