FANTASTIC FEST

If it's September, it's time to head south to Texas and Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin for seven days of films, fantastic southern hospitality and amazing events.  Follow Ian and Paul, plus heaps of well know genre faces as they fill you in on the goings-ons at the best little genre film festival in the USA.

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  • DAY ONE  |  IT'S AUSTIN JIM, BUT NOT AS I KNOW IT

     

    DAY ONE  -  IT'S AUSTIN JIM, BUT NOT AS I KNOW IT

    Hello, and Welcome to the latest series of FrightFest postcards, this time from a not so sunny and a little bit sodden Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. The event kicked off last night with a red carpet event for writer/director Kevin Smith's new film TUSK. Based on an idea that seemingly came up in one of his famous Smodcast podcasts, the film stars Michael Parks and Justin Long. Long plays a full of himself snarky podcaster who heads off to Manitoba to interview the star of a viral YouTube video, only to find that the trip doesn't quite go as expected. Instead he is lured into the strange secluded home of an old man named Howard Howe. The scene-stealing Parks is deliciously deranged as Howe. Claiming to be an old man of the sea, he regales Wallace with tales including an encounter with Ernest Hemingway. Howe has a healthy appetite for loquaciousness and a decidedly unhealthy fascination with walruses.

    I have never been a huge fan of Smith's movies, CLERKS aside, but I did enjoy TUSK. It runs out of ideas towards the end, but it's a difficult film to forget. After the screening both Smith and Long entertained us with a hilarious Q&A that went a little way towards me reassessing what I had always thought about Smith.

    One of the great things about coming here to Austin and Fantastic Fest is catching up with my festival friends and many familiar FrightFest faces. With a 5 PM start to the films, the day got off to an early start, with the industry mixer. The list of people I ran into is as long as my arm, and I won't bore you with all of the names. However, there was the lovely Ailsa Scott. FrightFest regular and all-round super nice person: she was getting stuck into a pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale. Todd Brown, one of the people behind the genre powerhouse production and sales company XYZ. Todd won't mind me telling you that he is not the man that he used to be, having slimmed down from his former self. Todd, you look so much better for it. There was also proud new dad - I lost count of the amount of times that he flashed the new arrival’s picture on his iPhone, and many times FrightFest attendee, Joe Lynch. Joe is here to support his new Selma Hayek starring film EVERLY. The list just goes on and on. Good times.

    With the event back in its traditional home, I’m staying at the Extended Stay America Hotel in central Austin again. It's the nearest hotel to the cinema and is a pleasant 20-minute walk each way. It's one of those hotels in which the room is a little bit bigger than the norm, and you get a mini kitchen with a microwave, oven and a fridge, and you look after yourself. There is what they call a Grab and Go breakfast available which consists of coffee and muffins.

    In past years, others staying here have regaled me with stories about uninvited guests in their rooms. It's something I've never been bothered with; that was until this year. The uninvited guests are in the form of these one inch black creepy crawly bugs for the want of a better word. I woke up this morning to find two running around the floor of my bathroom and spent the next 10 minutes trying to get rid of them. After losing my patience, I flattened them a flushed them down the loo.  Considering the humid heat here I think that they are completely harmless, but I will see if they return and I have to indulge in a daily morning dance of destruction to get rid of them.

    The final film of the day for me in the opening lineup was the world premiere of ABCS OF DEATH 2. The follow-up to last year's anthology based on letters of the alphabet.  16 directors from the 26 featured shorts in the film were in attendance, which as you can imagine, led to an ever so slightly chaotic Q&A. Talk about herding cats. It was all very good-natured, and a lot of fun.

    The idea behind ABCS OF DEATH I always thought was a brave one. Giving 26 filmmakers a lump of cash and allowing them to go off and make a three-minute film with no other instructions other than  base it on a letter of the alphabet, was inviting trouble. While there were some fantastic contributions, the final result was a little bit hit and miss. The good news is this second anthology is a step in the right direction. While the basic idea is similar, this time filmmakers have been given a word as opposed to a letter. It’s obvious that there has been a little bit more quality control. Personal highlights from the collection where A IS FOR AMATEUR, starring our very own Andy Nyman, G FOR GRANDAD and Z IS FOR ZYGOTE.

    Enough from me for the meantime. It is just a little after noon, and it's time to start thinking of getting some lunch. Once fed, I will be heading off to the Drafthouse to see one of the films that I'm most looking forward to seeing this week, Mark Hartley's documentary ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS.

