Ain't It Cool News Celebrates its 15th Anniversary at SXSW


Paul Gandersman snaps a photo of Guillermo del Toro

An estimated 800-900 people gathered last night to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Ain't It Cool News (AICN) with a special secret screening at the crown jewel of Austin theater, the Paramount.

In the 15 years since Harry Knowles started the site from his hospital bed after hurting his back, AICN has shaken the very foundations of Hollywood. It has brought to their knees studios that have produced unworthy pictures as well as lauding countless works that might otherwise have gone unsung. AICN has cultivated and sculpted the face of Austin movie culture, benefitting from and cross-promoting with Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas as both have grown to become household names. In 2005, AICN announced the founding of the greatest genre film festival in existence, Fantastic Fest which brings together fans, filmmakers, and big names from around the world for the seventh year this September. If the Alamo Drafthouse is the heart of the Austin film community, AICN is its soul.

It is ironic that after 15 years, founder and "Head Geek" Harry Knowles almost didn't make it to his own party for the very reason the site began: he was in the hospital for over two months recovering from life-saving spinal surgery that corrected the damage from 15 years ago. However, after monumental progress in physical therapy, Harry was released back into the world last week just in time to complete arrangements for the 15th Aniversary Secret Screening. (I like that the host of the annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon celebrates 15 years with an A.S.S.)

In tweets and on Facebook, Harry had promised the screening would feature a vintage title, but many had hoped he would pull a patented bait-and-switch, presenting us with an unreleased title like Tree of Life. Instead, after briefly threatening us with Xanadu, Harry brought out the secret guest, his long-time collaborator and soulmate, former Austin resident Guillermo del Toro (pictured above being photographed by Austin producer and occasional Slackerwood photographer Paul Gandersman). After explaining we would be watching a print owned by AICN editor Eric Vespe (aka Quint) for which he had paid only the postage for shipping in order to acquire it, Harry told us the selection would be Matthew Robbins' 1981 adventure Dragonslayer, starring Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, and Ralph Richardson. Though many in the audience grew up watching this title on repeat, half the audience had not yet been born when it was released and were seeing it for the first time. The visual work was of such exceeding quality that even after 30 years, it holds up well against modern digital techniques.

After the show, Harry and Guillermo took the stage for a Q&A which due to time constraints instead was an engaging chat between the two about Matthew Robbins, Phil Tippett, Alex North's score, the sterilization of films for children, and the need for a high-quality Blu-ray release of the film (to which I say: Go for a full theatrical re-release!) Yes, Paramount, please give us a Blu-ray deserving of the title Dragonslayer.