Fantastic Fest 2017: Film and Friendship Amid the Controversy

Fantastic Fest 2017 is over. You might have noticed that there was a distinct lack of a Day 8 recap posted on the site. This is a side effect of Fantastic Fest: By Day 8 I was so exhausted that I just saw one-third of a movie (Jailbreak, walked out, so boring) before giving in and just drinking with some friends. This, of course, led to me drinking too much and thus an early exit from the Closing Night Party, whereupon all 32 members of Itchy-O descended to inflict their special brand of percussive insanity. I distinctly remember seeing a Tesla coil in one photo, affixed to the ceiling of the airplane hangar in which the party was held, so suffice to say, I missed out on a good time.

But that was just Day 8, a time when many hit the proverbial wall and just give in. Prior to that were seven days of a festival that proudly wears the tagline “chaos reigns” on its sleeve. My daily recaps do little to capture the essence of Fantastic Fest, an endurance test of extreme proportions that will leave you broken and beaten as you eat and drink your way through the entire spectrum of genre film and all manner of outrageous parties and events designed to test the limits of your liver and sanity. Not unlike conquering a marathon or peeing off that little piece of poo on the inside of the toilet bowl, you come through the tunnel with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride and probably a new heart condition.

But through it all, things felt…off.

I’m not going to rehash the entire situation here. You’ve likely heard it countless times, discussed ad nauseam as each new infuriating development built upon the previous to create an atmosphere that could only be described as “tense as fuck.” Over countless pints of beer, Tim League, the Alamo Drafthouse, and Fantastic Fest dominated conversations that should have been about movies and events held every year at the Fest. Though not ideal, it was merely a side effect of the culture that not just the Drafthouse but the film industry as a whole has cultivated and most welcomed the chance to discuss it with friends, colleagues, and those at the center of all.

I wanted to mention it because I think it’s necessary to fully describe the experience at Fantastic Fest. While it might seem as if I’m attempting to sweep the issues under the rug, please know I’m not. The systemic abuse and cover-up of how women are treated in this industry is a plague and it must be addressed, just not by me, and not here. If you’re curious to learn more, I recommend reading /Film‘s write-up, which gives a comprehensive timeline of everything that happened leading up to the Fest.

Going into Fantastic Fest, we all knew this dark cloud would be hanging over our heads. How can we enjoy a film festival when the seams holding it together have begun to weather? For some, attending was a tough decision. In the week or so that preceded the Fest, a number of prominent people in the film community began to jump ship, some more vocally and with more vitriol than others. As new details began to emerge, the conversation gradually shifted from mild admonishment of those who opted to attend to outright anger. At the time it was best to drown out the noise; no ill will was given to those who opted not to attend, and as such I believe the same respect should be given to those who did attend. Their reasons are their own, and it is not my place, nor the place of others, to criticize them as a result.

As we settled into the festival, new controversies seemed to rear their heads at an almost breakneck pace. Example: One of the cornerstones of Fantastic Fest is a secret screening. This year, the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) hosted a secret screening of the rare Ed Wood film Take It Out In Trade. Essentially a softcore pornographic film, a narrative erupted that Fantastic Fest tricked people into watching “violent pornography.” Obviously this wasn’t true, but the narrative persisted on social media despite the fact that this film would have been little more than a blip on the radar during other years. Another kicked off the week when it was announced that Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News was a lecherous creep who assaulted a number of women. As more women came forward and told their story, AICN writers began to jump ship, all while Knowles continued to post on Twitter as if nothing was wrong (he eventually announced he was stepping down from the site).

To be honest, it was fucking hard to reconcile the decision to attend with all of this happening. For many, not attending would mean a loss of work; for others, it would mean missing out on an experience you look forward to all year. The reasons are myriad, but they are your own, and I respect whatever they may be. In the end, Fantastic Fest is, at its core, a place where we gather to celebrate not just film, but friendship. From all around the world we convened to watch zombie Christmas musicals and sing karaoke and drink beer and just generally forget the madness that consumes our daily lives. But this year was different. The madness followed us and, while obviously not an ideal situation, making the decision to attend and confront it head on, rather than linger behind a keyboard and shout effortlessly into the void, was, I believe, the right thing to do. In the end, you have to follow your own moral compass, and I followed mine to Fantastic Fest.

I think Kristy Puchko of Pajiba said it best: “The Alamo and Fantastic Fest are bigger than Faraci, League, and Knowles.” Everyone will have a different idea on what it all means, but to me? Fantastic Fest is a celebration of film and friendship and, perhaps most importantly, it was the one place – not Twitter, not Facebook – where real people affected by everything that’s been going on could have an open and honest discussion on what can and should be done. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and decry our attendance and the festival as a whole. But calling for boycotts and sending invective tweets to those who did attend solves nothing, and actively prevents change from occurring. Change is hard, but it takes time.

By attending the festival, a real, effective conversation with those who are both directly and indirectly affected by everything that happened was able to take place, free of the noise of social media. And that’s where it all begins. Not with finger-pointing or blame, and certainly not with who can shout loudest and longest into the vacuum that is Twitter, but with conversation. This isn’t a black and white issue, and nuance can’t be discussed in 140 characters. So by attending and listening to the conversations that took place, both in our little pockets of friends and among the Fest’s organizers, I hope we were able to start working toward a better, more inclusive, and safer Fantastic Fest and film community as a whole.

For other perspectives, I highly recommend reading Kristy Puchko’s thoughts at Pajiba, Vince Mancini’s at FilmDrunk, and Eric Snider’s at Crooked Marquee. Stay tuned for Jonathan Barkan’s comprehensive write-up of the films and events that took place and, as always, feel free to chime in below.

Fantastic Fest may be over, but the conversation needs to continue.

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Brad McHargue

Brad is a digital marketing specialist and screenwriter based in Denver, CO. He serves as programmer and host of the Telluride Horror Show, a 3-day genre festival in Colorado.

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