Fantastic Fest is now over, and the only thing I have left are ticket stubs and memories. And the nostalgic photo above where they started changing the marquee one the closing party started. They hadn't even let our seats get cold yet. But that's just fine because it means that the Alamo Drafthouse is back to business as usual, and we want them to stay in operation so we can head to next year's Fantastic Fest and do it all over again.
But what were the highlights? What makes Fantastic Fest different from all of the other film festivals around the world? While other festivals seem to focus on A-listers and high-profile star appearances, Fantastic Fest is happy to sit back and enjoy where it sits as a genre film festival. It's the best collection of science fiction, anime, horror, thriller, Asian, and "other" films that you'll ever see in one place. While the films are defintitely the focus, they're just one part of what makes this festival so much fun.
The Films: Of course it's the movies that bring people here in the first place, and they do not disappoint with an extremely varied selection. We saw films from all over the globe here, and more than half of the movies I saw were subtitled. That's a testament to the programmers who reach beyond the North American shores for many of their choices. My favorite movies from the festival were from Japan (Fish Story), Sweden (Kenny Begins), Indonesia (Merentau), and Russia (Morphine). That's not to say that the English language films sucked. There were some great ones there as well. These were just the movies that blew me away. Although I wish I hadn't skipped The Bare Breasted Countess or S&M Hunter.
The Films - Part II: It's not just about feature-length movies. Fantastic Fest also has a lot of short films programmed into the festival. There are entire blocks of live-action shorts, animated shorts, and some features are preceded by a short film. I wish they'd stick a shorty in front of every feature, as I'm sure a lot of the shorts were missed by people clamoring for the features, but there were some great things in here. A few standouts include: Next Floor, a truly bizarre film about gluttony, Hirsute, a Primer-esque film about time travel, and Tile M For Murder, a hilarious Swedish film where a game of Scrabble turns deadly.
The Events: Fantastic Fest goes above and beyond the films by planning extremely fun events throughout the festival. These include trips to local BBQ spots, the opportunity to shoot shotguns with filmmakers, trips to local swimming holes, interesting shopping locations, a day packed with automatic weapons - and of course, all of the parties. Sundance may have parties in the snow, but where else can you officially shoot shotguns and dress like a vampire? Fantastic Fest even lets you do both at the same time. The only downside to the events is that they normally have extremely limited space for them, but with the addition of The Highball, I'd imagine they'll have larger events there next year, especially once the karaoke rooms are finished and open.
The Food: Seriously, you cannot understate the food at the Alamo Drafthouse. Here's how things work: when you sit down, you have a menu and tiny slips of paper with a pen in front of you. You browse the full menu and select something like a pint of Shiner Bock and a "Royale with Cheese" - pictured above. Write it down on the paper, stick it in the metal clip in front of your table (like a high bench in front of your seats) and a member of the waitstaff will snag it and bring your order out. They bring the check about 30 minutes before the end of the movie, so you have plenty of time to pay. Their seating is all tiered, so the waiters won't block your view. They have everything ranging from popcorn to burgers to five dollar milkshakes, and you'll definitely find something for your palette. My advice: don't order anything particularly juicy during films loaded with gore.
The People: Half of the fun at Fantastic Fest is meeting new people and finding out what movies they've been seeing. You'll get some of the best recommendations this way. No matter how many movies you see at the festival, you'll never be able to catch them all. Talking to people waiting in line with you will give you a good chance to see something that might not have been on your radar. The other people in the mix are the volunteers and the waitstaff. They work some serious overtime to keep things running smoothly, and make sure your Arrogant Bastard Ale and Asian Bat Wings are delivered to you as quickly as possible. A big shout out has to go out to hospitality coordinator Jill Lewis, who makes sure visiting press is well taken care of. Thanks, Jill!
Austin, TX: I'm pretty biased in this category, because I grew up in Texas and got myself down to Austin as soon as I could. I spent my formative years in college there, and it's my favorite city in the United States. While Fantastic Fest is eight days worth of movies, you also have enough free time to experience a sliver of what the city has to offer: 6th Street, Barton Springs, the bats under the Congress Avenue bridge, Zilker Park, and more. While I was in town, the temperature ranging from hot, to chilly, to extremely rainy, but that didn't make Austin any less fun. We spent one afternoon canoeing down Town Lake, and that's something I've never done during a film festival.
That's it for us, and we hope to see you at the festival next year! It was truly, in a word, Fantastic.