Fun At Fantastic Fest

I’m filing this report from the wackiest film festival I’ve ever attended: Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas. Co-founded by Tim League, originator of the innovative movie theater Alamo Drafthouse, this celebration of genre cinema is in its tenth year and has developed a loyal following. The films on view come from all parts of the globe, from Scandinavia to South America. When Tim invited me to be a juror this year, I chose the comedy category, called Gutbusters, as I am not a fan of graphic horror. Little did I dream that in at least one of the movies there would be actual guts busting! (I can’t comment on the films I’ve seen just yet, as the jury has yet to vote on them.)

The great Basil Gogos poses with one of his signature portraits at MondoCon

The great Basil Gogos poses with one of his signature portraits at MondoCon

Films are just part of the attraction at Fantastic Fest. Saturday morning I went on a skeet-shooting expedition, marking the first time I have ever held, let alone fired, a rifle. (My aim was iffy, but I pulverized at least one target—to my own astonishment.) That night I was told I had to attend a signature event: Fantastic Debates, in which four pairs of opponents tackle film-related topics and then battle each other in a boxing ring. I’m not kidding. I don’t possess a poker face, and a number of people commented on my slack-jawed reaction to the madness.

Mondo Posters is another offshoot of the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain, and this has given birth to a related event this weekend called MondoCon. Here, fans have a chance to meet major comic and poster artists like Bernie Wrightson and Mike Mignola. I was especially thrilled to shake hands with Basil Gogos, having grown up admiring his beautiful cover art for Famous Monsters of Filmland. (Various Mondo artists have paid tribute to classic films and it was exciting to see so many on display. I loved Brian Ewing’s take on Bride of Frankenstein and Todd Slater’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, to name just two.)

I’m being interviewed Monday night onstage by Zack Carlson, then on Tuesday I’m participating in a competition, hosted by Ant Timpson, based on my Movie Guide that follows a different path from Doug Benson’s Leonard Maltin Game: it’s similar to Balderdash, as participants try to bluff their opponents by making up reviews to match obscure titles listed in the book.

I get a real sense of community in the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse multiplex where the screenings take place. This isn’t your grandmother’s film festival, but it’s great fun and has an energy all its own.

Fans congregate in the colorful lobby at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Lamar

Fans congregate in the colorful lobby at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Lamar

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024