How Fantastic Fest Adapts To COVID (Again): Tim League On Doing Business In Texas And Improving FF’s Home Watching Experience – Screens
On September 2, the Fantastic Fest team dropped a bomb on their film community. With only a few weeks to go to this year’s in-person festival, organizers had been forced to make tough compromises. Badges and high profile vaccine requirements are out; in the buffered seats and the follow-up of multi-site contacts. And while these changes may not have been the most popular with badge holders, as our conversation with festival co-founder and creative director Tim League suggests, that’s just the price to pay for doing business in Texas amid an ongoing pandemic.
One of the biggest surprises – at least for those unfamiliar with Texas politics – was the decision to reverse the festival’s vaccine requirements. The festival’s original mandate of “No Vaccine, No Fantastic Fest, No Exceptions” was intended to conflict with the recently passed Senate Bill 968, which imposed severe penalties on companies requiring passports. vaccine. Just days after the release of the Fantastic Fest press release, two Austin-based restaurants rescinded their own vaccine requirements after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission suggested their liquor licenses could be on the line.
“It’s unfortunate, but there are state regulations we have to follow to be in business in Texas,” League admits. “We still have strongly prefer a vaccine, but we will accept a negative COVID test within 24 hours [from a] certified laboratory. “
To that end, the changes made by the festival – from staggered seats to screenings taking place at multiple venues – represent the team’s best efforts to pivot safely for this year’s attendees. And unlike other festivals, which often team up with a variety of movie theaters, League believes its secret weapon is the Drafthouse itself. “We have spent a lot of time putting in place a safe protocol for people returning to the cinema, whether it is with online ordering, padded seats, just disinfection, facility maintenance and cleaning of the theater. air. We are one step ahead because it is our core business. “
Of course, the challenges of running a film festival during a pandemic are beyond the public. Many administrative aspects of Fantastic Fest have also been adapted to meet the new standard. Even last year – when Fantastic Fest was operating in a fully virtual format – League notes that the global footprint of the festival’s programming team has allowed them to adapt to a post-COVID industry with relative ease. “The good thing about the Fantastic Fest programming team is that they are very international,” League notes. “We have someone in Hong Kong, we have several people in Europe, and we’re used to communicating virtually on Zoom as a group anyway.”
Even now, this combination of technology and interconnection has quickly become a central part of the festival. Those who choose not to attend in-person events this year will continue to benefit from the virtual screening room established in 2020. “There was technology that we were testing and that has been refined over the past year,” said declared League. “So the platform is better and all of these kinds of things have accelerated during COVID.” The success of the virtual format is also poised to become a permanent fixture of the festival, with League noting that the virtual edition opens doors for an international community that might otherwise not be able to physically attend.
And while the changes to COVID protocols and the loss of badges may leave some fans uncomfortable, the League is hoping that a more traditional ticketing system will allow attendees to both familiarize themselves with the programming of the Fantastic Fest. and assess their comfort level with the festival’s COVID safety precautions. “I like the idea of dipping my toe in it,” League concluded. “Come see a movie and see for yourself, then maybe come see more throughout the week.” It’s not an answer that will satisfy everyone, but in an industry that is slowly learning to live with the pandemic, it at least gives people the opportunity to do their own risk assessments.
How to participate
Fantastic Fest takes place this year in two parts: in person and virtual. Find ticket information at festivalfantastique.com, and follow our ongoing coverage of the festival on austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest:
• Screenings in person are September 23-30 at Alamo Drafthouse locations across the region. Each screening will be paid for individually, with reserved seats.
• FF @ HOME will take place from September 30 to October 30. 11 on Alamo On Demand, with over 30 films from the festival’s current lineup, as well as a special selection of festival films from past years.