Without a doubt Fantastic Fest is presenting its 2017 edition under a dark cloud of scrutiny. It has been very difficult to separate my own personal feelings about the situation that has exploded across the internet dealing with Devin Faraci and the subsequent backlash-explanation-backlash-further explanation-backlash (and then maybe final explanation and backlash?) From my feelings, I have come to find the most consistently excellent programming of any film festival in the world.
Fantastic Fest programmers like Todd Brown and others on the team have spent years cultivating relationships in countries far and wide and bringing the most adventurous and unforgiving films to screen at the festival. They are not always things I love but they are always things worth seeing – and worth seeing with an audience and have a discussion with that same audience. It seems that this year there will be just as much discussion about the bro-gramming of the festival as the programming but again THIS IS A DISCUSSION WORTH HAVING, and specifically having with this audience.
True change comes from acknowledging the realities of the environment even if it is uncomfortable and unfavorable. And because I mentioned him let me go on record and say that I felt that Todd Brown’s initial statement when he announced his resignation from Fantastic Fest was one of the most honorable things I’ve ever read. In the past I have called Mr. Brown out for ‘mansplaining’ at this year’s Sundance Film Festival during the world premiere screening of XX, an anthology film of female directed shorts. His statement and subsequent statement have proved that his heart has always been in the right place. That has nothing to do with this article but I wanted to take the opportunity to retract my previous comments on Facebook. Todd Brown is a primary force in Fantastic Fest programming, and will be missed in future editions.
In the meantime, he and the rest of the programming team have put together another startling lineup of films that defy genre and will introduce brave new voices to cinema. I don’t want to move past this controversy. I’m pretty sure Alamo CEO and Fantastic Founder Tim League will end up on the right side of this – his woman-only screenings of Wonder Woman and his endless support for the LGBTQ community give me lots hope – I think he just fell victim to feeling bad for a friend. This week we all come together to witness the future of indie genre cinema. I hope that seeing these films together will continue the discussion and generate real change for everyone. Film is somewhere we can find common ground – let’s continue to do that and let the world know that the Fantastic Fest community will not suffer behavior like Faraci’s nor its tacit approval by sweeping it under the table and silencing voices of dissent. Inclusivity reigns.
That said, here are the films I am most looking forward to at this year’s fest and why:
DIR: ZAK HILDITCH
Length/COuntry: 101 MIN., UNITED STATES
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: 1922 is based on Stephen King’s 131-page story telling of a man’s confession of his wife’s murder. The tale is told from the perspective of Wilfred James, the story’s unreliable narrator who admits to killing his wife, Arlette, in Nebraska. But after he buries her body, he finds himself terrorized by rats and, as his life begins to unravel, he becomes convinced his wife is haunting him.
Bro-grammer Bears says: It’s been a mixed bag for Stephen King this year, with IT getting loads of praise but his masterwork The Dark Tower sort of sidelined into irrelevancey (which is a damn shame! What did they do with that? With that cast? It was can’t miss… and they ended the 8 book series in one film. Its like Lord of The Rings ending in Rivendell with gimli busting the ring with his axe, story over). So yeah, curious about this one, one of the most tense books I’ve ever read.
Non-Binary Bears says: Hildritch’s first film followed a pleasure-seeking misogynist whose final search for redemption was pretty unearned so it will be interesting if we ever feel much for Wilfred, which is pretty pivotal for the story to work.
DIR: JOHN MCPHAIL
Length/COuntry: 107 MIN., UNITED KINGDOM
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: Anna’s life is dominated by the typical concerns of her youthful peers until the Christmas season in her small town brings not Santa, but an outbreak of the undead in this genre-mashing holiday horror musical. Yep. Musical.
Bro-grammer Bears says: Musical? Zombies? I’m be tempted even if I thought it was going to be a trainwreck but I saw this as a short. I can only hope the zombies stumble into the rumored ‘Glee’ reboot/’Klaine’ and kill that idea dead.
Non-Binary Bears says: Since movies have taken over musicals (Kinky Boots, The Wedding Singer, Legally Blonde) its only fair it should work the other way around. The final version of course will be a stage version of this film. And then a TV version of the stage version. Either way, this is the film I am most excited about at the fest! And look forward to 2018 when the Disney Channel premieres their own zombie musical set amidst a high school cheerleading squad. No seriously.
DIR: BRAD ABRAHAMS
Length/COuntry: 67 MIN., UNITED STATES
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: David Huggins, a 72-year-old man who claims to have lost his virginity as a young man to an extraterrestrial being, turned to art to express his interspecies romance and lifelong relationship with the otherworldly.
Bro-grammer bears says: This guy claims to have had sex over and over again with aliens which he describes pretty specifically. He’s writing a screenplay but unfortunately in this documentary, we only have his paintings as visuals.
Non-Binary Bears says: The art is actually quite good.
DIR: BRIAN TAYLOR
Length/COuntry: 83 MIN., UNITED STATES
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage are seemingly ideal parents until an unknown force causes their town’s adults to murder their offspring.
