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.  Ian and Paul aren't attending this year,  but FrightFest's Mr Twitter Alex Kidd is.  He will keep you up-to-date with all the festival happenings and goings-ons at the best little genre film festival in the USA.

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  •       DAY ZERO | THE PROLOGUE

     

    DAY ZERO - THE PROLOGUE

    Hi everyone, welcome to the first of the Postcards from Fantastic Fest for  2015.  Alex Kidd here.  Ian and Paul are not attending this year, so it falls to me to keep you up-to-date with all the festival happenings. This is my first time back in Austin since 2010.  I've wanted to come back each year since then. What made me pick this year is that my best friend and brother in film chaos, Evrim Ersoy, is now part of the festival programming team.   He has been working like a maniac for the last 12 months scouring the world for the most over-the-top and mind bending films to bring to Austin.

    With Evrim attending the festival for the first time this year, there was no way I was going to miss out on it. So here we are on the day before the festival starts, and you can tell there's excitement in the air. We arrived in town on Wednesday late in the afternoon and after checking into our hotels etc., we all reconvened at our new home for the next week: The Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar! Things have changed massively since my last visit. The Alamo location has been fully redeveloped from an open car park and strip mall style to a modern look apartment complex with the newly expanded and redesigned Alamo Cinema say right in the middle. The Highball bar is now part of the cinema and the place looks completely different. What's not different is how amazingly cool this place is, it's like being surrounded by the physical presence of cult cinema! The last few finishing touches for Fantastic Fest were being put together, including hanging a truly gigantic wall covering banner in the main lobby that brings this year's festival theme to life: Turkish Cult Cinema!

    After a quick badge pick-up, we spent the next hour catching up with people and making new friends along with a few drinks in the super cool Highball bar. Although the films don't start until Thursday, there was something very special happening that I wanted to attend.

    Every Wednesday at the Alamo Ritz cinema they have the amazing late night Weird Wednesday screening where they show some of the most incredible and obscure films you'll ever see. Luckily for me this week's screening was something very special.  The legendary Seattle-based video store Scarecrow Video was in charge. All they said was that is was a super obscure thriller from the 90s and that is was guaranteed to melt your face off. It's only $3 to get in, so the place was packed with a very appreciative and excited audience. So what did the film turn out to be? It was the 1994 action thriller Parole Violators, a wild 80-minutes of action as an ex-cop tracks down criminals released on parole who immediately start offending again. He captures them on video footage and airs in on his TV show. It was wild and such a perfect choice for a late night show.

    Jet lag started to kick in. I had been up for nearly 24 hours, so it was time to call it a night. Things are going to start getting super interesting tomorrow when Fantastic Fest starts!

    Until next time.

    Alex.

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  •       DAY ONE | THE BEGINNING

     

    Day one - The beginning.

    So the first day of Fantastic Fest has arrived. Everything started at 5 PM giving us time to explore. Once the films get under way it's hard to find any time to get away from the cinema. The problem with exploring Austin, and this might be a cliche to say it, is the incredible heat. We wanted to visit the cities biggest craft beer store. Easy we thought. A simple 20-minute walk from the Alamo. We managed to get two minutes away before being beaten down by the incredible mid-day heat. We had to go back and get a car to drive there; it was that intense. It was well worth the trip. The store was quite incredible and as always with Austin it was run by a super friendly and helpful staff. I also managed to get my face destroyed by being out in the sun without any sunblock as always!

    The one thing you have to accept with Fantastic Fest is that you're not going to be able to see everything.  At any given time there are four or five amazing sounding films playing. Also, depending on which pass you have, you might not get to see your first choice either. The online ticket system works well.  The day before the screenings you select your first choice, and then your second, third, etc. for each film slot. You then get an email telling you which films you got; it's simple and easy to do.

    The opening film of the festival was THE LOBSTER starring Colin Farrell, which I wanted to see, but sadly didn't get allocated a ticket. I did get my second choice; The French police thriller L'Affaire SK1. Based on a real case of a serial killer who raped and killed women in Paris in the 1990's. It's a very well-crafted thriller skipping backwards and forwards through the chronology of the events, as the police try and catch the killer while we also see the trial of the man that they finally capture.

