Tim League talks about Fantastic Fest, Alamo Drafthouse, and vaccine mandates


In a few days, Tim League and his celluloid co-conspirators will have their favorite gangsters and monsters once again giant in size, free to terrorize a dedicated fanbase from the safety of dark rooms. And he hopes everything will go off without a hitch. But right now, League is in a car driving through the country of Arkansas on their way to a board game convention.

Sounds fair to the guy who started Alamo Drafthouse.

From September 23 to 30, Fantastic party, the iconic film festival of Austin-based cinema, is expected to return to its form in person. As always, it is dedicated to genre films – i.e. sci-fi, horror, crime, kung fu, etc. Last year, with the pandemic raging and no vaccine widely available, the festival was reduced to a celebration of mostly virtual screenings, with a few in-person performances at Drafthouse, which had just reopened after it closed in March 2020. .

From 2020:Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League on his Pandemic Passion Project

This summer has unfolded and the delta variant of the coronavirus “has become more of a situation,” League told the US statesman on the phone midway through. “We looked at what we could do to improve the safety of the festival. ”

So this year’s Fantastic Fest (the 16th edition) still won’t look exactly like salad days, when crowds of movie nerds filled the lobby at the South Lamar location in Drafthouse, waiting to wander into a slice. sick, twisted or otherwise crazy about the silver screen.

The festival ditched badges, opting to sell individual tickets with reserved seats for shows (a move that sparked rumors from fans on social media). They also distributed the screenings to several Drafthouse sites in town to reduce overcrowding.

And as film festivals are used to this stage, they also kept a virtual option this year, dubbed FF @ Home.

“We decided last year that having some sort of virtual component will always be part of our future at Fantastic Fest,” League said. During the history of the festival, some attendees have made pilgrimages to Austin, but they cannot come every year, and thanks to 2020, the festival has discovered that there is a global community ready to connect as well. far than Asia and Europe. Last year, the company launched its own streaming platform, Alamo On Demand, giving Fantastic Fest the infrastructure for FF @ Home.

Fantastic Fest attendees look into the lobby of Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for the world premiere of "VHYoui" September 21, 2019. This year, the festival will distribute screenings to the Drafthouse venues in Austin.

It was hard to pivot – a word everyone in the Austin entertainment industry is probably fed up with – again, League says.

“The idea was to always try to do the right thing and create something safe and suitable for our time,” he says.

Delaying the festival was canceled, League said: “I think the biggest factor was that there are so many world premieres (and) first-time filmmakers coming here to make themselves known. “, including the possibility of getting their projects in front of film buyers. League feels, if not happy with how things are going, at least “happy COVID,” he laughs.

“It’s as good as we can get, and I think people are going to have a great experience anyway,” he says.

A post-apocalyptic program

Even though 2021 won’t bring the big comeback of all the weird Fantastic Fest enchilada, League is excited about the movie roster.

League used to do a lot of the programming itself, but not so much in recent years. He’s always happy when people say, “Oh, my God, this is the best year yet. It’s so much better than four years ago, five years ago, when you were doing a lot.

Among League’s must-sees at Fantastic Fest: the world premiere of “Nr. 10” by Alex van Warmerdam, a festival alumnus behind the 2013 film “Borgman” – “I’ll take Karrie to that one,” League tells About his wife and co-founder of Drafthouse – and “Mother Schmuckers” by Belgian brothers Lenny and Harpo Guit.

There are also several repertoire films scheduled around the release of “Warped and Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive”, a new book by Austin film experts Lars Nilsen and Kier-La Janisse and published by Mondo, the merchandising arm of Drafthouse.

Fans of kung fu movies will find a lot to love at Fantastic Fest, such as “Master of the Flying Guillotine” by Jimmy Wang Yu, featuring live commentary from Wu Tang Clan RZA founder, and a never-before-seen 3D digital restoration by Chang Mei-Chung’s 1977 film “Dynasty”. (“Dotted with bizarre weapons, the action is spiced up by a super sophisticated use of 3D that knocks every severed limb into the audience’s knees and gives each ongoing battle extra depth,” reads one description. from the Fantastic Fest Announcements film.)

There will also be secret screenings. These are usually high profile upcoming genre films. League, of course, doesn’t share the fuse, but says the secret screenings are an “exciting debut.”

How to run a movie theater in the event of a pandemic

The Fantastic Fest online FAQ doesn’t make sense: “As you may have noticed, Texas is a bit of a shit right now.”

