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Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, South Lamar

Fellow film nerds, it's finally here. The best genre film festival in the US officially kicks off today. For 15 years, Austin's Fantastic Fest has been bringing all things genre—sci-fi and horror, yes, but also foreign language film, animation, documentaries—to fans who skip a fall trip to the more Oscar-y Toronto International Film Festival and instead head south. This city may have SXSW and all its film glory in the spring, but locals know the real fun happens in September.

In recent years, Fantastic Fest's week-long affair has debuted both blockbusters (like JJ Abrams' WWII zombie thing, Overlord) and unexpected gems (Colossal starring Anne Hathaway; Burning starring Steve Yuen) side-by-side with things you simply couldn't see anywhere else. A stop-motion Czech film about what happened to the first space dog if she lived? A faux-documentary on a non-existent '90s Japanese action TV show that manages to lampoon corporate creativity in 2019 ? Yes and yes. Where else can you see sensational folklore horror from the only female filmmaker in Laos

So for this week's Orbital Transmission, we're sharing our notes as Ars prepares for another week of cinematic sensation at Fantastic Fest. If you know of anything we should be checking out, make sure to nudge Austin-based editor Nathan Mattise accordingly. Otherwise, you can probably find him trying to talk about Russian fantasies centered on tails to any nearby poor souls who just want to watch the pre-film previews.

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Orbital Transmission 09.19.2019
A still from Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi, Rian Johnson, and Bong Joon Ho—oh my!

First and foremost, there will be films. Over its 15 years, Fantastic Fest has built up a reputation on premiering (or at least screening really, really early) some of the most beloved, blockbuster genre films around: Zombieland, John Wick, There Will Be Blood, etc. 2019 will be no different. Rian Johnson's Last Jedi follow-up—a whodunnit called Knives Out—will close the festival. Fantasy filmmaking savant Bong Joon Ho—of Okja and Snowpiercer—will bring the much-hyped, sci-fi-Oscar-hopeful Parasite. And everything opens with everyone's beloved Thor: Ragnarok creator, Taika Waititi, screening a... surrealist satire about nationalism where he plays an imaginary friend version of Hitler? Huh? Jojo Rabbit will certainly be something.

It's not only movies; there are fun and games, too

It's not easy trying to squeeze five films in a day and doing it for a week straight, so Fantastic Fest offers ample activity not in front of a screen, too. You'll find pub trivia and late-night karaoke (sometimes with stars participating). There are annual nerdy debates over things like the greatest sci-fi films of all time (and annual cocktail competitions themed to the Star Wars cantina). But perhaps best of all, the film fanatics at Mondo are also local and they bring their loving aesthetic to select film-themed games they demo during Fantastic Fest. A few years back we played The Thing, and this year we're looking to spend time with Unmatched.

The Xenomorph from Alien

"Genre" films also include documentaries

It's not all aliens, zombies, and time-travel. Fantastic Fest sneakily has had a diverse and alluring documentary programming track, too. We've seen fascinating looks at how film posters came to be and how they get put up in India. Icons like Gilbert Gottfried have had features dedicated to them. And in 2019, we have two docs near the top of our must-see list. The first is Memory: The Origins of Alien, a behind the scenes look at the making of a franchise we've spent way, way too much time analyzing already. The second, Phil Tippett, Mad Dreams and Monsters, brings perhaps the most important VFX artist of the last two decades squarely into the spotlight. You like Jurassic Park, right?

A still from The Guilty

When attending any festival, leave room for surprises

During Ars' first Fantastic Fest, local Austin film critic (and Internet radio legend) Matt Shiverdecker told us that the beauty of Fantastic Fest is that one viewer's least favorite film is inevitably someone else's perfect-10. This festival is filled with surprises—sometimes literally (oh hey, Suspiria showed up with a day's notice!), but others surprise in the "oh whoa, this film" sense. An extremely judgement-free documentary about a Brooklyn resident who has not only seen aliens, but had romantic relationships with them and expressed those through gallery paintings? That was 2017. A film that takes place entirely in a single room and relies heavily on sound design over the phone? That was 2018. After an initial glance at this year's lineup, we have our eyes on everything from clown documentaries to films made using only archival Belgian footage.

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