Fantastic Fest 2010 Report

Writer/director Thomas and I have just returned from a fantastic festival experience.
This post is going to get long. Where to begin?

Maybe with a tantalizing flashforward to the end?

Vikings in Austin?! RRRRAAAAAAAaaawwwrrggghhhh! Photo by Eric Vogel.

Back to the beginning now, and some context. Held from September 22nd through 30th, this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas marked the international premiére of “Norwegian Ninja”.

Fantastic Fest is the most important genre film festival in the US, specializing in sci-fi, horror, fantasy and action. In addition to full days of programmed screenings, there are tons of special events to attend and sights to see. Like the yearly Fantastic Debates, the Fantastic Feud, plenty of madcap karaoke, excursions to shoot automatic weapons, Texan barbecue and well… many more actually.

The Commander has arrived at the Alamo Drafthouse. Photo by Eric Vogel.

What also needs to be said up front is that Fantastic Fest is organized by the same people who run the Alamo Drafthouse cinemas in Austin (and expanding to other US cities as you read this).

This is a cinema experience you may have been reading about on the internet since they premiered it in 1997 (like I have).

A cinephile’s dream, the Alamo means top notch projection and seating comfort, while being served drinks and food right there in the theatre while you watch the movie. It just works. And after you’ve tried this, the regular going-to-the-movies experience back home is simply not up to scratch anymore. Cinema owners of the world, take note! They’re doing things right over in Austin.

How it works: Every seat row has a table/benchtop running along it, and between each row there's room for a server to move. The orders are placed in writing, so no need to talk. Photo by Eric Vogel.

Our film screened in the section called AMD Dell Next Wave, together with 7 other feature films. The idea with this yearly program is to put the spotlight on new directors, from all over the world. With this year’s strong lineup it was an honor to be a part of Next Wave, and cool to meet a lot of the other filmmakers from the program as well.

The Alamo Drafthouse South, the main cinema of the festival. Photo by Eric Vogel.

The first screening of “Norwegian Ninja” was on Friday the 26th. The house was packed, as was expected. Almost all screenings throughout Fantastic Fest are completely sold out. Todd Brown from Twitch (who also works for our sales agent, Celluloid Nightmares) did an excellent intro, Thomas and I said hello from the stage – and off we went.

The first thing that happened was that some familiar but also very unexpected imagery flickered across the screen: the trailer for the first “American Ninja”! Dug up from a dusty vault to set the tone before our film. A clever bit of programming that had us in stitches!

The film itself played great. Big laughs, and we were relieved to see that many Norwegian bits of reference and our strange humor actually carried over. Of course, not all of it could. The archival clip where some famous Norwegian politicians sit around and say nothing in an especially awkard television moment doesn’t resonate unless you know who they are.

"Norwegian Ninja" Q&A, moderated by Todd Brown. Photo by Sveinung Golimo.

After the film: the Q&A. This is a ritual at most festivals, where after the credits have rolled a few hardy souls stick it out to ask the filmmakers some questions. We were happy to see that many stayed for it, and had good questions. A lot of it concerned the recent developments of the real-life Treholt case, and the mix of fact and fiction in the film. Quite interesting to see how the international (mainly US) audience read the film. It was a highly interested and competent audience for sure.

After the screening, we had a couple of days to simply enjoy the festival – see films, hang out and go to different events. Not to mention check out the city of Austin a little bit. Very cool!

By Monday night, all the films had been screened once each – and that meant it was awards time.

Award ceremony. That's Thomas on the far left, and actor Elijah Wood on the mic. Photo by Eric Vogel.

The ceremony itself was very funny, with a whole lot of beer chugging (it’s the festival’s hazing ritual – all winners must down a mug of Texan beer to prove themselves worthy), and although it doesn’t capture the mood quite right you can watch a stream of the whole ceremony online.

Thomas with the awards - only beer steins will do for a drafthouse.

We were quite surprised and of course extremely happy to win two awards in the Next Wave program, namely Best Director for Thomas and Best Actor for Mads Ousdal. Wow! It goes without saying that this felt extremely good, and that we celebrated quite hard that night.

But the fun wasn’t over yet. The following day it was time for our second screening. Again a packed house, and again a good reception. The Q&A was actually funnier this time, with even more people staying to ask questions and listen in.

There were also three other Norwegian films that screened this year in a special focus on Norwegian cinema – “Fatso“, “A Somewhat Gentle Man” and the brand new creature feature “Troll Hunter“, directed by André Øvredal. The latter was one of the festival’s four secret screenings, with the title kept under wraps right until the audience sat in their seats. It played really well! Got a lot of buzz afterwards too. Great play by the filmmakers to bring it to Austin a full month before its Norwegian premiére.

Troll Hunter secret screening. From left: moderator Todd Brown, director André Øvredal, producers John M. Jacobsen and Sveinung Golimo. Photo by Eric Vogel.

And after Troll Hunter screened, it was time for a viking party on a boat to celebrate the Norwegian focus of the festival. Although it’s questionable how authentic the viking gear they provided was (glowing horns, blow-up swords), we had a great time. And with that, we’re full circle with this post.

A mysterious "viking ninja" was spotted on the boat party (who knew the tradition went back that far?) and director Thomas. Photo by Hans Urbye.

It goes without saying that we are already longing to return for next year’s festival. And you should go too. Passes are already on sale. They’ll sell out quite soon – there’s a very dedicated audience for Fantastic Fest, and the way its run by the organizers – it has just the right size, great taste in programming and really knows how to take care of everyone who visits – the 2011 edition will surely be great as well. The experience was simply fantastic, with the festival and the people we met totally exceeding all expectations of coolness. Long live Fantastic Fest! Chaos reigns! (as they like to say)