Chances are that, even if you adore movies, you’ve never been to a film festival before. And if you have, you’ve probably never been to a film festival like Fantastic Fest before. For eight days in Austin, Texas, Tim League and the Alamo Drafthouse play host to a selection of richly rewarding but slightly off-center films from every corner of the known universe. Maybe you’ve heard of it, and maybe you’re totally jealous.
That’s okay! The spirit of Fantastic Fest is all-inclusive, and I’m here to help. If you can’t make it down to Austin, there’s no reason why you can’t make Fantastic Fest happen in your living room. Here’s everything you need to host a killer one-night Fantastic Fest at home, in no particular order.
5. The Films
While Fantastic Fest has a reputation as a safe haven for outlandish horror and sci-fi, there’s actually a ton of dramas and comedies there too. For a one-day fest, pick five films, varying countries and genres - don’t go all-foreign and don’t go all horror. Throw in a documentary or a whacked-out romance. Play unpredictable. This will truly get your guests into the spirit of the fest as they won’t know what to expect from one film to the next.
You can choose some off-kilter favorites of your own, ones you know your guests haven’t seen (for the most part), or you can use this handy guide to all of the past Fantastic Fest films that are currently available to be streamed online. Spread them out with roughly an hour break between films, and leave a two-hour block of time after sundown for the next item on the list.
Also, and this is important, NO TALKING OR TEXTING. If anyone needs to do this during the party, let them excuse themselves. If you really want to get into it, play one of these Alamo bumpers before every film.
I’m not sure how and when Fantastic Fest’s second most popular activity besides movie-watching became karaoke, but there you have it. Perhaps it’s a general appreciation of all things Japanese, or maybe it’s the convenience of the Highball, the Drafthouse’s adjacent nightclub, which features private karaoke rooms and live-band stage karaoke (and sometimes offers both at the exact same time). Somewhere during the night of your fest (I suggest right before your final film), fire up a karaoke machine and spend a couple of hours belting out Bon Jovi and Bon Iver to anyone who will listen. If you’re not ready to sing, it means you haven’t gotten drunk enough. Please see Number Three.
If you’re going to fill your fridge (or get a keg) for the fest, make sure it’s Texas’ own Shiner Bock. I realize I sound like a commercial, and I don’t even like beer, but this is a hugely important ingredient. Shiner flows like honey-colored water throughout the festival, and by the end of the day, everyone is in a loosey-goosey buzz that makes funny movies funnier and scary movies scarier. Without beer, it’s not Fantastic Fest.
2. The Preshow
You get a show before the show at the Drafthouse, and unlike the multiplexes, pimping new ABC sitcoms and diet cola commercials, the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show consists of video oddities of every imaginable configuration. You might see a vintage cartoon followed by a hopelessly outdated PSA followed by a 1980s hair-metal music video. The geniuses who create this stuff are the beating heart of the Drafthouse brand. Keep the preshow visually interesting and entertaining, but not so engrossing that anyone will groan when you turn it off. Many set-top boxes include YouTube integration, so build a playlist there and fire it up between shows.
If you want some classic Drafthouse standbys, here are a couple of suggestions...
We all have a circle of friends that we socialize with, but in the case of your own homegrown Fantastic Fest, expand that circle. This is a time when you’ll make new friends and learn more about acquaintances than you ever thought possible. Include the guy from your office who really, really liked The Dark Knight Rises and wouldn’t shut up about it. Call up the girlfriend you haven’t had coffee with in a year. Text a friend of a friend and invite them to join in. By the end of the night, if you’ve replicated Fantastic Fest successfully, you’ll have made a half dozen new pals that you suddenly can’t live without. Even if no one agrees on any of the films, they’ll all have had a good time.
If you have a patio or a deck, don’t allow anyone to stay inside between films. After every movie, usher everyone to the patio and talk for an hour before firing up the next flick. Heck, you don’t even have to talk about the movie you just watched, just take the conversation outside. Some fresh air and a change of scenery will get you ready for the next film without glazing over, and the one-hour breaks will become just as much of a highlight as the films are.
Now, if you really want to replicate the true feeling of Fantastic Fest, do this at home for eight days in a row. Do not sleep in your own bed. Eat queso with every meal. Get the flu then recover. Empty your bank account. Then, when all is said and done, get excited to do it all over again in exactly one year. That’s hard-core.
(Photos by Jack Plunkett)