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Fantastic Fest Presses the Start Button for Their All-New Indie Game Gala

Fantastic Fest Presses the Start Button for Their All-New Indie Game Gala (photo)

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Film buffs know where to go if they want to watch a flick decked out as a zombie, see the premiere of a future cult classic like “Gentlemen Broncos” or hear directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson talk about their love of celluloid. That place is Fantastic Fest, which bills itself as “the largest genre film festival in the United States.”

Taking place in Austin for the last five years, the festival was founded by film-loving locals Tim League, Harry Knowles, Paul Alvarado Dykstra and Tim McCanlies. It quickly became an annual celebration of films sharp enough to draw blood, gasps or laughs (or even a mix of those responses) that brings thousands of people to Austin for a collective freak-out.

This year sees the addition of Fantastic Arcade, a schedule of events from September 23-26 that celebrate the collision of indie film and indie games. The neophyte Arcade curates blocks of programming that brings together films based on the video game phenomenon and indie game developers. ’80s video game movies like “The Last Starfighter” and “Nightmares” will be screening at the beloved Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location and the nearby Highball will be transformed into an old-school arcade with stand-up machines.

Also on tap will be a machinima film competition judged by Burnie Burns of “Red vs. Blue” fame, panels by renowned indie designers and a chiptune concert powered by Game Boys and other retro gaming devices.

It’s going to be an intense four days — I spoke to Fantastic Arcade organizers Mike Plante and Tim League to find out the inspirations and aspirations for the inaugural fun fest.

07162010_fantasticarcade3.jpgFantastic Fest has long been a well-established film festival focused on genre cinema. Why did you guys feel that now was the time to add on a video game component to FF?

Mike Plante: At the same time I wanted to do a game festival in the way I’ve been working with film festivals, Tim was trying to find a way to incorporate games into Fantastic Fest — it’s a natural extension for the FF audience, and Austin is a bit of an indie-gaming hub, much like it is an indie filmmaking hub. Like freeway overpasses, we came together.

What were the indie games that lit the fire that sparked Fantastic Arcade?

MP: I saw Eddo Stern‘s work at the New York Underground fest and at Cinematexas, real interactive games that were fun to play but gave you a deeper experience you remembered. Eddo is now a co-curator for the Arcade with us. Then I encountered Maya Churi’s Forest Grove, which we had as part of Sundance 2005 (I’m an Associate Programmer there). A game that felt like an independent movie with lots of thought in the story, design and game play. Of course I’ve been playing all kinds of games over the years (born in 1970) but these felt like individuals making a game instead of a company only interested in money.

There’ll be art installations by Cory Arcangel and chiptune performances during Fantastic Arcade. Do you think the level of technical skill required to bring game influences into other mediums is a barrier?

MP:You can learn tech equipment, or collaborate with smart technicians. Lots of filmmakers talk about what camera they used as a selling point. I could not care less. Making a plot and characters and using style is what counts. Even if it is incredibly minimal — that’s a choice that can be done in an interesting way.

07162010_fantasticarcade2.jpgIt’s the same with games and crossing over mediums, the real skill is doing it with your own voice infused and making it entertaining, and at times even thoughtful. We like what Cory and Chiptunes and others are doing in those ways. When I first saw Cory’s “Super Mario Clouds” I was taken in by the work — what it was doing and how that made me feel. It was an added layer to see the hacked Nintendo duct taped on the floor.

Austin’s one of the American gaming scenes strongest development hubs. What’s the response been from local developers about having the first Fantastic Arcade there?

MP: So far, it’s been great. The opportunity to showcase Austin to the game world and the chance to see indie games and their developers in the same room is promising. We hope to have many locals on panels as well.

Making games is collaborative, even for smaller dev outfits. Do you think it’s possible to get the singularity of vision of directors like Roger Corman or Sam Raimi? What game designers do you think achieve auteur status?

MP: Mark Essen and Cactus are great — each a crazy one-man band turning out fun lo-fi games every month it seems, each one stylish and smart. Jakub Dvorský’s “Samorost” and “Machinarium” are perfect for us too — a rad fantasy narrative with beautiful art, like if Terry Gilliam or Jan Svankmajer made a game. Paolo Pedercini (Molle Industria) has a string of great political work, taking oil, priests and McDonald’s and making games with biting satire. Ask a big film studio to turn one of those into a $100 million film.

