I have a special place in my heart for Fantastic Fest because it was the first film festival I attended and covered professionally, for Cinematical back in 2005, the year the fest started. The 2005 fest was a long weekend of genre films, attended by a small enough crowd that you felt you knew everyone there by the time it was over. Since then, Fantastic Fest has expanded to nine days, added all kinds of crazy parties and events, become notorious for "secret screenings" that premiered films such as Southland Tales and There Will Be Blood, and introduced filmgoers to any number of international science-fiction, horror, animated, and other "fantastic" films.
In its fourth year, Fantastic Fest has grown so large and popular that its opening-night festivities moved from the genre festival's traditional Austin venue, the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, over to the Paramount, a hundred-year-old theater in the middle of downtown that seats about 1200 people. The theater was packed for the opening-night film, the U.S. premiere of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and writer-director Kevin Smith was also on hand.
The venue may have been the Paramount, but the minute the lights went down and a vintage trailer for Thunder Cops appeared onscreen, it felt like Fantastic Fest. Festival co-founder Tim League appeared onstage in a bright kimono, with a giant gong next to him, and announced, "With a stroke of this gong, I am about to declare this festival ... awesome!" Kevin Smith then introduced his film with a long and bizarre story about how he recently broke a toilet, then confessed that this had nothing to do with the film, he just wanted to tell the story.