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Threading up the 2009 Fantastic Fest!

Gentlemen Broncos to open Fantastic Fest!
by Jason Whyte

Oy, vey, just what am I getting myself into?

As this is usually the point where I start to fire you interviews and press coverage for the annual Vancouver International Film Festival, things have taken a turn for the more interesting, the more Fantastic. It’s Austin, and I’m going back. Here’s hoping that this film festival loving kid-at-heart survives another round at my favorite city in the world.

For those of you that have not heard about the annual film festival known as Fantastic Fest, get out from under your rock. Make travel arrangements (if you’re in the US, flights are cheap right now! Expedia is your bitch.), get some beer and Alamo money together, buy a festival pass and get your ass down to Austin for what I have been told, time and again by locals and journalists, is the single greatest film festival experience ever. And when you’re in the same city as South By Southwest, that’s no small feat.

This festival is more than a “genre” fest. This is a fest that caters to one’s outgoing imagination, from its offbeat fare, foreign selections, world premieres and short films. At one point, someone dubbed Fantastic Fest as “a film festival with all the boring parts cut out”…not sure that I totally agree with that as I have been to some crazy film festivals (Party-crazy Whistler, I’m looking at you).

The 2009 edition of Fantastic Fest kicks off on Thursday, September 23rd with a screening of Jared Hess’ film Gentlemen Broncos, featuring the great Michael Angranano (One Last Thing) and Sam Rockwell. The early buzz on this world premiere is how the film harkens back to the style and attitude of “Napoleon Dynamite” rather than the Jack Black insanity of the dreadful “Nacho Libre” from a few years back. So that’s a good thing in my books.

Zombieland, to screen once at 6:45 at the Paramount this Friday, is also a hotly anticipated screening. Already obtaining raves from the likes of Devin Faraci at CHUD, and Todd Gilchrist at Cinematical, this is likely the place to be on Friday night. It also helps that Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and director Ruben Fleischer are all on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

Vampire’s Assistant, with John C. Fuckin’ Reilly, who is also attending the festival with co-star Josh Hutcherson (“Bridge to Terabithia”) Done. Sold. I’m there.

Survival of the Dead, which scored raves at the Toronto Film Festival recently, is another entry in the legendary George Romero pantheon of badass zombie films. Romero is also attending the festival, so that’s sending me into geek-out overload already.

Closing the festival is Daybreakers, a vampire horror film by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig. This futuristic thriller has a lot of vampires and a few humans trying to survive an inescapable situation. Oh I’ll be seeing this one.

Damn you, Lars von Trier! Antichrist has also made its way to Fantastic Fest and is a hotly anticipated screening. This is also playing at my Vancouver International Film Festival back home, but I think a film like this would be better suited in a place for all things weird.

A few other films to mention, among the many many features at this festival, include Ti West’s House of the Devil which has been earning raves on the fest circuit, the outstanding Bronson, a prison drama featuring an insane performance by Tom Hardy as a prisoner who assumes an alternate identity, the creepy looking midnight feature Paranormal Activity which Paramount is screening simultaneously at multiple screens across the country , the awesome looking documentary Tokyo Olynpics which makes light of Olympics in the Japanese way, and Clive Barker’s Dread, which has that guy Clive’s name on it. That’s all you need to know.

If you are feeling like short films, Fantastic Fest is putting on a few shorts packages (read: a whole two hours of them!) to run alongside the features. I hope to check out a program or two while in Austin, but as my duty as a Canadian and to support my friends up here, do be on the lookout for the award winning short Next Floor by director Denis Villenvenue (Malestrom, Polytechnique) which screens with the film

READ A VIFF ’08 interview on NEXT FLOOR by producer Pheobe Greenberg.

And what’s going on in-between? There is no shortage of parties and hangout opportunities, all happening at the new Entertainment Mecca the Highball, adjacent to the Alamo South Lamar location.

- 100 Kills Show – Bring your own DVD of your favorite death scene. Win prizes. Not so simple as it sounds (and nor is the Shakeyface badge), as nothing in Fantastic Fest is.

- Rambo 101. As a Canadian, I am not even sure if I am allowed to attend this event, which takes out of town guests out for a day of shooting military weapons. Yes, big guns. Someone told me the other night there’s going to be a tank involved.

- Real D and 3D workshops – Taking place early morning, a series of panel discussions and workshops on the next step in digital 3D technology. There will also be a 3D lounge at the highball. Come relax in the third dimension! There will also be a special double bill screening of the Toy Story films which have been restored for the third dimension.

- A Party Every Night – Should you decide not to take on one of the many evening or midnight screenings, why not check out one of the many evening parties at the new Highball? Every night there is something going on, from the Gentlemen Broncos to the 3-D party. The parties are open to all badgeholders.

- The Truffe Feast – Feeling a bit hungry? The screening of Truffe will be enhanced by a five course truffle feast with matching wine samplings. Even if you have a FF badge, you still have to pay for the food, but this sounds like a memorable event.

- Fantastic Debates – Old friend, former editor and now manager of Cinematical Scott Weinberg is leading off his third year of question and answer game, which has led into karaoke. And booze. Or so I’ve heard. Last year I heard young filmmaker Emily Hagins (from the documentary “Zombie Girl”) was holding her own and answering her questions as good as the older folk during the debates. That kid has one hell of a curfew.

This is the first year of my pilgrimage down to Fantastic Fest, although I am no stranger to Austin. Since 2007 I have ventured down to Texas for South By Southwest and I love this city. It’s a lively, spirited place and one of the very few places I have felt the most comfortable just being myself. It also doesn’t hurt that the Alamo Drafthouse, the single greatest cinema creation since sliced bread, is also on hand to ensure a fun time is had by all. Apparently this Tim guy owns it and he’s cool and all.

If you are around the festival, be sure to say hi! If you are on Twitter, be SURE to follow my instant updates of FF ’09 at

Watch for reviews from not only myself but other writers throughout the festival. As well, I’ll be posting a few dispatches on just what the hell I’m up to while on the ground at Austin. Be sure to drop on by for updates. Wish me luck, and fire me an email at!

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originally posted: 09/25/09 02:22:11
last updated: 09/25/09 02:23:22
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