There’s more entertainment content in the world than ever. Between new releases, classics and new streaming services popping up every day, viewers can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options they have. In an increasingly competitive market, a new series from the Texas Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain is spotlighting idiosyncratic genre films with its Fantastic Fest Presents.
Those expecting the sort of traditional independent films that tend to dominate the fall festivals need not worry, because the films in this series are about as weird as they get. Among the first round of titles are Color Out of Space (in which Nicolas Cage’s family is mutated by an alien meteorite), Vivarium (where Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots are a couple going through a surreal house hunt), Extra Ordinary (an Irish comedy about a driving instructor using magic to combat a satanic rock star) and Butt Boy (in which a detective becomes obsessed with hiding things in his rear end). Not quite in the Lady Bird mold.
The series aims to highlight films that appeared at Austin’s own Fantastic Fest. Founded in 2005, it has been described by IGN as “the coolest film festival in the world” and has debuted such future hits as John Wick, There Will Be Blood, Zombieland, Split and Red. The festival prides itself on showcasing provocative and groundbreaking films by emerging auteurs.
Fantastic Fest began as a small, three-night affair that attracted mostly local audiences, but has become a yearly phenomenon in the film community that draws critics from mainstream publications like Indiewire, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, amplifying these small films’ presence.
While festivals like Cannes, Toronto and New York are often home to big studio debuts and aggressive Oscar campaigns, smaller genre festivals help to celebrate peculiar films that are unlikely to find mainstream success. Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest Presents series will continue this method of promoting VOD (video on demand) titles from the Texas festival.
Indie films released during fall’s Oscar season may hit the late-night talk show circuit to cater their release strategies toward critics in Los Angeles and New York, but Fantastic Fest Presents is making waves by connecting with niche audiences through interactive Q&A livestreams with filmmakers and stars. Film fans looking to talk to everyone from Cage to Will Forte can send in questions to a live Q&A session, which is held at the Alamo Drafthouse in Los Angeles and streamed to the North Texas locations.
Among the stars who’ve appeared at these exclusive Q&A's is Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood. In the years since leaving the Shire, Wood has become a popular figure within the VOD genre film world, and he stars in the comedic thriller Come to Daddy, which debuted to unanimous praise at last year’s Fantastic Fest.
Wood stars as Norval Greenwood, a narcissistic music executive who carries one of the world’s most exclusive cellphones and brags of his supposed relationships with Elton John and Kendrick Lamar. Norval’s privileged world is thrown for a loop when he’s invited to a secluded cabin in the woods to meet with his long lost father, David, a recluse who lives off the land. The two couldn’t be any more different, and while David initially enjoys berating and embarrassing his son, the situation grows more sinister when Norval finds a secret history within this enigmatic cabin.
After debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival last April, Come to Daddy hit over two dozen genre festivals across the globe, showing at international locations like Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada and Fright Fest in London, as well as American showcases such as the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans and the Beyond Fest in Los Angeles. After wrapping up its festival run, Come to Daddy screened as one of the first films in the Fantastic Fest Presents series, with a Q&A with director Ant Timpson and Wood on Feb. 3.
While films released to VOD services are often associated with the same sour reputation as their direct-to-DVD predecessors, the strategy of making a film available to rent after hitting specialty festivals has become an increasingly popular method for releasing eccentric genre films. These films are able to find their niche audiences and build buzz for months in advance, drawing genre films fans through uniquely targeted marketing campaigns.
As streaming services increase through longtime players like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as newer services such as Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock, the idea of making a film available to rent is almost antiquated. However, the simple distribution model is one that benefits from strong word-of-mouth, which can build from a festival run.
Debuting original content is always going to be a challenge, and the challenge is even greater for films that push the boundaries and aim to please a select viewership. The battle that films like Come to Daddy wages isn’t to attain supremacy, but to be part of the conversation.