    Until next time.

    Ian.

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  • DAY TWO  |  BUGS AND THUNDER!

     

    DAY TWO  -  BUGS AND THUNDER!

    Yes as Ian mentioned in his postcard the weather has been mixed to say the least - with floods and severe weather warnings - but that all adds to the drama and fun. And as far as the bug situation goes I have discovered exactly one per day in our room, though locals assure me they're crickets and not cockroaches (phew).

    Enough of that, on to the festival itself. As you may know Fantastic Fest is celebrating its 10th year - and what a celebration it's turning out to be. The first eight years of the festival were spent at the Alamo Drafthouse's South Lamar location, but it was knocked down to be redeveloped - which took longer than anticipated (in a usual builders style - think Leicester Square renovations...) so last year the event was held in the much further northern Austin Drafthouse theatre, but this year as is only right and proper the festival has made a triumphant return to its original location. With more screens, more space, and more karaoke rooms at the Highball, Fantastic Fest has come back home.

    I've watched a good selection of films so far - here's a whistlestop rundown. TUSK was OK; THE ABC'S OF DEATH 2 was a stronger piece than the first with a much higher good to excellent ratio and a lot of stand-out segments - no spoilers as to which ones; THE HIVE I was not taken with: it's an odd horror/SF/ thriller mis-mash which was too convoluted to work despite some impressive visuals. CREEPING GARDEN is a festival oddity: a documentary about slime mould - yes, I now know everything I ever wanted to know about this unusual subject courtesy of directors Jasper Sharp and Tim Graham. ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS, the new doc from Mark Hartley (NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD/MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED), delivered the candid insight goods into the extraordinary history of the Cannon group...expect fantastic clips, jaw-dropping interviews and amazing revelations - unmissable.

    Today is another packed schedule with Peter (BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO) Strickland's THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY and Joe Lynch's eagerly awaited Salma Hayek-starring EVERLY amongst many other titles.

    And then it's on to the Fantastic Feuds, a Texan BBQ and lots of meetings...it is crazy but it is also FANTASTIC...and the only place on Earth to be if you are a film fan.

    Until next time...God Bless America and Fantastic Fest!

    Paul

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  • DAY FOUR | INTO THE SWING

     

    DAY FOUR - INTO THE SWING

    Fantastic Fest is now in full swing. The films in the festival play twice and by tomorrow, Monday, all will have played at least once. Today, Sunday, for me, in particular, it was one of the highlights of the festival. Buger the films, it was time for the annual run out to Lockhart, about an hours drive away from Austin, for the barbeque lunch.

    Each year growing numbers of filmmakers and attendees queue up to catch the shuttle buses to join this annual excursion. We all head off to Smitty's, who claim that the open fire by which all their succulent and tender meat is cooked has never gone out in over 100 years. That may even be true, but the bottom line is that the food is wonderful. There are no plates: no forks or knives: you just sit down at a table with your food on a bit brown paper in front of you. That's your plate. You take it to the dispensary, select your ribs, sausages or brisket and take it back to your table and eat with your hands. The meat is so tender and succulent; it just melts in your mouth. As I said one of the great highlights a Fantastic Fest which I try never to miss.

    As wonderful as my lunch was, I know you don't care, what you want to know about are the films.  OK, I'll get on with it.  WHEN ANIMALS DREAM for which the programme notes were written by our own Evrim Ersoy. I have to say I was blown away by WHEN ANIMALS DREAM. In a straight to the point 81-minute re-evaluation of werewolf films. I was blind sided by this. Evrim says in his notes that it reverse engineers the great Universal classics. I would go further. It blows them out of the water and invites others to pick up the ball an run with it. It combines a coming-of-age film, what it's like to live in a small town when you are different with a subtle rather than in your face we are trying to do things different film. I went in coloured by preconceptions, always a mistake, and was impressed by it.

    Next up was IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE. Continuing my fascination with Norwegian cinema, all I needed to know about this film was the country of origin, and I was there. One day I will tell you about my previous obsession with Australian cinema. Anyway, back to the matters at hand. IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE stars Stellan Skarsgard as Nils,  a snow plough driver. Learning of his son's death he feels something isn't quite right. Looking into it deeper, he finds out some info that sets him on an unexpected path. This is a cold revenge thriller, with some real dead-pan black humour set against the cold white out winter countryside of North Norway.