Although Corman might.

Can you talk a bit about how you chose the machinima films that’ll be shown during the festival?

07192010_redvsblue1.jpgTim League: Jack Patillo from Rooster Teeth (“Red Vs. Blue”) — an Austin company, by the way — was a big part of that. Rooster Teeth have been hugely influential in the machinima scene and have their finger on the pulse of all manner of cool stuff in this space. If there is an authority on finding “the goods,” Jack is it.

What inspired the idea to have attendee-created machinima movies as part of the event schedule? Will there be any kind of coaching going on for folks who might be doing this for the first time?

TL: We’ve sponsored filmmaking contests as part of Fantastic Fest since year one. Each year we have a slightly different theme. With the advent of Fantastic Arcade, we thought it would be appropriate to introduce machinima as the format this year. We won’t have any coaching prior to the contest, but during the event itself, we’ll have experts from “Red Vs. Blue” and “The Spartan Life” explaining their process and actually crafting a machinima film live during the panel sessions.

The Rooster Teeth guys are probably the most well-known pioneers of machinima. How’d you get them to participate in such a big way?

TL: Henri Mazza, the Alamo’s creative director, actually used to get his ass kicked routinely in “Halo” online games by Burnie Burns and his crew, before they were doing “Red Vs. Blue.” We’ve had a long relationship with them over the years. They have premiered episodes at the Alamo and have even produced “Red Vs. Blue” “don’t talk” PSAs for the theater.

07162010_joysticks.jpgLooking over the films that will be shown during the festival, it’s pretty striking how there’s been a shift away from movies like the “Last Starfighter” and “Nightmares” that focused on the players. Now, most video game movies — except “The King of Kong” — focus on the in-game characters. What do you think the change in focus represents?

MP: I’m completely guessing here, it would take a bigger analysis of all the filmmakers and writers and studios to find out the nitty-gritty. But I think there is simply a different generation making the movies now. You definitely didn’t have kids making the big studio films in the ’70s and ’80s, their parents (and grandparents) were making them. Now you have filmmakers that grew up with games. It’s just different concerns and viewpoints. Not that one is better than the other, some older movies are good and some new ones are one-minute ideas stretched into two hours. Isn’t someone making the “Leisure Suit Larry” movie by now? It’s too late to cast Elisha Cook, Jr, unfortunately.

Film and video games are both visual mediums, but film-watching’s a communal pursuit while game-playing is a solitary one. As guys who’ve been curating a fringe film festival, what do you think enthusiasts of each medium can learn from each other?

TL: The experience is something I work with a lot in fests. Sometimes a comedy only works with a huge crowd, and sometimes you show a “difficult” themed movie knowing only 20 people would dare show up. That’s fine. Some games need two to four players to really work, which is a big thing to consider before putting it in an arcade. And some games will not be popular, for their gameplay or their themes. But, that’s ok; people can still have an experience of a certain kind with them.

10212009_Antichrist4.jpgOn the overlap between creators, each medium can learn from the other on dealing with its characters, pacing, how much time someone looks at a specific image, the underlying soundwork, for instance. Do you want your audience to go away frustrated or satisfied? Do you want your audience to think for themselves? That’s a big issue with both mediums and you can learn from what each choose to do.

Just as important as the creators, the audience for one will be surprised by the other. If you liked “Antichrist,” you will find games here just as challenging and technically vibrant.

(On that note, when is “Antichrist – The Game” coming out?? That’s another goal, getting industries to work together, it could be great. “Induction: The Game” is obvious and probably a lot of fun, but I would play any game made from a Bela Tarr film. Actually, [dev studio] Tale of Tales is on that tip. Also, “Wendy and Lucy: The Game.” Isn’t there a “Tetsuo: Iron Man” game by now? Japan is always so far ahead of us.)

The Fantastic Arcade, part of Fantastic Fest, will take place in Austin, TX from September 23-26.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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