In August, organizers announced they would require proof of vaccination for anyone who wanted to attend the festival. The language was strong: “No vaccine, no Fantastic Fest, no exceptions.”

But then, why, Texas arrived. As cultural entities like the Paramount Theater required proof of vaccination to enter, restrictive state rules prohibiting such warrants forced them to adapt. Numerous events and venues, including Austin City Limits Music Festival, have announced that they will accept either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test result.

The pandemic hit Alamo Drafthouse hard, leading the company to file for bankruptcy earlier this year.  League and his wife Karrie founded the movie brand in 1997.

Just weeks after touting their own vaccination requirements, the Fantastic Fest announced on September 2 that it had changed its “public health policy as much as possible within Texas law.” may instead provide a negative test result “from a state-approved test provider taken within 24 hours of each day’s screenings,” according to the festival.

Would League one day consider a similar security protocol for regular screenings at Drafthouse cinemas?

“Of course,” he said. “If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s to be flexible. … If I had my Druthers, I would love there to be a unified federal mandate, ”both in terms of contact tracing vaccination policies.

League adds, “We are very pro-vaccine and want to be a part of any movement that increases the percentage of America that is vaccinated.”

Following:Why You Should Check COVID-19 Policies Before Seeing Live, On-Screen Shows in Austin

In addition to hosting a film festival, the pandemic has been tough on movie theaters. Doors have been closed for months over the past year and release schedules are all kinds of mess. Streaming movies, already a looming shadow, have only claimed more territory, with major studios dropping some big name titles like “Black Widow” and “Mortal combat”On their home platforms at the same time as the cinema openings. And outbreaks of COVID-related hospitalizations and vaccine reluctance are creating a hazy sky over the in-person entertainment industry.

The pandemic has hit Drafthouse hard. Layoffs took place last spring, and the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. (He has since emerged following the completion of a sale At the same time, Drafthouse announced the closure of its two-screen Ritz location that opened in 2007, leaving the chain without a theater in downtown Austin. The Leagues founded the company in the heart of town, in a Colorado Street store, which has since closed, in 1997.

There are no plans on the immediate horizon to return to downtown, League says, but it is a possibility. Running a two-screen cinema was difficult and that’s not what the company is good at anymore, he says; closing the Ritz was a “Chapter 11 necessity”.

Drafthouse has yet to hit 2019 attendance levels, but in 2022, “I suspect we’re going to get back to some sort of normalcy,” he said.

League adds: “I’m pretty optimistic about the future. I have to believe in a world where people are really comfortable socializing with others, being in public and enjoying shared experiences. It’s just who we are as a company.

The magical and the strange

League’s belief in the sustainability of the cinematic experience holds true for anyone who is enthusiastic about showing 1970s kung fu movies in 3-D. He believes there is pressure on any “out of home” business to ensure that customers leave with a great experience that is worth their money.

When they do that, the movies are really magical, League says.

“I cry a lot when I go to the movies – I have a keen sense of history and emotions that I just don’t get when I sit at home on my couch, no matter how big my television is. “he said. . “I don’t want to see it evolve into something that is not cinema.”

Actress Michelle Rodriguez, left, and Tim League trade punches during Fantastic Debates at South Austin Gym on September 26, 2010. Fantastic Fest is known for its wild and wacky cinematic events.

In a rapidly changing city that somehow continues to find ways to change faster, Fantastic Fest remains “a celebration of weird, weird, wonderful, and empowering films that don’t get played much,” says League. He calls it Alamo Drafthouse’s “distillation of the spirit,” and when the festival films are picked up by distributors, the cinema chain tries to support those titles. The leagues are still in Austin for a reason, he says: to build a like-minded cinema community.

He’s thrilled that non-cult Austinites are dipping their toes in the water at Fantastic Fest this year, as paid screenings are pay-per-view for the first time.

We suggest it feels more like soaking your toe in blood, knowing the typical festival movie fare.

League laughs, “There are a lot of fluids that you can dip your toe into. ”

If you are going to

Fantastic party

When: 23-30 Sep

Or: South Lamar, Mueller and Alamo Drafthouse Village locations

Admission: All screenings are chargeable individually, with tickets purchased online; there are no badges for the in-person festival this year. The digital component of the festival, FF @ Home, requires a separate virtual badge.

More information: festivalfantastique.com


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