In comparison with film festival veterans, I'm a newbie: I've attended all or part of about two dozen over the past five years. I've yet to make it to Cannes, Toronto or Sundance, but I've gone to regional fests, Asian fests, homegrown fests run entirely by volunteers and big city fests sponsored by large corporations. With all these fests, I've come to expect different things: red carpet premieres and well-known stars at the bigger ones, great enthusiasm and excitement for the films at the smaller ones. Fantastic Fest in Austin, which concluded its third edition this past Thursday, walks another line entirely.
Our own Scott Weinberg described it as "the slickest, screwiest, most user-friendly genre festival this side of the continent." (We'll get to Scott and the unexpected pleasures of the game show he hosted later in this article.) Allow me to explain further: the festival is held at the Alamo Drafthouse (South Lamar location), a multiplex where, yes, you can order food and drinks from your seat, but, more important, all the auditoriums are superb screening facilities. Any projection glitches are fixed quickly and the sound is cranked up as loud as it should be.
Three of the six auditoriums were set aside for the festival, and clearly marked lines were set up in the lobby so you knew where to stand while waiting for your next movie. The staff and volunteers are friendly, well trained, knowledgeable and willing to share opinions on movies if they can spare a moment. It's a huge advantage to have all the festival screenings at one location, especially an exceptionally well-run facility with plenty of free parking. This gives Fantastic Fest a tremendous leg up on other well-meaning though poorly-organized festivals I've attended.