Fantastic Fest II in 2006 featured one of the best lineups in the history of the festival. I both celebrate and lament this fact, as I did not begin attending Fantastic Fest until 2007. The balance between smaller-scale, independent films and major studio films was outstanding. Fest-goers were treated to early screenings of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, and a work print of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Many of you are probably well aware of what these directors have been up to. Guillermo is hard at work on Pacific Rim after briefly flirting with The Hobbit, Aronofsky danced his way to several Oscar nods with Black Swan, and Mel Gibson…ruined drunk dialing forever.
It’s August, and Fantastic Fest crests on the horizon like the brilliant first light of morning. A simile like this would seem flowery and overzealous if not for the fact that Fantastic Fest is in fact the greatest film festival in the universe—oh that’s right Zaxon 7, I said it—and we film geeks furiously count down the days leading to its return. But in our excitement to reach another September and all the bountiful glories there contained, every now and again it’s nice to reflect on Fantastic Fest past like some weird Dickensian ghost and check in with some of the filmmakers to see what they’ve been up to.
Another major studio film that enjoyed an early screening at the 2006 Fantastic Fest was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. There’s a certain note of synchronicity to this as most of this prequel/sequel to Platinum Dunes’ 2003 Texas Chainsaw remake was filmed here in Austin. Director Jonathan Liebesman just gave us the massive alien invasion film Battle: Los Angeles and is currently helming Clash of the Titans 2. The film’s writer, Sheldon Turner co-wrote the screenplay for Up in the Air with Jason Reitman in 2009 and collaborated with Bryan Singer to craft the story for X-Men: First Class. Clearly, these guys are doing quite well.
But the greatness of Fantastic Fest is not found merely in seeing blockbuster movies a few weeks or months before they would otherwise be widely available in any other theater. The attendees of this festival are die-hard film geeks who live for discovering as many new film types and titles as possible and the fest itself is one of the best showcases for the more unheralded titles in existence. So what’s going on with these alumni independent filmmakers these days?
Adam Green made a big splash (of blood) with his first feature Hatchet, which took home a Fantastic Fest Jury Award for Best Special Effects. Green has since directed three more films: Spiral, Frozen, and the somehow even bloodier Hatchet 2. Green’s latest effort, an anthology horror film called Chillerama for which he will direct one of the four vignettes, will premiere at UK Frightfest in August. Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s The Host proved that America does not own the monopoly on amazing monster movies and the audiences at Fantastic Fest agreed. After taking part in an anthology movie himself, with 2008’s Tokyo!, Joon-ho’s recent thriller Mother earned him scores of international film awards.
Apparently anthology films are a running theme for this recap. In March of this year one such omnibus film, entitled Little Deaths, played as part of the Fantastic Fest slate during SXSW. Little Deaths’ three segments were directed by Sean Hogan, Simon Rumley, and Andrew Parkinson who each directed a film at Fantastic Fest 2006, so their collaboration this year is all the more appropriate. Hogan gave us the horror thriller Lie Still while Andrew Parkinson’s film, Venus Drowning, netted a Best Actress Jury Award for Jodie Jameson. But it was Simon Rumley who was the big winner that year as his The Living and the Dead was awarded Best Film. Rumley’s follow-up Red White & Blue also fittingly played SXSW last year; clearly these Austin film fest regulars are worth keeping an eye on.
A formidable presence at Fantastic Fest II was Mr. Lucky McKee. Lucky directed The Woods as well as writing Angela Bettis’ directorial debut Roman and playing the titular character. McKee and Bettis have recently reteamed for the controversial thriller The Woman. To say this film made an impression at Sundance would be a woeful understatement and it will be fun to see what kind of reactions it gets when it screens at Frightfest in August. Kristen Bell, who took home a Jury Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Roman, has enjoyed a slew of mainstream success starting with the 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a twelve-episode stint on Heroes, and most recently appearing in Scream 4. Of course, it didn’t hurt that when Bell made Roman she was well into her wildly successful TV series Veronica Mars.
As we enter what promises to be another sensational Fantastic Fest, we look forward to our introduction to new talent and anticipate the names and films upon which we will someday be reminiscing as we chart their meteoric rise. I know I can’t wait for September 22 and I hope to see some of you there.