Fantastic Fest 2011 Preview: Tim League Talks Preparation, Parties, His Fave Films, 'The Raid,' 'The Thing' And More

The 2011 edition of the most insane and disturbing film festival imaginable, Fantastic Fest, begins on Thursday. For a week straight some of the most violent, disgusting and frightening films from across the world will descend on the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin, Texas and while we've already told you what films we're most excited for, there's only one man who knows about them all: Tim League. League is not only the CEO of the Drafthouse, he's the co-creator of Fantastic Fest and its Creative Director, meaning almost every film and event that's schedule has to go through his unique filter.

After the jump is our interview with League in which he discusses some of this year's wild parties, five films he think we'll all be talking about after the festival, why Universal's The Thing and Toronto Midnight Madness winner The Raid (most likely) won't be screening, his frightening fight with Knuckle star James Quinn McDonagh, the expansion of the Alamo and Mondo brands and much more.

/Film: So the festival is only a few days away. As we get closer, obviously we attendees are getting excited, what do you have to concentrate on over the next couple of days to make sure everything starts out smoothly?

Tim League: It's interesting. There's this strange calm before the storm actually, because the last two weeks have been really intense as we have put everything together, but now we are a week out and everything that has to be done in advance is already done, so we are just double checking our work. We've got a couple of logistical things and final details on a couple of the parties, but the pressure has actually subsided a bit, which is good, because I need a little mental pause before we go full tilt into the festival.

For sure. In preparation for this whole thing I read the booklet cover to cover to try to pick out the movies I want to see and I want to see all of them. Besides the major ones that we have all sort of heard of like The Human Centipede 2, Melancholia, the Comic Con doc, what are five movies that are under the radar that people are going to be really talking about after the festival?

Let's see... I like a... Well there are a few of them that people are talking about now that we are playing that have played at Toronto at Midnight Madness like You're Next. Everybody is talking about that. That did really well. So I won't focus on those. But there's a Colombian movie called The Squad, which I really like. It's a military thriller with guys that are overtaking a military base that they think has been decimated by the enemy, but they arrive and everybody is dead except for one woman who is in shackles and who may or may not be a supernatural presence. It was a woman that may have caused all of the mayhem, so just paranoia and tension builds throughout. It's very strong and it's a first time director. There's an Argentinian movie called Penumbra which is a supernatural thriller. The director, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, who is still very young and is now in his late twenties, but he has now made six movies and just gets better and better and I think this is the best one yet. It's got elements of House of the Devil, but with no quite the same pacing, quicker pacing. (Laughs)

Let's see... There's a Russian director that I really like, but I don't know if people are going to talk about this movie, this is kind of a quiet movie, so maybe I wont even go there. (Laughs) I like this... There's Juan of the Dead which is the first Cuban horror movie and I've been seeing posters for this for a couple of years now at the film markets and when I saw it I was like 'Ah man, come on... Whatever... I don't want to see this' and because I leave no stone unturned, we did watch it and I was like 'Actually this is really good.' It's really fun and it's got a surprising amount of political commentary in it, so it's somewhat refreshing to see that come out of Cuba and the director is coming, so that's very exciting. There's a... I like this movie called Smuggler and that is one of the Toronto Midnight Madness movies, but I don't think it got a huge splash when it was there, but it's a director that we like. He did a film called Naisu No Mori a few years ago, just super weird, but it's great popcorn with incredible action, really funny, and just that level of quirky that only Japan can really deliver.

One more?

Okay, there's a movie from... (Laughs) There's two Canadian movies, I'll focus on the weird one which is world premiering, it's called Manborg. It's from director Steve Kostanski and he is one of the members of this short film collective called Astrom 6 and we have been fans of his shorts for a number of years and this is the first time he has done a feature film and it's hyper ambitious and Steve is one of those rare talents who does everything, so lots of green screen, lots of CGI, lots of practical stop motion claymation type effects and it's this epic sci-fi crazy movie. It's very, very low budget, but real quirky and I don't know, I can't even imagine the budget, but it can't be much. He's one of those guys I would love to see somebody drop a huge budget in his hands to see what that kind of a guy could do with serious money.

Awesome. All right cool, thank you, those are good. Now you mentioned the Toronto Midnight Madness and I heard about Sleepless Night and You're Next and a bunch of other movies that were there and then they play your festival. Is there any rivalry there about who can get the movies to screen first? It seems like Midnight Madness is basically Fantastic Fest North.

Well you know Midnight Madness is only ten movies, so we book seventy-five feature films and you know Colin [Geddes], who programs Midnight Madness, is great. I mean he's got his ear to the ground and he actually in some ways mentored me when I got into the festival game. He introduced me to a lot of folks, but you know... I don't think there's a competition, because I think Toronto Midnight Madness is an amazing place to launch a film, but he's only got ten slots. His tastes are a little bit different than mine, so we have always co-existed quite well together. I love it when we can find a world premiere, but I also have no qualms about picking up a movie like You're Next for example and playing it with the festival, because I think it's awesome and we are playing it. Colin is playing it for the exact same reason, because we are fans of really great genre films.

Now when the final schedule came out many of us bloggers, myself included, thought for sure that you guys were going to play The Thing prequel because that's the only major horror movie from a big studio coming out this Fall. Did you guys attempt to screen that? Was there a reason why or was it just a little too mainstream?

