Fantastic Fest kicks off in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Sept. 18, and boasts an impressive lineup of films, including the Keanu Reeves-starring hitman thriller John Wick, Kevin Smith‘s man-walrus horror fable Tusk, and the world premiere of Joe Lynch‘s action extravaganza Everly (of which, much more later in the week).
But the movie screenings at this much-beloved sci-fi, fantasy, and horror event are just the tip of the iceberg—the tusks on the walrus suit, if you will—of the activities which attendees can enjoy. Below, Fantastic Fest cofounder and Alamo Drafthouse head honcho Tim League talks about the treats in store, cinematic and otherwise, and why he might actually die before it’s all over.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is the 10th anniversary of Fantastic Fest. How are you marking the milestone?
TIM LEAGUE: Well, we’re bringing back a lot our favorite guests who have come over the years, and we’re accelerating the insanity of the parties. We’ve been focusing a lot on making opening night and closing night just a complete blast for everybody that is able to attend.
I heard rumors there will be a food fight on opening night. Is that correct?
Yes, yes. One aspect of Fantastic Fest is something called Fantastic Arcade. We have a special guest this year, Thu Tran, who does a TV show called Food Party. It’s like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure-meets-the Food Channel. She’s going to be kicking off what we think is going to be an epic food battle. We’ve even invested in drones and GoPros for the festivities to make sure we have the aerial shots.
You don’t get that at the Deauville Film Festival.
I haven’t actually ever heard of another film festival with a food fight. This might be a first.
The ABCs of Death 2 is playing on opening night. Could you explain what that is for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the franchise?
It’s a project that was the brainchild of a longtime partner-in-crime of mine, Ant Timpson. He was a recent father and he was remembering some of the ABCs books that were a little bit on the dark side when he was a kid and thought it would make a really good anthology film. Twenty-six directors each make a four-minute film and each film ends with a death by that letter. It’s a project that’s always been tied to Fantastic Fest. I’m a co-producer on the film and one of my roles is to bring filmmakers to the project. Almost everybody that takes part in ABCs of Death is a veteran of the festival. So we’re going to be doing the world premiere of the film on opening night and it’s also the theme of our closing night party, which is “26 Ways to Party.” [Laughs] So ‘H’ is for haircut, and ‘T’ is for tattoo. We have free tattoos for everybody who wants to have the Fantastic Fest logo on their body forever.
Is ‘A’ for alcohol? Because, if so, I might never make it to ‘B.’
[Laughs] There will be some alcohol-themed stages.
Fantastic Fest has become famous for hosting debate-fights. And, this year, you plan to vocally battle with then box House of the Devil director Ti West over the subject of found-footage movies. I hate to tell you this, but no one seems to think you have much of chance in the ring. The generally feeling seems to be that he could kill you.
I’m actually in the same camp. Ti West is a trained mixed martial arts fighter. If I were a gambling man, which I am, I would never ever ever put money on myself.
I’m assuming you are against found footage, given Ti’s last movie, The Sacrament, is an example of the subgenre.
That is correct. Technically, [the motion] is “RESOLVED: Found footage films are a cancer upon our industry.” There are good found footage movies out there but for the purpose of the debate I’m arguing [against] the positives.
Has anybody told Ti that this is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek bout? I interviewed director Joe Swanberg once and he talked about the time he took part in a debate-fight and, as no one did tell him that, he beat the s–t out of film writer Devin Faraci.
But the ultimate fights are not supposed to be tongue-in-cheek! Joe’s was one of the best of all-time because it was a genuine beef between Devin Faraci and Joe Swanberg and Joe Swanberg did beat up Devin Faraci. [Laughs] That’s exactly what we want! We want real debates and real fights! You know, come and bring it!
Mondo has established a really great following and they’re curating film screenings and panels and things like that. But at the core of it, there’s going to be a lot of movie-related posters, and products, and a lot of announcements about what’s coming down the pike in 2015.
What films are you particularly pleased to be presenting this year?
Oh man, so so many. Opening and closing night, we have really really great films. The new Kevin Smith film Tusk kicks things off, and we’re closing down with Nightcrawler, the Jake Gyllenhaal movie. I’ve seen both of those, I love them both. They really capture the type of movie we’re trying to champion. But then on top of that, we’ve got 75 features, 25 different countries represented from all those features, so it’s a really international festival at this point. A lot of my favorites are the small little discovery films, foreign language films from up-and-coming directors.
I was reading on the Fantastic Fest website about a short film which concerns a boy who must stop masturbating otherwise his father, who is a giant chicken, will die. Have you seen that one?
I haven’t yet seen it, but that did catch my attention. I have a shorts programmer and it looks like she’s chosen a winner there.