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Fantastic Fest 2012: Crushes Are Universal

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You've heard it multiple times -- Fantastic Fest is a world unto itself. This year was no different, with everything from dogs in tuxedos to wonder twins boxing over the merits of remakes. Those of us with two X chromosomes enjoy the odd and obscure just as much as our XY counterparts, especially given the sense of team spirit that builds around Fantastic Fest. We're all on this wacky journey together.

This solidarity is no more apparent than in the numerous shared "crushes" that attendees experience when faced with a gorgeous actor or talented filmmaker (not that a filmmaker can't also be gorgeous). It's not unusual to hear "That is a beautiful man" from the very straight guy sitting next to you while the woman on your right decides whether that actor's astrological sign would mesh with hers. Men and women of Fantastic Fest unite over the ogle-able and enviable special guests.

Take, for example, this year's visit by Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings) for the film Dredd 3D. Male and female festgoers flocked to the red carpet for a glimpse of the modern day Adonis. Men (as in the photo at top) saying, "Dude, It's Éomer and McCoy," and women (as in the photo below) proclaiming, "Oh my god, it's Éomer and Cupid." (Any Xena Warrior Princess fans out there?!) Urban's charm and swagger are not lost on either gender.

Fantastic Fest Review: Cold Steel

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Cold Steel

It occurred to me halfway through Cold Steel (Bian di lang yan) that Fantastic Fest has no icon for "romance." There's "comedy" and even "date movie," which seems relegated only to ironic situations, but no "romance." I'm sure that's because some festivalgoers get that same squeamish feeling seeing "romance" next to a film that I get seeing "pet abuse." But David Wu's new feature is, in many ways, a very romantic film, from the actual love story between the war-torn main characters to the rich cinematography. As a man better known among the Fantastic Fest crowd for his association with hardcore action movies such as Bullet in the Head and A Better Tomorrow, his new film has a softer feel even amongst the sniper violence.

Set in China during World War II, Cold Steel focuses on the Japanese takeover of the country, and an elite sniper team tasked with blunting Japan's conquest. Young hero Wu Liangfeng (Peter Ho) is forced to join the team after his rebellion against an officer gets him in hot water (yes, there's a tea theme in the movie). He's already a very skilled sniper, learning from his hunting experience, as well as his tutelage from an American solider that literally fell from the sky. Wu's first mission becomes chaotic, setting off his personal journey towards love and brotherhood, as well as the horrors of war.

Fantastic Fest at Any Age: Breaking the Stereotype

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Steve DaigerContinuing our theme of crushing Fantastic Fest stereotypes (see my previous look at women at the fest), today I'm talking with a man whose many years have given him a great context in which to enjoy the festival. Steve Daiger (yes, he is the author's father) recently turned 70 years old and proudly proclaims his place among that minority of Fantastic Festgoers who remember when movie tickets were $1.50.

Hailing from Canton, Ohio, Steve is a research scientist and geneticist at the University of Texas in Houston. Since 2010, he has taken that weird and wondrous pilgrimage to Austin alongside his younger counterparts and has never looked back. Here's what Steve has to say about his own unique festival experience.

Why did you decide to start Fantastic Fest-ing?

My son-in-law had always talked to me about the festival. It seemed like something I might enjoy, but I definitely wouldn't have gone without encouragement from him and all my friends in Austin. And, they were 100% right. This is my third year and every year I've enjoyed the current year more than the previous year

What do you enjoy most about the festival?

Being surprised. Seeing something I wouldn't normally see. Something completely out of left field that is interesting and holds my attention.

What are some past films you've enjoyed?

I think like everyone I really enjoyed Juan of the Dead. I thought it was a very funny movie and great action adventure. But, it also showed something of Cuba that you could never see otherwise and really fits the idea of a surprise.

I had seen anime, but I was blown away by Summer Wars. I thought it was a beautifully crafted movie, but what really struck me was the depth of story in terms of the family. It was just a wonderful thing to see.

And then, I have some secret guilty pleasures I don't think I'm going to say out loud.

XX Team Power! The Fantastic Fest Females Survival Guide

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Fantastic Fest 2011

This week, I'll embark on my seventh journey into the film-geek-genre adventure known as Fantastic Fest. In 2006, I was a newbie, navigating the bloody waters of strange and fascinating cinema. It was uncharted territory for someone of the double-X chromosome persuasion, as females were the definite minority among attendees. Since then, our numbers (and powers) have increased with women banding together to proclaim, "We're genre nerds too!"

Even so, I continue to have this same conversation:

Me: "Oh, I love Fantastic Fest. I go every year and have a blast!"
Female Fantastic Fest Virgin: "It's not really my thing. I don't like slasher movies."
Me: "I don't either."
FFFV: "Then how… ?"

Ladies, listen up. You too can enjoy Fantastic Fest. If you love celebrating the quirky and unexpected side of cinema, and enjoy being around like-minded people, you need to attend this festival. Even if you hate horror films or "rapey" movies, you can still see some amazing and unforgettable films. Some are unforgettable for bad reasons, but still great conversation starters.

SXSWedu 2012: A Filmmaker in Design Land

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Everyone's familiar with the ongoing discussion about how the film and video game industries fit together. In this era of Doom live-action features and Harry Potter videogames, it's inevitable that the two industries would be talked about side by side. But the topic often turns heated, as film and game producers try to protect the integrity of their medium. "Can I make a movie of your game?" "Can I make a game out of your movie?" Stalemate.

From an education perspective, film and games are both great tools for teaching key academic concepts and improving student personal and social development. Both media have slowly crept into schools as a way to engage kids and excite them about learning. As the Austin Film Society's Community Education Manager, this type of programming is part of my world every day. Our Film Club afterschool program works with Austin Independent School District students daily on everything from claymation to documentaries, all with the goal of creating citizens of the 21st century. Being in Austin, with such a robust video game community, means I'm inevitably asked about video game curriculum. "Do you teach that?" "Could you and would you teach games?"

As part of the Austin Film Society's mission to explore game design curriculum, I recently attended the AMD Game On! Workshop, which was offered as an opening component of SXSWedu. The event consisted of three in-depth demonstrations of game technologies being used in K-12 classrooms. It was not only a fascinating workshop, but invigorating! I wanted to run home and write lesson plans. (Read: signs you know you're in education.)

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