Michael Bergeron
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Fantastic Fest 2016 Preview

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All happy film festivals are alike. All unhappy film festivals are unhappy in their own manner. The Fantastic Film Festival — playing in Austin for eight days starting later this week — falls into the happy category.

Leon casino, Fantastic Fest was started in 2005 by AlamoDrafthouse founder Tim League along with Harry Knowles (Ain’t It Cool News), Paul Alvarado-Dykstra and Tim McCanlies (writer, The Iron Giant). Now in its eleventh annual edition, it has become one of the, if not the, largest genre film festival in the world.

Fantastic Fest takes place in a stand-alone venue, the flagship AlamoDrafthouse on South Lamar in Texas’ capital city. The main lobby floor has carpet that is the same design as the carpet in The Shining. Adjacent to the theater is a huge bar, which also functions as a dance floor as well as an auditorium, The Highball. Upstairs are rooms designed for press interviews. The multiple theaters themselves have raked seats with small tables in front of the viewers – a testament of the fact the AlamoDrafthouse serves food. When you step into this motion picture palace you feel you’ve arrived at a movie mecca.

The festival consists of a cross section of studio releases and movies you’ve never heard of that will blow you away, and that you simply may never have another chance to see. Last year, for instance, I caught a comic hit man adventure titled Schneider vs. Bax from Netherlands director Alex van Warmerdam (Borgman). Never heard of it since, although I can’t wait to tell people to check it out.

Some of the mainstream premieres include Arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario) sci-fi thriller starring Amy Adams from Paramount Pictures that opens in early November. Also, Tim Burton will present his newest visionary film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in 3D (opens September 30 from 20th Century Fox).

Burton will also appear in a Q&A moderated by Leonard Maltin on Sunday, September 25. The following day Maltin will host a Q&A with Bruce Campbell, who himself presents episodes from Season Two of Ash vs. Evil Dead. Another cable premiere presents the opening episode of HBO’s upcoming Westworld.

Fans of international cinema can only marvel at a line-up that includes Kammattipadam from Indian director Rajeec Raji; Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire, an ecological thriller set in Peru; from Russia, Ivan Tverdovsky’s strangely compelling Zoology; and from South Korea, Chan-Wook Park’s The Handmaiden, as well as Kim Jee-Woon’s Age of Shadows.

Fantastic Fest doesn’t just unspool cinema. There are boxing matches between critics and filmmakers done in lucha style. Additionally this year Fantastic Fest introduces a “Satanic Panic Room” an escape room with a cult theme where participants have 45-minutes to gather clues and open doors.

Fantastic Fest unwinds Thursday, September 22 through Thursday, September 29.