The Fantastic Fest journals, part three: Standby lines and Fantastic Feuds
DAY FIVE: MONDAY
8:45 am: I wake up from too little sleep and do the whole online ticketing thing (and I make a note to link to parts One and Two of this journal, since I don't want to explain the Fantastic Fest ticketing system again). I decide to skip the morning screenings so I can get some writing done. It's a weird feeling to "take a break" from watching movies. Movies are supposed to be my break!
11:11: I track down a reasonably healthy meal. After four days of Alamo Drafthouse food, I can feel my arteries thanking me for this.
1:59: I finally arrive at the Drafthouse, feeling slightly lazy by refreshed and recharged. As tempting as it is to squeeze as many movies as possible into a given day, a few hours off does wonders for the body and soul. Yesterday, I found myself jealous of a fictional character who was lying in bed. That's not a good sign. I had to take extreme action and relax.
2:06: The topic of the morning is the screening of You're Next, which went over like gangbusters amongst those who managed to get in. Those of us who didn't get in look at the others with a seething, dangerous jealousy.
2:11: As if the news that You're Next won't be screening again wasn't enough, I learn that the highly acclaimed Australian horror movie The Loved Ones has been pulled from the festival for reasons unknown. The fest's "Loved Ones Prom" has been renamed "The Fantastic Fest Prom." My eloquent feelings on this matter can best be summed up as "Argh."
2:18: I learn that the FearNet free ice cream truck is gone and shall not be returning. It will be missed. Godspeed, FearNet free ice cream truck. Godspeed.
2:19: I also learn that the Fandango bags are gone for good. I imagine that the FearNet free ice truck ran them over and now has to go into hiding. Not a jury in the world would convict it.
2:34: Finding a good seat for the documentary Knuckle proves easy. Traditionally, Fantastic Fest attendance drops after Sunday as many industry guests and foreign badgeholders head home. For those of us remaining, this means getting into screenings just got significantly easier. I wonder if I should encourage the people reading this journal to always leave after Sunday as to keep competition out of screenings. I decide that would be cruel.
4:21: Knuckle is a documentary following feuding Irish clans who solve their problems with illegal bareknuckle boxing. That sounds like a Simpsons joke, but it's very real, very sad and a very gripping watch.
4:34: I have promised my friend Eric a Gourdough's donut while he's in town, so we venture across the street for lunch at Austin's most gluttonous food truck. The heat is incredible, but massive deep fried donuts are worth the effort. Eric gets a donut covered in cake batter and frosting. I get one covered in bacon. A non-fest goer sees our badges and asks what's good. We tell him and manage to feel useful while we devour our meal.
4:44: After last year inexplicably featured many films involving rape, we note that there haven't been too many this year. However, Eric realizes that we've been seeing a LOT of human feces on screen this year. "Poop is this year's rape," he explains. Perfect donut conversation.
4:55: The huge crowds are gone and those of us that remain rejoice. I finally meet another person who doesn't like Juan of the Dead and I cry joyfully into his shoulder.
5:01: I take my seat for Bullhead and realize that I'm sitting next to William Lustig, the director of amazing cult trash (I say trash with absolute love) like Maniac, Maniac Cop and Vigilante. He's here as a film competition juror. Only Fantastic Fest would put William Lustig on a competition jury. I think this is the only place where he gets recognized on sight alone.
5:12: I learn a few interesting things about Bullhead, namely that it's already highly respected in Europe and that Belgium has selected it as their submission for the Best Foreign Film academy award. Despite this, Fantastic Fest is the director Michael Roskam's favorite fest so far. "We've ruined him for the arthouse circuit," the presenter says wryly. Roskam: "I don't mind."
7:34: I'm not as in love with Bullhead as others are, but as a portrait of modern masculinity in crisis, it feels unparalleled. I duck out of the theater before the Q&A can begin, but I say hi to Roskam and compliment his work. The possibility of a Fantastic Fest film making it to the Oscars warms my heart.
7:51: I take a seat amongst friends and discover that Dominic Monaghan is among us. In the presence of Charlie from Lost, I clam up and try my best to not stare at him.
7:54: I volunteer to help prepare for tonight's big event, the Fantastic Feud, because I'm such a nice guy. Also because it'll keep me from staring at the Hobbit across from me.
8:01: The next movie of the day is Elite Squad 2. I saw the first Elite Squad at the Savannah Film Festival a few years ago. My short festival-going career feels like it has come full circle.
8:25: Most foreign and independent films require multiple production companies and investors to get made. Elite Squad 2 lists so many that the audience thinks it's watching a short film parodying the opening credits of foreign films.
10:17: Elite Squad 2, like its precursor, is a combination of slick action and confused, baffling fascist politics. I'm not sure how much of it is supposed to be funny, but it's a great time at the movies.
10: 25: While I was watching Elite Squad 2, the Fantastic Fest Awards have started. I sit outside of the theater and follow the awards on Twitter. You're Next and Clown seem to be the big winners. The beautiful, gentle A Boy and His Samurai takes home the audience award.
10:57: With an hour to kill until the Fantastic Feud, I give a friend a lift to his hotel. Because I'm such a nice guy. And because I know it'll make me sound dependable and cool in this journal.