    Finally, it was Joe Lynch's much anticipated Selma Hayek starring EVERLY. It didn't disappoint. Everly had been taken off of the streets and turned into a plaything for big boss Taiko, but in the hope of getting out, she turns police informant. Set in one room, the talk at the post-film Q&A was about the film with its Christmas setting being DIE HARD with a female lead. It was, but is wasn't. With a script by Yale Hannon, influence by pretty much every film under the sun, I don't go with that. Setting it in one room, with most of the out of room action seen on CCTV cameras, it might have given it a wee bit of a claustrophobic feeling. But with lashings of black humour, especially in the first half of the film, and waves of new foes to see off, the film never feels stale. In my opinion, this is a huge step up for Lynch, leaving behind a pretty impressive body count. Hayek makes a convincing heroine, who between you and I, I don't want to meet on a dark night when she is pissed off.

    Until next time.

    Ian

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  • DAY FIVE | GOING NATIVE

     

    DAY FIVE - GOING NATIVE

    Hello from Austin, where I've managed to stop watching films for just long enough to do my laundry and go pick up a pair of cowboy boots (I'm going native), as well as to bring you the news from Day Six of Fantastic Fest here at the Alamo Drafthouse. Last night we witnessed the Fantastic Awards Ceremony, an awards show like no other, at which all winners are required to chug a pint of beer live on stage as they pick up their awards. The big winner of the night was ALLELUIA, which you may remember from last month's FrightFest and which picked up best actor, actress, director and picture in the feature films category, but it was great to see so many different genres and filmmakers from so many different countries represented, and that's what I'm loving the most about this festival: it's the most diverse, experimental, boundary-crossing experience I could have imagined. Slasher pics not for you? No problem; try the animated shorts, or Peter Strickland's lavishly-imagined DUKE OF BURGUNDY, or the documentary CREEPING GARDEN, which provides a guide to the mysterious and fascinating (really) world of slime mould.

    Almost all of my favourites so far have been wholly or partially in languages which I don't speak. MAN FROM RENO is a stylish new-noir thriller set in San Francisco with a largely Japanese cast, though Pepe Serna is terrific as the local sheriff (and also distinguished himself a couple of nights ago by winning the rap-off in the Highball Bar, proving he's as versatile as he is talented). In ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is a brilliantly funny Scandinavian tale of murder, drugs deals and attempted kidnappings; NO MAN'S LAND is a stunning and brutal Chinese picture set in landscape so remote and fantastic that it looks like it was shot on another planet; Takeshi Miike's OVER YOUR DEAD BODY marks a return to pure horror for this skilled director and is sumptuously beautiful and pleasingly twisted. The one that stands out above them all, though, is Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's THE TRIBE, which features an exclusively deaf cast and is told completely in sign language, with no voiceover or subtitles. It's incredibly bleak, stunningly acted and just an exquisite piece of film-making. See it as soon as you can.

    I haven't had time here to tell you about the crickets or the dragonflies the size of sparrows, or the weather or the bottomless buttered popcorn or the late-night karaoke sessions or the dozens of new friends I've made this last week. You're going to need to come to next year's event and find it out for yourself. See you in Austin. Bring a hat.

    Untill the next time.

    Laura.

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  • DAY SIX | NEW BLOOD

     

    DAY SIX | NEW BLOOD

    Thanks to Laura, our first guest contributor to this year's FrightFest Postcards from Austin, for yesterday's postcard. You have to admit, it is an improvement on Paul and I wittering on all of the time. It's time for our second guest contributor - more to come by the way. Please welcome Shelagh Rowan-Legg. A well known face around FrightFest each year, she ably helped Paul with the selection of this year's FrightFest shorts.

    Greetings from (mostly) sunny Austin! This is my first year at Fantastic Fest, and boy, does it live up to its name. Between films, parties, debates, and many, many, breakfast tacos, this festival does not sleep. I'm on the Short Fuse horror shorts jury, which has afforded me the opportunity to see the great, up-and-coming filmmakers from the local area and around the world.

    I'm not sure I will be able to attend another cinema after seeing films at the Alamo Drafthouse. It is a unique chain: there is full waiter service at your seat, a ledge in front of your seat for food and drink, and a menu ranging from popcorn to burgers to Irish Whiskey milkshakes. All this is delivered so unobtrusively that I'm convinced the wait staff can make themselves invisible.

