Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: 2008

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Fantastic Fest 2008: 'Road Warrior' screening

By 2008, after three fantastic years (2005, 2006, 2007), Fantastic Fest was no longer a fledging fest. There were definitely growing pains as the fests popularity grows. And why wouldn't it? The fest was based at the best theater in the world with world-class cinema that was well, fantastic on so many levels.

My favorite part about 2008 was the special online screenings, with a mix of shorts and features available for online viewing through B-Side. It made it possible to see more films that I would have otherwise. I got to see the disturbingly entertaining documentary; I Think We're Alone Now, profiling two Tiffany stalkers. Yes, that Tiffany, and yes, it was a recent documentary.

I love the docs at Fantastic Fest, they're very interesting, and I hope to see more. That's not to slight the Austin-based documentary about our youngest auteur, Emily Hagins, Zombie Girl: The Movie. Emily is currently working on her third feature film, My Sucky Teen Romance (which deserves kudos for the best title this year). And then there was Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! a doc about Australian filmmaking in the late 70s through the 80s, which played along with the Ozploitation film program featuring some of the same, from Mad Max to Turkey Shoot.

I had to skip the special The Tingler screenings that complemented the Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story screenings, with random seats set up to make it a truly shocking experience. With my luck and migraines, it'd set off a seizure. For the same reason, I did not make a Shakey Face for the fest, but you really, really need to make one if you can. What is a shakey face? I could explain it, but I'll let you watch the video instead. Pictures speak much louder than words.

Fantastic Fest 2008: OutsourcedI also didn't do any of the "signature events," which included 100 Best Kills Party, Fantastic Fest Debates, Fantastic Feud, the Donkey Punch Boat party, or the Closing Night Cave Party, or even the Air Sex World Championships. I only had so much energy, and the closing-night party turned out to be a hit or miss with far too many non-festival people there. It was the start of the anti-hipster sentiment at Fantastic Fest.

While that was a sore point, the ticketing system mostly worked. Badgeholders could pick up boarding passes for each screening at set times depending on the type of badge. I was able to get into most screenings, but at times, screenings were showing as sold out because some badgeholders were double dipping, so in one case a good 30 seats were empty.

There are so many memorable films I can't possibly even list all of them. I'll start with the shorts: the animated shorts was worth a ticket just for Fantasies in Bubblewrap, which dissects horror in a whole new way. That's not to say The Facts in the Case of Mr Hollow wasn't fascinating, which was simply a photograph (so well conceived), or the already classic Treevenge, where the trees are not going to put up with another Yuletide season. The Treevenge guys have taken their earlier short Hobo with a Shotgun and are currently turning it into a feature. The shorts programs are so strong, but the ones that play with features are gems, too, including the very creepy Cam2Cam and the delightfull Rojo Red, both of which played in the online program (which I really wish they would bring back).

It was a great year for Danish films, particular the black comedy How to Get Rid of the Others, a commentary on eliminating those who live off the system. Someone else said it best: the funniest concentration camp film ever. And Paprika Steen was very fun as an alien in the kids versus monsters flick, The Substitute. Lastly, while I wanted to have more Whale Rider than Karate Kid, Fighter was still fun, if only to see some great martial arts with Semra Turan kicking some serious butt.

Fantastic Fest 2008 definitely included films for specific fandoms, including Repo! The Genetic Opera, a guaranteed hit with the kohl-and-corset crowd, many of whom showed for the second screening. The very aptly titled Fanboys was also fun, with many laughs with as much as at the onscreen antics. But the ultimate fan movie was JCVD, which was so good that the soliloquy earned a standing ovation during the movie when I saw it. Tim League had been raving about it for months, and now we all knew why. Who knew Jean-Claude Van Damme could act, especially when mocking himself? The guy has a range longer than his kick ... if not the opening shot.

Fantastic Fest 2008: Repo! screening

There were a couple of technical difficulties, including Just Another Love Story (think While You Were Sleeping but with a girl and not a comedy). The seemingly random Herzogian shots at the end weren't part of the film. And the Heart of Darkness-inspired Vinyan screenings had to rely on DVD because the print was misshipped, and the introduction was a bit too spoilery for my taste.

