Film festivals generate enthusiasm and entertainment not only from the films shown, but from the related events and the opportunities to talk with filmmakers and actors. Austin’s Fantastic Fest 2022 lived up to and exceeded the fun quotient people have come to expect. After all, Austin’s unofficial city motto is “Keep It Weird.”
Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the country, shows horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and unusual films that don’t necessarily fit into standard categories. The 2022 edition screened primarily at Austin’s iconic Alamo Drafthouse Theater South Lamar. It also used online options and other venues to give fans more options.
Many film festivals are not tied to any one location. Some even switch cities from year to year. The Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest, however, share a history. Founder Tim League built the first location by hand. Each location is unique, designed to relate to its community. The theaters are designed to facilitate service of meals and beverages to patrons during the films. The wait staff know how to run bent-over so as not to mess with your view of the screen. Some locations have companion bars/night clubs with entrances directly from the theater. As League puts it, “The Alamo is not your everyday average movie theater. It’s everything a movie lover loves.”
The Alamo South Lamar, home of Fantastic Fest, contains alien spaceships hanging from the ceiling, classic movie posters on all the walls, monsters here and there, and, my favorite: karaoke rooms. Here small groups of friends can have sing-a-longs without a giant audience. And, most importantly, the Alamo South Lamar contains nine state-of-the-art screening rooms.
The over 100 films screened at the 2022 festival included genres as varied as vampire tales, coming-of-age stories, martial arts movies and supernatural thrillers. Three films stood out for me.
One of the inspirations for the first Fantastic Fest was a film by Korean director Park Chan-wook. At this fest, 17 years later, he debuted his new film, Decision to Leave, and accepted a lifetime achievement award from the festival. Earlier in the year, the film won Park Chan-wook the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and it will be Korea’s nomination for Best Foreign Film at the upcoming Oscars.
Decision to Leave, a romance/crime-drama, tells the story of a policeman who falls in love with a suspect. At the Q&A after the film, Park said he wanted to show a police officer who did not fit into the usual architype. He chose Park Hae-il to play the officer because he has most often played suspects. Park Chan-wook said, “He’s known as South Korea’s national suspect.”
An audience member asked why he made the other half of the romantic duo Chinese. Park Chan-wook got a laugh from the audience when he explained, “That’s because I wanted Tang Wei in my film.”
Opening-night premiere Smile is also a stunner. Staring Sosie Bacon as a doctor at a psychiatric emergency hospital, she runs into all kinds of strangeness and some of it begins to rub off. During the red carpet I asked director Parker Finn about his inspiration for the film. Like Park Chan-wook, he likes turning audience expectations on their heads. He said, “What’s more positive than a smile? I thought if I could make a smile sinister, that would get to people.” His plan worked.
My most enjoyable two hours at Fantastic Fest were watching the first two episodes of upcoming HBO Max series ¡García!. The title character, a Spanish spy with superpowers, frozen in the 1960s, wakes up to a new world and in the middle of a nationwide political fight. The series reminded me of James Bond and Indiana Jones with some Terminator and Demolition Man thrown in. The series will premiere in October.
Live events at Fantastic Fest include several variations on trivia, karaoke, debates, live blogging, and parties. My favorite event was a script reading by Scripts Gone Wild. This is not your run-of-the-mill table read. The Scripts Gone Wild team recruits fun people to read the parts and “enhances” the scripts.
This year they read Back to the Future. Instead of just hearing the narrator read “Marty walks into the room,” you heard “Marty walks into the room surrounded by product placements from Proctor and Gamble and General Mills.”
And the casting added crazy fun as well. Gigi Guerrero played the part of Marty McFly. This Latina filmmaker (Bingo Hell) and actress had bilingual fun with the script. Marty’s father “George” became ”Jorge” and who would have guessed that Marty McFly knew the word “pendejo” and would use it so much.
Just to add to the chaos, when anyone makes a mistake reading the script, Scripts Gone Wild requires all the readers to take a sip from an adult beverage. They encourage the audience to participate with their drinks as well.
To get updates about future fun at Fantastic Fest and ways to view its films, check its website.
(Photos by author unless otherwise noted.)