    Make no mistake, despite the party atmosphere, Fantastic Fest takes its films very seriously. Films range from bonkers low-budget B-movies such as WYRMWOOD to dark horror such as SHREW'S NEST to grand science fiction such as AUTÓMATA. One of the great things about Fantastic Fest is that there are no barrier between the guests and the fans. One can easily talk to the likes of Harry Knowles, Leonard Maltin and Elijah Wood in the wonderful Highball bar, or sitting outside in the sweltering heat between screenings.

    This has been a banner year for genre cinema, and Fantastic Fest has some of the best titles. FORCE MAJEURE is probably my favourite so far; it's a darkly comic story of a family on a ski holiday, when a near-accident reveals cracks in the father's masculine armour and puts his marriage in serious jeopardy. MY LIFE DIRECTED BY NICOLAS WINDING REFN is a fascinating documentary directed by Refn's wife, Liv Corfixen, about the making of ONLY GOD FORGIVES and its effect on their marriage. EVERLY is a fantastic single location action film with the always amazing Salma Hayek. And SPRING is a dark romantic drama about a lost boy and a strange girl in the isolated corners of Italy.

    The highlight of the festival for me has been participating in the famous Fantastic Feud. Organized by critic Scott Weinberg, it pits Americans versus and International team of film geeks, battling out Family Feud-style. While the atmosphere and some bias means the American team inevitably wins, it's still just a great time, showing off trivia knowledge and learning about some very obscure films. It was also the film time I've chugged a beer, so I can cross that off my bucket list.

    It's a long trip for most FrightFest fans, but I highly recommend saving your pennies and making the trip out here one year. There's no other festival like it.

    Untill the next time.

    Shelagh.

    DAY SIX - NEW BLOOD TAKE TWO

    A big FrightFest welcome to the BIG BAD WOLVES chaps, Aharon and Navot. Thanks for standing in for us. By the way, just so you know, the bit about us drinking Austin dry is not true, honest.

    This is Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado and we were asked to replace Paul and Ian because they had managed to dry all the booze wells in Austin.

    Before we’ll say a few words about the 10th year edition of Fantastic Fest we have to say that we were really bummed not to join all you dear and crazy people at Frightfest London. We did a whole(!) short(!) segment(!) for ABC’S OF DEATH 2 just so we would get invited again and nothing. Not even a LOVING postcard from Alan. But, not all is lost and faith (not really) has decided that the world premiere of ABC’S OF DEATH 2 would be held at the 10th anniversary edition of Fantastic Fest. This is without a doubt the best edition of this glorious festival and not just because we get to do this celebrated Frightfest postcard, but because this year’s lineup was and is jaw-dropping. THE BABABADOOK, THE GUEST, NIGHTCRAWLER, IT FOLLOWS, HAEMOO, EVERLY, TOKYO TRIBE, JOHN WICK, VHS VIRAL, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, TUSK and glorious copies of Cannon Films classics such as NINJA 3 and DEATH WISH 3. If it bleeds, it’s here and if there’s a dog in it, he’ll meet his maker in no time. We shit you not, this is without a doubt the year of the dead dog. More than seven dogs lost their lives during this year’s screenings. At least Keanu Reeves managed to get some canine ass-kicking justice for all the dogs who go to heaven.

    And how about those ABC’S fellas? were they sick or what? At times watching those segments felt like being anally penetrated by a giant squid with penises for arms. Don’t believe us? Call the Soska sisters. We do hope you will all get to see our segment in ABCS OF DEATH 2 soon!

    Kudos for Tim League and his mad mad mad crew. They have really out-did themselves. Thanks for keeping Austin cool. Thanks for giving us the best week of 2014. And most important, thank you for giving us a chance to meet the Frightfest gang again and the biggest, wildest and sweetest family in the world- the genre family.

    Untill the next time.

    AK and NP.

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  • DAY SEVEN | THAT'S FANTASTIC

     

    DAY SEVEN - THAT'S FANTASTIC

    Another bumper Postcard day with more news from here in Austin. Say hello to The Twisted Twins, the lovely Jen & Sylvia Soska. Ladies, thank you for contributing.

    That's fantastic.

    It's an all too common phrase that runs rampant at a film festival like no other and for good reason.