11:42: We sit down for the Fantastic Feud, the game show that pits American bloggers and filmmakers against their international counterparts. The questions are fun, but the real joy comes from watching a bunch of fascinating personalities get very drunk and clash on stage.
12:02: Hosts Scott Weinberg and Devin Steuerwald take the stage inexplicably dressed as Mario and Luigi. The insanity has begun.
12:14: Nacho Vigalondo has just tackled one of his fellow panelists off the stage. For no apparent reason.
12:48: The Feud is more streamlined this year, resulting in a much earlier conclusion than anyone was expecting. Although still one of the most fun events at Fantastic Fest, I miss the longer format.
1:04: I mingle. I get in my car. I go home. I sleep.
DAY SIX: TUESDAY
8:37 am: I'm awake and ready to do the whole online ticketing thing. I certainly don't miss standing in line in the hot sun for four hours every morning to make sure I get tickets. This new system is fair and simple. I love it.
9:45: I'm number 606 in line. Screw this online ticketing system. It's unfair and overly complicated. I miss standing in line for four hours every morning.
10:32: I get none of my first choices. I also don't get my second choices. I don't even get my third choices. It's frustrating, but it's not like this day can go even further downhill, right?
10:55: Fifteen minutes on the road and I realize that a certain Fantastic Fest badge, the badge that is needed to get into any and all screenings and events, is missing. I swear at Fate and shake my fist in the air.
11:13: I arrive at the Drafthouse acting like a mopey jerk, but I soon note the lack of crowds. More importantly, I take note of the standby lines. This is the day that I shall take advantage of the standby lines. This is the day that I shall test their effectiveness.
11:18: Hey, that was fast! They work! At this point in the fest, many people are reserving tickets and not showing up in favor of staying in bed. Ha! While they are lying in their comfy beds catching forty winks, I'm about to watch the Austrian pedophile drama Michael. I think there's an obvious winner here.
11:50: The Michael screening is starting late. A friend offers to buy me scones for breakfast. The only thing better than scones are scones you don't pay for.
1:30: For a movie about a pedophile and the young boy he keeps imprisoned in his basement, Michael is surprisingly light and funny. It's also incredibly disturbing and upsetting—as pedophile movies are wont to be—but I'm thankful for the chuckles.
1:48: It's dark outside. The clouds are grey. Is this…is this rain? Apparently, someone with divine power is shining down on Fantastic Fest. Will this force also allow me to get into Boys on the Run through the standby line?
2:18: Yes. Yes it does. In fact, there are plenty of empty seats in Boys on the Run. Our theater is informed of a new rule: we are no longer allowed to save seats. There are groans and there are grumbles, but when people try to hoard four or five seats for people taking their sweet time getting to the theater, something's gotta give.
4:42: Boys on the Run is almost a great movie, with an emotionally honest first half that gives way to a conventional second half. Still, it's a movie about being a troubled young man that rings more true than anything coming out of the United States. So, uh, go Japan!
4:53: On a whim, I approach the ticket booth and inquire about tickets to Melancholia, one of the hottest tickets of the entire fest, sold out first thing this morning. They have one ticket available, returned a few minutes ago. I quickly relieve them of it. I turn to leave, but decide to ask about tickets to Smuggler, another film that was sold out before I could get tickets online. They have plenty.
5:05: As I sit down for Smuggler, I realize that you should never give up when it comes to securing Fantastic Fest tickets. I file this advice away so I can pass it on to future generations.
7:25: There are 27 things going on in Smuggler. About 19 of them work. The movie's fun, but it features a number of creative decisions that can best be described as questionable. I step outside and it's pouring rain. Rick Perry can't bring rain with his prayers, but Fantastic Fest can bring it with its pure, unadulterated awesomeness.
8:01: As I sit down for Melancholia, the discussion of the moment has become the new seat saving policy. As someone who has walked up and down rows and found himself denied seat after seat because they were being saved, I completely understand the reasoning beyond it. However, it also means a few more front row seats in my future. I ponder how many friends I can disregard now that I don't need them to save seats for me. I think I'm going to cull my social circle down to about eight. That's reasonable, right?
8:31: The screening of Melancholia is preceded by a pre-recorded Skype video interview with director Lars Von Trier, whose infamous Antichrist was a huge hit at Fantastic Fest two years ago. Von Trier is interview-shy, never leaving Europe, so this is something of a treat, especially since he's not one to mince words or play nice (he describes his own film as hopelessly kitschy and tells us that Americans aren't nearly as horrible as he thought they were).
11:06: Differing opinions on Melancholia swirl about me. Some say it's pretentious junk, too slow and too full of itself. Others think it's a masterpiece, a sad, moving portrait of destruction both internal and external. As for me, I find it to be the most accurate depiction of clinical depression I've ever seen put on film, so much so that it brings me back to very dark places. Even the science fiction aspects of the film ring true: when you're in the throes infinite sadness, the only thing you truly want is for a rogue planet to crash into Earth, wiping out all of existence.
11:14: While most of my friends and colleagues attend the 100 Best Kills show (an event that compiles 100 of the greatest death scenes in film history and, yes, that does sound like a blast!), I choose to take an early night so I can decompress from Melancholia. This film has hit me hard and it's hit me deep.
12:06: I realize that this journal entry is going to end on a slightly down note thanks to the power of Melancholia. You can send your hate mail to Lars Von Trier. If you track down his email, let me know.