We did watch it. We did see and we thought about playing it. The studio ultimately didn't want to play it, so take that for whatever it means. I liked the movie, I didn't love it. I think it will do fine, but it's also... Everybody, especially in our circle I think with the Fantastic Fest crowd, they are going to compare it to the John Carpenter... not the original original, but the 80's one that it's referencing and John Carpenter's version is better.So I think it's probably not the right environment for that film to play Fantastic Fest in a way, so you know I guess that's the back story there. I think it's a good film, but how can you top John Carpenter's The Thing?

Sure, absolutely. Now obviously every year some of the biggest movies are your secret screenings and you can't obviously say what they are, but do you have any cryptic hints of what's going to play?

(Laughs) Nope.

Okay, then this probably is stupid to ask, but Todd Brown is one of your programmers and also producer on The Raid which was at Toronto and won the award there. Can you comment?

So we had The Raid booked, because yeah Todd is the head of international programming for us and obviously we saw a lot of it early. We saw cut scenes while the film was still being shot and we've had it booked for a long time, but then it was bought really early by Sony and so we are not playing it anymore basically because Sony wanted to play Midnight Madness and then add a new soundtrack to it. They wanted to get some sort of fancy pants, probably really expensive Sony-centric soundtrack attached to it. So they don't want to do any other festivals until that happens. I'm still going to try to twist Mr. Brown's arm to see if there's any way we can make it happen, but as of yet, it's not booked and it's not one of the secret screenings, I will give you that, but I want it to be. (Laughs)

Yeah, I'm dying to see it. You also have this big fight happening at Fantastic Fest and obviously it's all in good fun, but I've seen Knuckle... Are you actually training or are you just going to run around? (Laughs) I would be scared shitless.

I'm a little bit scared and I am actually training. I mean so much as I think you can train in a couple of weeks. He's been training for months and he's a much bigger guy than I am, so there's only one way this fight is going to turn out and it's not going to be good for me, but I'm going to try my best. I'm not going to treat it like a joke, I'm going to go out there and try it and just see what happens for better and more likely for worst.

Oh my God, he's a beast. I also noticed in the Fantastic Fest booklet there's an ad for Drafthouses coming to other cities which is something we have known about for about a year or so, that you have been looking to do that. What's the latest on that? I heard that here in LA one of the problems was the proximity to competing theaters or something like that?

Well we haven't quite nailed down the right spot in LA, but we have some hot prospects, so hopefully we will be able to announce something soon. I really want to get there. We did just announce this morning that we have a project that's going to be opening in 2012 in the Denver area of Colorado, so as they get confirmed we will announce them, but as of yet unfortunately I have nothing to announce about LA except for my continued commitment to be out there.

And New York? It's just something where it's all in the works, but there's nothing specific yet?

In the works, yeah. It's just a slow process.

Do you expect to have wings of Mondo in these Drafhouses?

I think... You know Mondo is probably going to expand. It makes sense for them to be out in LA eventually. I don't know if it will always be attached to the Alamo, they've got their own thing and are almost evolving more into a sort of art gallery than a t-shirt shop which was its origin. So you know Mondo is doing great. They had a great year this year and have a lot of exciting stuff planned for next year, so yeah they should be doing their own expansion too.

Okay. One of my best memories of last year, besides seeing all of you guys rap at the Highball with the RZA which was just insane, was the closing night party which was unbelievable. Is there anyway that your superhero themed party can possibly top that this year?

I don't know. That was a really good party last year, so I doubt it, but I'm just going to set expectations. I doubt it's going to top it. I think we are going to have an awesome party and it's going to be fun. So no, set your bar down a couple of notches and we'll have a great time. (Laughs) I'm not going to compare it to last year either.

A few more things Tim and thanks so much. At what point do you start looking for films for next year? Obviously we are still two days out from this year, but do you watch the festivals over and start looking at stuff or do you kind of concentrate on SXSW first? How does that work for you?

I start looking, really November is my first trip. I go to the American Film Market out in LA. Some years I go to Spain for the Sitges Film Festival in October, but I'm not going this year. So yeah we more or less... We have a big tracking list of everything we are trying to keep tabs on and just a whole bunch of films that weren't done in time that were in production, so those are the first things we start looking at early, the films that are going to get finished in October and November. Yeah, it's a slow and steady process, but we start booking titles as early as November.

And the last thing. Everybody calls Fantastic their favorite week of the year. Besides all of these awesome movies and stuff, what are you, in the grand scheme of things, looking forward to the most in 2011 specifically?

Well, we've got a new party that we are trying out this year called "Attempted Rap" where we are getting film guests and journalists and industry folks to compose super nerdy raps with Fatboy Roberts backbeats and we have already got a couple of MP3s in from people and I think it's going to be all kinds of ridiculous. Both ridiculous bad and ridiculous goo. So I think that's going to be a fun time. And the karaoke night is a Japanese theme this year, because we have a staggering number of Japanese guests. Karaoke is a Japanese art form, so we are using that party to celebrate the arrival of all of our Japanese friends.

Awesome. All right Tim, thanks for speaking with me. I am beyond excited to get down to Austin in a couple of days. I can't wait.

Very cool. Well, we will see you on Thursday.