    One of the great things about the festival is the sheer amount of people it attracts from around the world. There are friends of ours from everywhere including lots of familiar faces from FrightFest events over the years.

    Next up for me was FEBRUARY, my first choice for this slot. It was the debut feature from Oz Perkins.  As well as the film having a very strong advanced word of mouth the other reason I wanted to see this screening was that it was the first film my cinema soul brother Evrim was introducing at the festival. It's been amazing seeing how much work he's put in and having done so many shows with him over the years, I couldn't wait to see him on stage at the home of cinematic mayhem, The Alamo.

    FEBRUARY is so good and very moving. It's underplayed, which director Oz Perkins talked about in his brilliant intro. He set out to make a sad feeling horror, one that evoked a feeling of sadness for the person who would normally be considered the monster. It's a very assured debut film that you should try and see when you get the chance. Hopefully, Oz will continue to make more strikingly original films.

    After that, it was the Opening Night party, which was taking over the Highball bar along with the Alamo foyer and even outside the cinema. The party theme? Christmas! Yes, we had Christmas in September, with Christmas trees everywhere, decorations, people dressed as Santa, and so much more. It was so surreal. Sadly my jet lag was kicking in again, so I only made it until midnight.

    Tomorrow the festival kicks in fully with films starting at 11 AM from now on, it's only just beginning!

    Until next time.

    Alex.

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  •       DAY TWO | DOUGHNUTS AND SECRET SCREENINGS

     

    Day two - Doughnuts and secret screenings.

    Friday is the first full day of the festival, and somehow it feels like it's already been running for a week. There's simply so much going on at any one time, and you're surrounded by amazing people.

    It's an early 10.45 AM start with the film VICTORIA. An ambitious one continuous take feature film that follows the miss-adventures of a young woman who gets mixed up with a suspicious group of friends over one night in Berlin. It's quite an incredible feet of film making. I've no idea how they planned and executed this hypnotic one take film that follows them around the city and culminates in a brutal and bloody shoot out. It also clocks in at well over 2-hours making this such a technical marvel that you should watch it simply to see how hard this must have been to pull together.

    Then it was time for lunch and yes, we're going to have to talk about the amazing food you can get here in Austin. We all headed up the road to the legendary and quite incredible Gourdoughs doughnuts. Believe it or not, the restaurant's entire menu is based around the humble doughnut, but with a Texas twist. You can get seemingly anything you want as long as you plan on it arriving served on, or in, a doughnut. I ordered the amazing sounding Dirty South; a deep fried chicken steak, served atop of, yes a doughnut, with added gravy and potato. Was it good? Oh, yes. So good that I didn't eat anything else for the rest of the day.

    Then it was back to the Alamo for the new film from director Mickey Keating. His previous Sci-Fi thriller, Pod that recently played at FrightFest. This time in DARLING he's taken a very different path.  He has created a very stylish homage to the psychological thrillers of the 1960s and 70s. We follow a young woman who takes a job as a caretaker of a large town house, only to find herself slowly going mad due to the strange events that plague her while she's there. Shot in a black and white and infused with nods to Polanski it's a great and daring change in style and tone for the director and marks him as someone not willing to settle in one genre easily.

    Then we took a super fast drive across town to see our own Alan Jones at his THE ACT OF SEEING book signing with Nicolas Winding Refn at the Mondo art gallery. There was a great crowd there, with the walls decorated with a selection of Nicolas' original posters from the book. The book itself looks so good and is well put together, do pick one up if you can!

    After that, it was time for one of the great Fantastic Fest traditions. The Secret Screening. As the name suggests, you have no idea what you'll be seeing.  After a teasing intro from Tim League, we were one of the first audiences in the world to see CRIMSON PEAK, with director Guillermo del Toro there in person! The place went wild for his sumptuous Gothic Romance that's simply one of the most incredible looking films you'll see this year. Everyone watching the film was also given a special Crimson Peak beer glass to take home.

