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Avoiding Fantastic Faux Pas

Brian Salisbury gives the gift of indispensable info for Fantastic Fest newbies.

Avoiding Fantastic Faux Pas

We are but days away from what I and many of my likeminded geeks refer to as the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays are great and all, but Christmas and New Year's can’t possibly compare to the unrelenting, heavenly chaos of one the world’s greatest film festivals. Fantastic Fest is a celebration of all the reasons we love movies, and a testament to the merits of seeking out films outside the mainstream. With the magnitude to which this festival has grown, it can be exceedingly overwhelming for first-time attendees. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of helpful advice aimed at keeping you from making some of the mistakes of which we were all guilty when we were rookies.

Get Your Flu Shot

Filmmakers, critics and film fans travel from all over the world to spend an entire week sharing close quarters in movie theaters with food and drink service. If you are the least bit germ phobic, I just described your personal hell. Every year without fail, an epidemic of a nasty virus we not-so-affectionately call the Fantastic Flu sends attendees home feeling--and looking--very much like death. So please, for the love of Typhoid Mary, get your flu shots before arriving in Austin. Or, failing that, load up on orange juice and Emergen-C and don’t stop taking it until you’re back home.

Don’t Get Star Struck

Fantastic Fest has grown from an underground celebration of the weird and obscure to one of the premier genre film festivals on the planet. As such, Fantastic Fest attracts a goodly amount of high-profile celebrities whose films are now eagerly submitted. This year alone we have Brandon Routh, Dominic Monaghan and Rick Baker, just to name a few. If this is your first fest, it can be tempting to mob these stars in excitement. Try to keep in mind that Fantastic Fest creates a unique environment for the guests in which they can be laid-back film fans just like the rest of us. So offer a cordial word and a handshake, and it will almost always be returned in kind. But this is not the place for autograph hounding.

Take Advantage of the Film Community

One of the best aspects of Fantastic Fest is the community of cinephiles it creates and fosters. This is an extension of the Alamo Drafthouse that houses the festival. The people who attend Fantastic Fest wouldn’t have traveled so many miles and shouldered such expense unless they were insanely passionate about film. Furthermore, they are all excited to be in the company of others who share that passion. So don’t treat anyone at this festival as a stranger. Find yourself lingering out on the patio surrounded by new faces while waiting for your next movie to start? The simple question, “What have you seen today?” will not only break the ice, but more than likely serve as the catalyst for great friendships.

Drink A Lot, But Not Constantly

Make no mistake, the booze flows at Fantastic Fest like a river of bad decisions, and I won’t deny partaking in more than my fair share. As much as it pains me to say this, you’re going to want to exercise a little moderation with your drinking. I’m not advocating moderation in terms of quantity, but frequency. With all the parties, events and the simple fact that buckets of beer can be delivered to your seat during any given film, the temptation is there to spend a solid amount of the fest intoxicated. But if you aren’t watching and adequately processing as many movies as you can, you’re not getting your money’s worth, and that’s just not possible if you drink from sunup to sundown. So instead, schedule a full day of movie watching and then reward yourself with an evening of binging at the fabulous Highball Lounge right next door. Heaven knows I would never suggest abstaining from drinking altogether, but it’s nice to remember the films you’ve seen during the fest.

Don’t Miss The Fantastic Debates

In addition to the myriad films available for your viewing pleasure, Fantastic Fest also features some of the greatest signature events ever conceived. Among them are the 100 Greatest Kills Party, the game show-style Fantastic Feud and the brutal Fantastic Debates. I would highly recommend that you make room on your schedule to attend this year’s Fantastic Debates. The way it works is that two people debate a chosen movie topic. Then, to definitively select a winner, the debaters step into a boxing ring and beat the living hell out of one another for two rounds. We all thought it was going to be impossible to top last year, wherein Alamo Drafthouse founder/owner Tim League held his own against tough-as-nails actress Michelle Rodriguez. But this year Tim has foolishly agreed to debate, and subsequently spar, with bare-knuckle boxing champ James McDonagh. It’s going to be the most awesome one-sided fight in history.

Take Chances

One of the big draws of the festival, especially for first-time attendees, is the secret screenings. These are so popular that tickets run out quickly and there tends to be a long line of standbys hoping to gain admittance. If you can get a ticket for a secret screening, that’s great. But don’t forsake seeing other films to wait in line for every secret screening. Odds are the impetus for your standing in these lines is that you’re hoping to see a big Hollywood movie early. But is it really worth missing the chance to discover great films that may never play any other theaters or get picked up for distribution in favor of seeing something you know will hit multiplexes within a few months? Treat every failed attempt to get into a secret screening as an opportunity to roll the dice on something outside your wheelhouse.


With all the excitement of the films, the events and the parties, it will be tempting to pull a string of all-nighters. This may sound counter to reason, but believe me, especially if this is your first year, you will be so overwhelmed by so many amazing experiences that you won’t want to miss a moment of it with trivial things like sleep. But there are few things more detrimental to your first festival than being trapped in a state of perpetual sleep-deprivation. Not only will it have you crashing hard in a cool, darkened theater, possibly in the middle of a film you are really loving, but it is also the easiest way to ensure your immune system is weak and primed to get pummeled by the Fantastic Flu. Seriously, even if it means catching a few winks with your head down at a table on the patio, get some sleep.


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