    Two years ago, ourselves, Little Miss Tristan Risk, and Katie Isabelle hit Fantastic Fest for the American premiere of AMERICAN MARY. Now we're back with ABCs of Death 2 with Tristan and she also has Astron 6's highly anticipated Giallo inspired film, The Editor.

    If you're here to sleep, forget it. From the endless karaoke battles to the slap shots it's a place like no other.

    The three of us arrived and raced to the world premiere of ABCS OF DEATH 2, dolled up, stilettos pounding the pavement, to the red carpet which was packed with the top genre directors across the globe that have showcase pieces in the film.

    Fantastic Fest is like an acid trip and a dream. Glorious, profound, and filled with what the fuck moments that seem ripped from your unconscious mind. It's also like filmmaker summer camp where you get to be reunited with the people you largely only get to spend time with online or have had mad affairs with online and are only now meeting in the flesh.

    The film selection brings in some of the craziest, coolest, and awe inspiring shit you can imagine. TOKYO TRIBE, the latest from Sion Sono, a hip hop Japanese horror, action, comedy, musical, is one of the films that make Fantastic Fest so special as you would never see something so unconventional in a North American theatre. Our favorites from the fest include of course the EDITOR, OPEN WINDOWS, Nacho's segment in VHS VIRAL was insane, SPRING, HORNS...

    And if you don't have a drink in your paw you've clearly just woken up. The amazing staff serve the Alamo Drafthouse theatre while you sit on your ass and laugh and cheer it off.

    Other highlights that make Fantastic Fest so fucking unforgettable include Tristan Risk slaying at Titty Bingo with her tentacle porn pic in the art off and her lap dance that practically gave the inflatable teddy she was performing for a balloon erection.

    Nacho Vigalondo serenaded us with a show stopping performance of Freddy's Don't Stop Me Now. Nacho is a staple of Fantastic Fest. Not only a profoundly talented filmmaker but the sweetest, funniest, most darling human being you'll ever meet.

    Tonight we say goodbye to the ten year anniversary of Fantastic Fest. It's the legendary closing night party that in the ABCS OF DEATH 2's 26 Ways to Die. It's gonna be 26 Ways to Party. Regrettable tattoos to commemorate the ten year mile stone. Sham marriages. Roasted pigs that were shot by festival goes from the controversial Helicopter Hog Hunt that is exactly what you think it is. Rumor has it there will be a full roasted cow this year. Throwing knives. Drinking games. And the now legendary slap shots.

    So, in truth, you may never hear from us again. As we ride off into the closing night sunset we are left with the undeniable feeling that we are the lucky ones. There is no place like Fantastic Fest.

    May my liver forgive me.

    Untill the next time.

    The Twisted Twins

    DAY SEVEN - THAT'S FANTASTIC TAKE TWO AND THAT'S A WRAP

    The Postcards just keep coming. May I introduce you to Helen Mullane. A FrightFest regular for years and now film producer. She is here along with Sean Hogan, another well known FrightFest face with their documentary, which I saw and loved this morning, FUTURE SHOCK: THE STORY OF 2000 AD.

    If there is a Valhalla for geeks it is surely a cinema complex, inventively programmed with free-poured booze (everything really is bigger in Texas), burgers brought to your seat, populated entirely by friendly, like-minded folks.

    This year is my second time joining Austin's great, good and weird in their celebration of all things fantastic. The first went down in infamy (the good kind) as one of the wildest times I've enjoyed at a film festival and this go round once again lived up to the legend.

    Myself and the rest of the Future Shock crew had the pleasure of presenting our film for the first time anywhere to both the Mondo-con and Fantastic Fest audiences this year, a delightfully surreal experience. The enthusiasm and positivity of the crowd at both screenings was overwhelming and we all came away riding high on a wave of pure elation.

    That was, unsurprisingly, nigh on impossible to top, but the fest gave it a bloody good shot. There was a diverse array of excellent films on show, with FORCE MAJEURE, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY and IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE personal highlights. Beyond the films there was that legendary Texan hospitality: karaoke, where I found myself in awe of the skills of some of the Drafthouse staff; rather too many parties, where I found myself in awe of various Austinite's relentless energy and a lot of wonderful people, whose inclusiveness and sense of fun is really the thing that makes the festival.

    So with my eyes tired, my voice almost gone and a slight delirium setting in I say goodbye to Fantastic Fest, until next year!

    Helen

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