There was a lot of buzz for certain films at the fest, particularly JCVD, which was very positive. The buzz for Deadgirl, on the other hand, was at both extremes. Me, I wasn't blown away with it, but would have liked to see more from the dead girl's perspective. The surprise buzz was the nearly hypnotic Brazilian prison drama that few could pronounce, Estomago; feedback among those I talked to was universally positive, which is good, because it was feast-worthy on many levels. My singularly favorite film of the festival was The Chaser, a Korean crime drama on par with Infernal Affairs and so riveting I saw it twice, something I've never done at a fest before. Lastly, a testament to just how good The Good, The Bad, the Weird was: Sleep deprivation + front row + subtitles = still absolutely enthralled with the wacky homage to cowboy adventures.

Come to think of it, 2008 brought us a lot of fantastic films. Let the Right One In was a huge hit among Fantastic Fest veterans, and was such a favorite that the DVD controversy over subtitle changes was bad enough, but the idea of an American remake was considered sacrilege. Of course, Let Me In is the 2010 fest's opening-nght film, so there is a helluva lot of buzz about it. While I'm not a fan of Americanizing perfectly good movies, the fact that it stars Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Richard Jenkins makes it worth seeing. It seems the perfect choice for opening nght, much better than 2008's Zach and Miri Make a Porno.

Cargo 200 was the "WTF" film of the year, and there always seems to be one. While it was factually based on the "Vitebsk Strangler," it was one that I don't need to see again. I had to wash that out of my brain with a dose of the poorly named but well crafted Alien Raiders. This was one I had to wait to get seated at as a standby even though there were empty seats, but it was worth it. Director Ben Rock did a solid job on this late-night grocery horror, and I can't wait to see what his next feature is (hint, hint, Ben).

My surprise film of the festival? Gatchi Boy: Wrestling with a Memory. Every festival there is one film I end up seeing on a lark and not expecting to like, and end up loving, and this year, it was the often silly but ultimately heartwrenchingly sweet, and Gatchi Boy: Wrestling with a Memory absolutely won me over.

Fantastic Fest 2008: Belt-buckle awardLooking back through my blog, it really was a great year. The PA system and ticket system were definitely a plus. The water station out by the picnic tables -- over which awnings were put in just before the fest started -- was very nice. And apparently the staff and volunteers were very friendly and helpful because I kept noting it over and over. I definitely didn't get much sleep, even without doing any of the parties. My pet peeves were not enough roast suckling pig, and no carving of it, dammit. I wanted to see animal flesh carved. That's not going to be a problem this year, and Chef John Bullington is roasting us a whole cow, some pigs and turkeys for the special opening-night party, so there will be plenty of carving and flesh to go around.

Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo was back, this time with a shorts program. I didn't catch that, but I got to see Nacho showing a "food porn" video on a laptop out at the tables. Nacho doesn't quite count as a celebrity because he's a regular. Then again, Fantastic Fest celebrities aren't really celebrities: Bill Pullman was reportedly very down-to-earth and considering the frenzy made over Bill Murray, who was in attendance at both the closing-night film (City of Ember) and the closing-night Cave Party, he was very cool.

It's a very personal fest, and despite being a "regular" badgeholder for the first time, I had a great time. In fact, I made friends I might not have otherwise made, thanks to lines for picking up tickets. I'd get there an hour or so before the tickets were available, and slowly people would drift in and strike up conversations, and by the end of the week some of us were picking up breakfast for the rest. I even met some online friends for the first time there, including the (in)famous David Roland Strong, who's become an icon for Fantastic Fest, from introducing Fantastic Fest at SXSW screenings to being the leading man in bumpers and teasers.

And how could I forget the "Fantastic!" bumpers. This filmmaking frenzy has become a tradition, where filmmakers come up with a microshort that ends with the word "Fantastic!" Everyone loved the Young Van Damme by Black Magic Rollercoaster, and nd no one could forget David Strong in the bloody buff holding a pig's head, either.

There's so much in every Fantastic Fest that 2008 seemed to max out possibilities ... but no, 2009 was even more over the top. But that's the next installment.

Fantastic Fest 2008: Bill Murray