September 24, 2011


Seeing as how I've only just wrapped up my last review for the New Zealand International Film Festival (that finished waaaaaay back in August) I thought I'd do the Fantastic Fest day-by-day to start with, focusing more on my experiences at the Fest and then hope to bring you actual write-ups of films as and when I can (I also have a few films I saw in between the two Festivals I'm trying to finish writing up. Terribly behind, I know).

So, how did Day One of Fantastic Fest go? Well, first off, I was incredibly happy to be spending my entire day in an air-conditioned cinema! (have I mentioned it's hot in Austin?) I got to four films in total, and as I've said I'll be writing them up in separate posts as and when I can: 

Blind, a South Korean thriller that, though it has it's own unique tension inherent to the set-up (the only witness to an abduction is a blind ex-police recruit), unfortunately pales in comparison to the other amazing South Korean thrillers I've seen this year (The Yellow Sea, I Saw the Devil). 

Borderline a French comedy about a middle-class married couple who fall into drug dealing. Genuinely hilarious and would easily fit into the larger NZIFF programme. 

Polvora Negra, a Mexican film that was, well, kinda boring. Some kind of crime story, involving variously inter-linked families in a small town. 

Manborg, a cheap-as-chips sci-fi from Winnipeg that fully embraces and celebrates the shoddy video movies of the 80's and early 90's. Shot, as the filmmakers said, almost entirely in their garage and a basement. A heady injection of insanity. This also played with a couple of shorts in front: The Incredibly Slow Murderer With the Extremely Inefficient Weapon (which I urge you to check out here) and it's sequel Spoon Wars.

Fantastic Fest is, well, kinda fantastic. The place is absolutely filled to the brim with geeks; geeks of all types and persuasions. Generally, but not exclusively, male there are folks big and small, bearded, tatted and in suits. And most people are just downright friendly - it's not hard to just start talking to someone about what they've seen so far and Fantastic Fest in general. It's a really great buzz to the Fest and marks it out as something totally different to the NZIFF. Which is not to knock the NZIFF (because I love it) but I guess it's just what you get with a film festival in one location with a "theme" to it.

And there's a fair amount of downtime between films (most of the time), as each part of the day is divided up into segments and you can only have one ticket per "segment" allowing the Alamo crew to clean the theater before the next lot of patrons begin boarding*. So, for dinner, I went across the road where a collection of three diner trailers sit together - Trey's Cuisine, The Odd Duck and Gourdough's Donuts. Folks sit around at picnic tables, lit by strings of lights, with their own booze and talk home-brew as a red-headed waitress with a large rose tattoo up her entire leg delivers orders. I got a couple of things from The Odd Duck - a trailer serving up wood-fired, organic and local food. It was also fuckin' delicious. Amazing food you'd be thankful to be served in a cafe or restaurant, let alone from a mobile diner.

In fact, that was one of the great highlights of the day - sitting down, eating amazing food, sucking down a root beer (also organic & Fair Trade) as I scribble my notes while watching the sun set and the storm clouds move in. 

And, of course, there was the Opening Night party. The Opening Night film was the don't-really-think-I'll-see-it-thanks-though Human Centipede II and the party was appropriately themed: three poor whole roast pigs lined up, well... yeah. Like, um, that. And a cocktail special called the "Laxatini". It is, however, rather discombobulating for me to go from a film festival where I pretty much know everyone to a festival where I know no-one. Yeah, most people are friendly enough but they're also all busy talking to their own old Fest friend and I'm still a crushingly shy kiwi guy. We'll see how that changes over the next week...

So that was Day One. I stumbled home around 2/2.30am in the morning, my head aching and spinning from cinematic insanity and tiredness. But I feel great. I'm here. I'm in Austin, I'm at freakin' FANTASTIC FEST. Two words sum it up really: FUCK. YEAH.

*OK. The ticketing works thus: with a regular Festival pass you can log on to the website two hours before the first session of the day and reserve your seats. You then head down to the Alamo to pick your tickets up and when you pick them up you're assigned a boarding number - like 75 or 106 - and these then get called up in lots. Seats aren't assigned, it's first in, first seated. Kind of like airplane boarding. Got it? Great.

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