    The final event of the day found us all out in the suburbs of the city, in a huge gym at midnight for the legendary Fantastic Debates. This being Fantastic Fest nothing is ever what you expect.  Two challengers debate, then face off in a boxing ring as they fight each other! Everyone gets in on the fighting action. Two opponents debate a topic then savagely fight each other in two one-minute long rounds. It's so funny and so bizarre to watch, and the only place it could happen is here at this festival. Topics debated and fought over tonight included: Godzilla 2014 good or bad? Which is the best 80s kid adventure film - Goonies or Monster Squad? The best David director - Lynch or Cronenberg? Man, what a night and it didn't end until 2 AM!

    Until next time.

    Alex.

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  •       DAY THREE  |  SOMETHING UNIQUE, SOMETHING STRANGE AND PURE CHAOS

  •       DAY FOUR  |  A BLAST FORM THE PAST AND KARAOKE

  •       DAY FIVE  |  BOOTS, TACOS AND WATER PISTOLS

  •       DAY SIX  |  FILMS, GUNS AND EJ THE DJ

     

    Day six - Films, guns and EJ the DJ.

    There were three great films back to back today starting with The Similars, a Mexican tribute to The Twilight Zone from director Isaac Ezban. On a dark rainy night, a group of strangers find themselves stranded at a bus station. Unable to leave, they start to experience a series of very strange events, events that could not only effect all of them, but also the entire world. A great throwback mystery story with Sci-Fi shades that plays as a perfect tribute to Rod Serling's classic TV show. With it's deliberately muted colours and very inventive practical effects this was a perfect start to a very strong day.

    Next up it was Secret Screening two. Teased as a vintage discovery that Drafthouse Films would be releasing soon, I had a very strong hunch of what this would be and just for once I was right. Yes, secret Screening two was Dangerous Men.  I have wanted to watch this for years. It's a notoriously strange film. Directed by John S. Rad, an Iranian film maker who came to Hollywood wanting to make an action film. Twenty years later he'd finished, and Dangerous Men was born! Unseen for years we were the first audience to see this at the cinema for a very long time. It's a crazy and very strange crime story that doesn't follow any normal film ideas, heading off in strange directions and forgetting about characters here and there with seemingly random abandon. It killed the room and had people laughing all the way through. It was so great to finally cross this one off my most wanted list. Plus everyone at the screening got a special Dangerous Men fee promo soundtrack tape!

    After that, it was what could well turn out to be my top film of the festival: Green Room. This incredibly tense and very painful thriller is from Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier. It follows a young punk band who find themselves in very deep trouble when they stumble across a crime at a remote venue. Trapped there and surrounded by violent racist skinheads, they have to hold up and fight their way out.  Easily the most realistic depiction of violence and it's results I've seen in a very long time. It's horrific and graphic, not hiding the results of using a knife or shotgun on a human body. Patrick Stewart as the main villain is super. He fantastically underplays his performance making his evil character even more chilling. A seriously good bit of film making and is so uncomfortable to watch in places. I really can't recommend this film enough, someone's going to have to go far to beat this as my top film of the festival.

    While I was doing all this Evrim was away enjoying one of the great Fantastic Fest traditions: machine gun day! Every year there's a day trip out to a shooting range to shoot heavy duty live machine guns, pistols, rifles and anything else that's available on the day. You can blow up explosive pack pumpkins or just shoot at zombie Nazi targets all day long if you want. Evrim's favourite gun? The AK47.

    Tuesday night was Turkish night at the Alamo bar The Highball. Spencer from Death Waltz Records DJ'd a set of classic Bollywood soundtracks and psychedelic records, followed by a two hour all Turkish vinyl set from Elijah Wood. A fun and perfect end to a great day.

    Until next time.

    Alex.

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  •       DAY SEVEN | BOOKS, STEAK AND MORE KARAOKE

     

    Day seven - Books, Steak and more karaoke.

