Day 5 of FantasticFest (Texas, 2009)

With what seemed like a lot of events planned for the day, compared to the amount of movies available to see (excluding ones that had sold out or that we had already seen) we were all set for the regional premiere of Cropsey.

Having met the co-Directors / Producers of the movie (Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio) at the Barbeque outing the day before, we were keen to see what this creepy documentary was all about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP9PT4BrPM8

A documentary / mockumentary (I'm still not sure which fits better) about a real-life serial killer in Staten Island, New York - what initially sounds like a killer plot for a film quickly turns into a rather flimsy feature length version of an episode of Crimewatch. With re-enactments, or rather walk-throughs, filmmaking duo Zeman and Brancaccio, of what might or might not have happened on the night of the disappearance of a little girl with Down's syndrome in the 1980s, and several other young children before her, by the end of the film you can't help but feel a bit sorry for the guy who was locked up for 22 years for allegedly killing these children (with no real, concrete evidence to convict him).

What is perhaps more frightening than the thought of a child killer on the loose, is the warped minds of the local residents who have spent the last 20 years searching for the children in the same few square feet of wooded area, hoping that they might just 'turn up' one day. The film focuses far too much on the opinion of the biased local residents rather than the evidence found to prove that the children were even abducted and murdered.

Interviews with the Police Officers dealing with the missing child cases, that in my opinion were too seldom, proved truly insightful and terrifying. I feel that they really missed the point here, when making a film about uncovering the truth behind an Urban Legend, it is generally expected that factual evidence will be used to support the claim. If only the filmmakers could have included more footage of the Police Officers and their findings then it would have turned this film from a trite attempt at linking two unrelated ideas into a believable documentary worth watching.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qy8AOhwu2t0]

Up next was Mandrill. From the same people who brought us KiltroMandrill also stars Marko Zaror, Chile's answer to Bruce Lee, as the titular character. The story is rather a traditional one: Hitman goes on a mission to avenge his mother's death, Hitman meets girl, Hitman falls in love with girl, Hitman finds out girl is linked to his mother's death, chaos ensues.

The only thing I can liken this to is a Bond film with more heart and fewer cheesy one-liners. I went into the screening with no knowledge of the film and no expections, and I can honestly say I was most pleasantly surprised by what I saw. From the hilarious dance sequence to the impressive stunts and wire-free martial arts sequences (performed by Marko Zaror himself), this film has something for everyone, and manages to poke fun at itself just enough to avoid becoming conceited.

The film displays some great action sequences that draw you in and hold your attention, which are nicely interspersed with light humour and a bit of romance. The two lead actors (Marko Zaror and Celine Reymond) have a great onscreen chemistry and make a believable couple. This was a really fun movie, completely different to what I imagined. I really hope it makes it over to the UK soon so I can see what it is like on second viewing.

Onto our final film of the day, Crazy Racer - Crazy film! During the screening, I was unsure as to what on earth it was about and I’m still no better off now. One thing is for certain, it is a long film that seems never ending with such an intricately woven plot that if you look away from the screen for even a second, you are likely to miss a vital piece of a very complex puzzle that makes the film make sense. Tim League summed up the madness perfectly in the FantasticFest programme:

"Singing and dancing Chinese Supermen, bumbling police investigators, even more bumbling apprentice criminals, double and triple-cross assassination attempts, muay thai gymnastics, triad gangster shootouts, explosions and car chases all collide to form a deliriously intoxicating celluloid cocktail".

And Tim was right; you leave the cinema somewhat visually drunk. What separates this film from anything else at the festival is it’s amazing capability of making an audience fall in love with it because of its confusing and assuming plot, rather than despite it, although when pitted against the other Japanese films on offer at the festival this one was a happy medium for me; no where near as tenuous as Fish Story but not quite on the same level of brilliance as Kamogawa Horumo.

As the festival had by now reached past the halfway point, it was time for the FantasticFest Awards 2009. Mike and I were particularly excited about this to see how the films that we had seen and the filmmakers that we had met over the course of the week fared in the event. I was also looking forward to seeing Mike up on stage, as he had been selected to present the award for the winner of the Fantastic Short.

With pint-sized, FantasticFest branded porcelain mugs up for grabs for award winners, everyone was keen to find out which films were to be honoured. After finding out that each winner had to put the giant mugs to use by chugging beer in record time, the nominees became a little more anxious about the prospect of winning.

Winners of the event included: Human Centipede for Best Horror Feature, Mandrill for Best Fantastic Feature, Down Terrace for Best New Wave Feature, and A Town Called Panic for Audience Award: Best Feature.

The highlight of the FantasticFest Awards 2009 for me was seeing a montage of the best Shakey Face badge photos, set to Michael Jackson’s ‘Shake Your Body’, and who’s face should appear towards the end of the montage but yours truly. Yes, that was perhaps the most embarrassing but also most proud three seconds of my life, having my mug in all it’s twisted, contorted glory on the big screen of one of the best cinemas in the world.

Next up to end our amazing week at FantasticFest in Austin was the Fantastic Debates. I was a bit confused as to what this entailed, imagining a rather boring and stale debate about really geeky film stuff that I probably wouldn’t know the first thing about. It was only when we walked into the local gym and bagged ourselves ring-side seats that I realized this was no ordinary debate. Each competitor is kitted out in Boxing attire and has a civilized debate with their opponent (behind a lectern) before throwing all niceties aside and knocking seven bells out of each other to settle the score officially.

After three rounds featuring festival programmers and respected journalists it was time for the main event; Tim League vs Uwe Boll. Unfortunately Mr Boll was not aware prior to the event that many contestants would resort to their razor-sharp wit to defeat their opponent and so protested that he didn’t realise he had to be funny, and claimed that he just isn’t a funny guy. It was only when word got round that Uwe was an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth that it became pretty obvious this was going to be a match not to miss.

Tim League was ever the gentleman, expressing his views and opinions, arguing against the subject ‘Independent Cinema is Dead’ in a most erudite manner, whereas Boll found it a little more difficult to argue for the statement seeing as he owns an independent distribution company. The fight was noble, bold and gritty and despite it being announced a draw, we all know in the end the true fighter proved victorious – all hail King Tim. Long live the ‘League’.

More Information For further information on FANTASTIC FEST 2009 visit the festival website: www.fantasticfest.com.