While Comic-Con drew genre fans’ rapt attention this weekend, there’s already another upcoming event double-flagged on many a true geek’s calendar: Austin’s 4-year-old Fantastic Fest, which has built a devoted following with its genre-heavy program.
Call it the geek’s Telluride.
Run by Tim League and programmed by Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, Fantastic Fest popped onto the radar thanks to its ability to land sneak screenings of buzz fare such as Mel Gibson‘s “Apocalypto” and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “There Will Be Blood.”
The fest, which kicks off Sept. 18 this year, prides itself as a comfort zone for talent. “We try not to make it a gross experience for the filmmaker,” says League. “There’s no autographs or photos allowed. No paparazzi. We’re never going to be like Sundance or Toronto.”
The “pure audience experience,” says League, is why Anderson was eager to screen “There Will Be Blood” first at Fantastic. League, a former petroleum engineer, met the helmer at a “Boogie Nights” screening, and the two bonded over the history of U.S. oil drilling.
Likewise, Knowles’ Rolodex of filmmaker friends includes Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro — all of whom have trusted him to screen new work at Fantastic or at the Knowles birthday party fest called Butt-Numb-a-Thon, a 24-hour marathon of vintage films and secret screenings.
Hollywood also is eager for some of Austin’s spotlight. League owns the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, home of the fest, and studios often ask him to devise geeky promos around their tentpoles. He had the flame-throwing, 50-foot Robosaurus incinerate a car for the “Transformers” preem and booked a flying jet-pack man to land for “Iron Man’s” opening.
League is tight-lipped about the big sneaks for this September’s Fantastic Fest. Helmer D.J. Caruso will attend with his Shia LaBeouf thriller “Eagle Eye.”
And unlike most festival shindigs, Fantastic Fest parties are built to satisfy fan-boys’ dreams. This year there is a dance party in a mile-deep cave, an interactive showdown called “100 Best Kills,” and the “Air Sex World Finals.”
“It’s a lot like Air Guitar,” explains League, “but a bit spicier.”