    The penultimate day of Fantastic Fest 2015 has arrived, and we're well into the repeat screenings. As I'd been lucky enough to get into most of the films I wanted the first time around, I had some free time.  I was happy to help out my friend Thierry, one of the producers of supernatural film Sensoria, by filming his films Q&A session after their final screening. I'd seen his film already and can recommend this mysterious low-key supernatural mystery.

    Next up was a film I didn't know much about, the Sci-Fi action comedy Lazer Team. This locally produced adventure finds a group of misfits holding the world's fate in their hands when they accidentally acquire an alien powered super suit designed for one person. Having to work out how to use it as a team they have to stop an impending alien invasion. It's a very funny watch helped no end by very well-written characters and some very inventive use of CGI effects.

    We had a few hours to kill so headed out to try out a local steak restaurant that one of the bar staff from the Highball had recommended. Let's just say that I didn't need to eat anything else for the entire day after having the biggest steak I'd ever seen.

    After eating far too much, we headed back to the Alamo for a real special event.  We attended the book launch for Kier-La Jenisse's Satanic Panic. A look at the very strange mania that swept through America in the 1980s. A time when seemingly Satan worshippers were everywhere, and accusations were being levelled at any authority figure that could be targeted. Kier-La took us through a great talk covering all the major cases and events of the period, all of which with hindsight seem incredibly dubious and overblown. A fascinating talk and could easily have been twice as long. Do pick up the book when you can. It's well designed and overflowing with articles on that period.

    The rest of the night was spent enjoying an old film festival favourite: karaoke. The Highball has an amazing selection of custom themed karaoke rooms, and we managed to spend the rest of a very late evening singing with seemingly the entire Fantastic Fest guests and audience passing through our room.

    Until next time.

    Alex.

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  •       DAY EIGHT  |  MORE RIBS, COWBOYS AND A  PARTY UNDER THE STARS

     

    Day eight - More ribs, cowboys and a party under the stars.

    We've reached the final day of Fantastic Fest, and it's a strange mixture of feelings. It has both gone quickly and also lasted for ages. Whichever one it is, the most important thing is just what an incredible experience this has been.

    By this point in the festival we'd seen nearly everything playing, so decided to cut out for a while and head to the new contender for Best Barbecue in Austin: La Barbecue. We knew this was going to be good when we got there as there was a huge queue snaking back from the food truck. We got in line and had a fun 90-minutes as we waited to place our order. It was that busy, and it took well over an hour to get to the food. Boy was it worth it! The food was incredible and so soft and tender, the brisket and ribs were amazing. They had also managed to make the normally dry turkey incredibly soft and tasty, a real achievement. If you're ever in Austin and want an alternative from Franklins, then do yourself a favour and head to La Barbecue.

    It was on to the Closing Film of the Festival. The World Premiere of the new Kurt Russell western Bone Tomahawk. Sadly Kurt had to pull out of attending at the last minute due to an injury but there was still a great turnout from the cast on the night including Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fix and Richard Jenkins.

    Part traditional Western and part horror film. After a group of cannibal Indians kidnap a local woman, the sheriff and a small group of trusty gunmen head out into the wilderness to track them down and exact justice. This a brutal watch made all the more involving due to it's long running time. The first half of the film lets you spend time with the characters as they journey through the West, so that when things get violent towards the end, you're invested in what's going to happen.

    Bone Tomahawk was a great choice for the Closing Film and also served as inspiration for the final party that took place at a Western town outside of Austin. The Alamo had taken over a Western re-enactment town and turned it into a Bone Tomahawk party for the night. It was such a great experience spending the final night of the festival outside under the Texas sky with all our good friends here.

    That might be that for Fantastic Fest, but it's not the end of my time here. I'm staying a little longer to attend Mondo Con. An event hosted by Alamo offshoot Mondo it takes place this coming Saturday and Sunday. They specialise in amazing limited film posters, vinyl, t-shirts and toys. They have an entire weekend of amazing events lined up. Look for a full Mondo Con report and a final Fantastic Fest wrap-up postcard coming in the next couple of days!

    Untill the next time.

    Alex.

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