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The Significance of Genre Film Festivals, THE CONJURING, George A. Romero, And More
The Bite #164

The Significance of Genre Film Festivals, THE CONJURING, George A. Romero, And More

June 09, 2021

In this Issue:


The Significance of Genre Film Festivals

By James Emanuel Shapiro

Fantastic Fest recently soft announced their plans to have an in-person festival this year and, in a lot of ways, just the announcement itself felt like it had more weight than usual. The normal sharing of the event on social media and reading the reactions gave me a light at the end of a tunnel. There was going to be a Fantastic Fest this year. So many people were going to see friends and colleagues they had not seen in years. And we were not just going to see them: we were going to celebrate the best in genre cinema together. Watch them together. Sing karaoke together. Eat great Austin food together. Just be together.

It has me thinking a lot about the bonds of community that Fantastic Fest and other genre festivals create. Fantastic Fest specifically has always tried to break down barriers that exist at more prestigious festivals. Talent, press, industry, and badge holders were empowered to share the experience together. Each year’s program had some highly anticipated studio bangers, but what excites us are those discoveries that film lovers – from directors to fans – could gush about by marching right out of the theater and into a space that packed hundreds together so everyone could discuss what they had just seen. It’s like this at other genre festivals as well; Fantasia, Sitges, Brooklyn Horror, Boston Underground, etc… Everyone is there because they love movies and want to watch the best new titles that year. These are communities largely made of support. Lost your job? Here’s a new opportunity presented by someone you met at a festival. Feeling alone or sad due to the pandemic? Here’s a virtual happy hour created by someone you met at a festival. Need a communal experience to watch movies? Here’s a movie marathon that went on every week for months with a group of folks that travel the genre festival circuit together.

It also started me thinking about virtual festivals and how they did something special during this lost year. It’s not a revelation that the barrier of entry to any festival is incredibly high. Fantastic Fest is always working through this and defining what the word “inclusive” mean. If you do not live in Austin, participation costs thousands and Fantastic Fest is actually on the lower end of most fests. This past year, when the festival world went virtual, new voices emerged who could never engage with these festivals before. Virtual passes were considerably less and with no travel or accommodation budget to consider people who were normally priced out were now talking about movies premiering at fests they were attending for the first time. NightStream Festival was created out of five in-person genre film festivals and that collective outreach, once again, brought out folks who normally couldn’t afford to attend all five … or even one. Now they could and new and valuable voices were added to the conversation.This impacted me in ways I did not anticipate. I was able to interact with these new voices and communities in ways that excited me, that made me come to love the idea of virtual festivals. New people were sharing their thoughts and giving deeper context around films.

The challenge from a creative standpoint is how do you take the experience of actually being there – the dynamic of, for example, talking to people about that new batshit crazy Estonian cannibal horror film — and create a festival that doesn’t just sell a virtual badge to watch movies, but creates a space that empowers that badgeholder who attended for the first time in 2020? This is not just a Fantastic Fest challenge, but it’s something of utmost importance this year and going forward. It starts with talking to these new communities and new badgeholders and asking what genre festivals meant to them before they attended virtually, if they met their expectations, and what they expected that they didn’t experience.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know there is no going back now and none of the festivals can ignore the new members of the genre festival community.

James Emanuel Shapiro is the head of the Fantastic Fest Industry office and has been a distribution executive for twenty years. He lives in Austin with his partner Deb and their many, many, many cats.


Image of the Week #164 - Clarence Williams III

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