Q&A: Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League discusses Fantastic Fest film festival

Alex Pelham

Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Fantastic Fest, a festival celebrating creative genre films, returns to Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for its 11th year this week. During the week-long festival, audiences are introduced to several innovative horror, science-fiction and fantasy films. This year, the fest pays homage to Turkish exploitation cinema by offering a special poster gallery and a special Turkish-inspired menu. Tim League, founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse and co-founder of Fantastic Fest, spoke with The Daily Texan about the festival.

The Daily Texan: How has the festival grown since its creation 11 years ago?
Tim League: In its first couple of years, it was a regional festival for the central Texas genre film fans. We are just trying to curate the best possible movies of the year that those folks would like. Over the years, we’ve been courting more industry to come and try to make more opportunities for filmmakers.

DT: What is the selection process like for choosing films that screen at the festival?
TL: We have a programming committee of about six people. We have people in several countries. The process is someone finds a film, we add it to a tracking list of every film we’re keeping tabs on, somebody watches it, and if that person likes it, he passes it on to the rest of the team. There has to be three people who watch it and like it. I watch hundreds of movies throughout the year.

DT: How do you personally feel Fantastic Fest differs from other major festivals?
TL: One of the most important ways that it’s different is that it is all happening at one venue. There are parties every night and all the films screen there. By the end of the eight days, a real sense of community forms of the badgeholders. There’s a very special environment that’s created by having it all be in one place.
DT: Can you explain why you chose this year’s theme to be Turkish cinema?
TL: Very early in the process, we saw a documentary about Turkish genre-exploitation cinema. We loved it and secured the world premiere of that film. There was a point in Turkish film history where there were no copyright laws. Six months after “Star Wars” came out, there was a film known as “Turkish Star Wars,” which was a blatant rip-off of “Star Wars” but done on a micro-budget. We’re going to be showcasing some of those old films.

DT: What activities do you believe first-time Fantastic Fest attendees should attend?  
TL: One of our big signature events is a thing called Fantastic Debates. We stage formal debates and have topics that are interesting to movie fans. The entire debate takes place inside a boxing ring, so the debate is decided after two rounds of boxing.

DT: What advice would you give to filmmakers hoping to make a film that could one day end up at Fantastic Fest?
TL: For me, it doesn’t matter what the budget of a film is. What’s important to us is that you tell a really great story. That’s going to include great acting — even from unknown non-actors — and an incredible, fresh, new screenplay.