Bro-grammer bears says: Please tell me Nichols Cage read this script and said ‘how am I not in this film?’ and his agent said ‘Well you can be’ – this is the best of what a Fantastic Fest premise can be. Fun at its very core, with high profile actors doing things they never thought they would be.
Non-Binary Bears says: A perfect crowd pleaser? the most frightening thing about this movie might be the promise of REO Speedwagon.
DIR: MARC MEYERS
Length/COuntry: 107 MIN., UNITED STATES
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: This is the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, a high school loner whose life would shape up to be something far more frightening than anyone could have imagined.
Bro-grammer bears says: Serial killer origin story, basically, inspired by a comic book, couldn’t really be a more Fantastic Fest film – unless he also kills a dog. I REALLY wanted this to be the secret screening at aGLIFF this year… this just gets lost in the FF lineup I think whereas at aGLIFF it would have been the MOST TALKED ABOUT FILM AT THE FEST.
Non-Binary Bears says: Dahmer is clearly a difficult person to profile, since he is batshit crazy. Also not someone the LGBTQ community is proud to claim. We’ve also already had quite a few Dahmer portrayals, including Jeremy Renner in 2002. Do we really need to dive into this shit-swamp again?
[you can see I am conflicted to say the least]
DIR: ANGELA ROBINSON
Length/COuntry: 108 MIN., UNITED STATES
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: In a superhero origin tale unlike any other, this film is the incredible true story of what inspired Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston to create the iconic Wonder Woman character in the 1940s.
Bro-grammer Bears says: Given the success of DC’s Wonder Woman this summer, it feels like this biopic is the easy-arthouse-shoe-in version, the man behind the lasso. Word from TIFF is there is a pretty hot sex mixed in with the feminism…
Non-Binary Bears says: The story behind Wonder Woman is one the general public knows little about, it features S&M and polyamory and the lie detector test (that last one is not all that surprising). Like the big budget version, the arthouse version is directed by a woman. For our first feminist superhero, that seems like the right choice, even if behind the woman was a man, but behind him was (two!) women.
DIR: LUKE SHANAHAN
Length/COuntry: 99 MIN., AUSTRALIA
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: After a full year, Maude is still stricken by visions of her sister Cleo’s kidnapping. Believing that Cleo is still alive, Maude undergoes a suspenseful journey to find her in this stunning, atmospheric feature debut from Luke Shanahan.
Bro-grammer Bears says: This is the sort of ‘dark crime’ genre film that Fantastic Fest has over last few years become obsessed with, and for once, its not from eastern Europe. Twins are creepy right? At all stages of life. But especially when they have a psychic condition.
Non-Binary Bears says: Maude’s story is one where the survivor feels guilt for not being the victim, amplified by the loss of her sister, the reflection in the mirror stolen from her when she stopped looking. A journey in the very male-dominated caravan culture, Maude’s exploration takes her into some very uncomfortable situations, with little support.
DIR: CORALIE FARGEAT
Length/COuntry: 108 MIN., FRANCE
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: Three rich male thrill-seekers discover that Jennifer isn’t the human sex doll that they assumed she was when they invited her on their isolated hunting getaway. Jennifer teaches them fundamental lessons about consent in a manner that they — and we — won’t soon forget.
Bro-grammer Bears says: Pure fantastic fest premise… is it exploitation masked as feminism or the other way around?
Non-Binary Bears says: There is no other film in this year’s festival that seems poised to provoke the last week’s hard feelings more than this one. Of course, from France and written and directed by a woman, this is a far cry from last year’s ELLE.
DIR: KLIM SHIPENKO
Length/COuntry: 119 MIN., RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: Based on a true story, SALYUT-7 is the little-known mission to dock with an unmanned space station in order to stop it from crashing into Earth, a feat never before attempted in space history.
Bro-grammer Bears says: Space history, the glorious story of victory in defeat, which sounds like Apollo 13 with a healthy dose of communism. The real question is what would Trump tweet? #sad
Non-Binary Bears says: This will probably be a film that is 98% male with women relegated to worried wives at home clinging to radios. Such is history. That said, shout out to Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, 1963, twenty years before Sally Ride. Valentina currently serves in the Russian parliament, carried the Olympic torch in 2014, and has volunteered to go on a one-way trip to Mars.
DIR: CORY FINLEY
Length/COuntry: 92 MIN., UNITED STATES
Synopsis according to Fantastic Staff not named DEVIN Faraci: Two teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. In the process, they learn that neither is what she seems to be, and that a murder might solve both of their problems.
Bro-grammer Bears says: Two up and coming young actresses took Sundance by storm with this dark comedy that also features Anton Yelchin’s final role (thank god it wasn’t the insufferable sxsw self-indulgent snoozefest Porto).
Non-Binary Bears says: Based on a play with 5 page scenes and universally praised teenage female characters, despite Cory Finley being 27 and male at the time of writing, I’m in. As somewhat the substitute for the pulled opening night film, Thoroughbreds has a lot to live up to, but I hope it does. It feels like a very different selection for Fantastic Fest.
FANTASTIC FEST runs September 21-28 at Alamo South Lamar. Badges are sold out but there are usually empty seat tickets available for most shows, especially during the day or in the second half of the fest.