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Fest Focus: Genre Rules, New York Gala Parade, and More Fall Festivals

With this year’s edition of the Telluride, Venice, and Toronto film festivals all in the books, the next round of major fall events gets underway on Thursday when Fantastic Fest opens in Austin, Texas.

Genre Rules

Fantastic Fest 2011True, it’s unlikely that The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), which opens Fantastic Fest, will suddenly become an awards contender. But it’s good to keep in mind that, in addition to showcasing dozens of weird and wild genre films, Fantastic Fest is the place where Mel Gibson sneak-previewed Apocalypto and Paul Thomas Anderson debuted There Will Be Blood. Online media presence has grown since then, and one thing we know is that genre film lovers, and online film journalists in general, love to share things on social media. Though there’s still an ongoing debate about the box office value of courting geek/genre fans, when it comes to arthouse fare like Melancholia, Take Shelter, and We Need to Talk About Kevin, to cite three challenging dramas that will play in the festival this weekend, any positive buzz can only help.

Fantastic Fest follows on the heels of Toronto’s Midnight Madness section, and together the festivals help set the agenda for genre festivals that are timed to coincide with Halloween, such as Screamfest LA (October 14-23), which has been bringing the scares to Los Angeles since 2001; the Mile High Horror Film Festival (October 7-9), in Denver, Colorado; and the Dark Carnival Film Festival (October 21-23), in Bloomington, Indiana.

Geek Tyrant collected a list of genre festivals from around the world, which is very helpful. And you may just need to keep your eyes and ears open; smaller fests are usually entirely by volunteers and budgeted on a shoestring, so there’s not much money in the budget for advertising. Remember: Word of mouth — and social media — is your friend!

New York Gala Parade

New York Film Festival 2011Of the better-known, better-funded, and more prestigious fall events, the New York Film Festival is a behemouth that will open to the public next week (Friday, September 30, to be specific); press and industry screenings have already begun. The festival prides itself on cherry-picking a carefully-curated selection of films from around the world. Many of the titles have long ago secured distribution, and so their screenings at the festival serve to kick off their campaign for attention, whether their ultimate goal be awards consideration and/or box office success. (A combination of the two would, of course, be ideal.)

Roman Polanski’s Carnage, which elicited divided opinions when it premiered at the Venice festival, will open the festival, while Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, which drew very favorable notices from its premiere at Telluride, will serve as the closing night presentation. Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn (starring Michelle Williams), David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightly, and Viggo Mortensen), and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (with Antonio Banderas) will have centerpiece and/or gala screenings.

As a reminder, gala presentations are not necessarily reflective of the quality of the films involved. Festivals prefer, and occasionally insist, upon premieres (World, North American, U.S.), which confers additional prestige and leads to greater attention from the press corps in advance, yet also limits what can be considered. (Naturally, no one prefers a truly awful film, even if it’s a world premiere, but some very average films end up as gala presentations at certain festivals.) Gala screenings also require some kind of star presence, and are usually costly affairs, complete with red-carpet arrangements, additional security, post-premiere parties, and so forth. The costs can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. That’s not to take anything away from the films herein mentioned, but it shouldn’t be surprising that some of the best-reviewed titles often emerge from other sections of the program.

More Fall Festivals

Chicago International Film Festival 2011Other fall events serve to premiere noteworthy new titles to local audiences, and screen as many independent and foreign-language titles as possible. For example, the Chicago International Film Festival (October 6-20), now in its 47th year, is a local institution; films announced so far include the previously-mentioned A Dangerous Method and We Need to Talk About Kevin, but also the less-heralded Chen Kaige’s Sacrifice, an adaptation of a Chinese opera and Patang, from India, directed by Chicago-born Prashant Bhargava. (Local connections are always a blessing to regional fests.)

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival (October 6-16) annually brings dozens of independent and world cinema titles to Northern California audiences. They boast an impressive selection of world, North American, and U.S. premieres, kicking off with two opening night films: Albert Nobbs, the drama starring Glenn Close, and Jeff Who Lives at Home, a comedy from the Duplass brothers.

One week after Chicago and Mill Valley begin, the action moves back to New York and the Hamptons International Film Festival (October 13-17). This year’s program has not yet been announced, but last year’s edition “again impressed with its choice selections, user-friendly scale, and delicate balance of events,” according to Doris Toumarkine at Film Journal International, featuring noteworthy titles such as The King’s Speech, Tiny Furniture, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The festival beat goes on, and by this time next month we should have a little better picture of which movies are emerging as legitimate awards contenders.

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