Tim League is a major celebrity in Austin as the co-founder of Alamo Drafthouse cinemas and creative director of Fantastic Fest. As I get ready to visit Austin for Fantastic Fest, I caught up with League by phone to preview this year’s selection of films and his fight with bare knuckle brawler and Knuckle star James Quinn McDonaugh at Fantastic Debates. League called from the hospital where he and his wife are still caring for their newborn twins.
Crave Online: How are you going to going to run a film festival with newborns?
I don’t know. You can ask me that on Thursday I guess. Yeah, that added a little bit of complexity to my personal schedule but everything’s going fine. We’re actually still here at the hospital because they were premature. They were supposed to come after Fantastic Fest but all is good. They are healthy and doing exactly what they need to be doing. It’s manageable. I told my wife she’s going to have to do more than she’s already doing during the festival and then I’m going to take about a month off in October and dedicate myself to family time.
How are you able to prepare for the boxing match at Fantastic Debates?
Well, I’ve so far had two boxing lessons and I have two more this week. That is woefully inadequate for the challenge ahead I’m sure but at least they’re teaching me how to protect my face.
Is the debate a little bit less intense this year, since it’s not a major film you’re passionate about arguing like ‘Avatar’ last year?
Strangely, Michelle [Rodriguez] really didn’t want to debate last year. She just said, “I don’t want to do this. Let’s just fight.” Talking with James, he was a little mystified about what this whole concept was so I don’t know what to expect from this debate either. It’s probably just going to be more casual insults thrown at each other and then we go and he beats the hell out of me. That’s probably how it’s going to go down.
Was it interesting to pick an actual fight movie for the Debate and fight?
Well, we saw Knuckle and we really loved it. We started talking to them about including it in the festival. Then out of probably too casual a conversation, we started talking about the Fantastic Debates. It was really at that initial conversation where the idea just popped out that I blurted out that I would be happy to fight James. I didn’t even think about it so I probably should have put a little more thought into it. Hopefully he doesn’t go full bore on me. I’m ready for it I guess.
I was there at ActionFest when you discovered ‘A Lonely Place to Die.’ Was that your first pick for Fantastic Fest?
It was damn near the first one. If it wasn’t the first, it was in the first two or three.
For the people who didn’t see it there, what makes it a Fantastic movie?
Well, it’s definitely got genre elements. It’s a pretty bloody thriller/suspense film. It’s definitely treading in our waters for sure. That’s probably my favorite thing that I saw at ActionFest this year. I was really quite taken by it.
When did you see ‘You’re Next?’
I saw You’re Next quite a while ago, maybe about three or four months ago. We’re friends with Keith [Calder], the producer. We know a lot of the guys. Adam Wingard’s been to the festival a couple times and Ti West has been here a few times. AJ Bowen seems like he’s always here with something so they knew they wanted to show us the film. Keith sent a screener down, we watched it with some of the programmers, we were all just totally blown away. We loved it. Then I had to send him a video of me destroying the DVD because he was really paranoid, didn’t want any copies about. So we don’t have a copy of it anymore. They’re bringing down the digital master when it comes to the fest.
I saw it in Toronto and f***in’ loved it.
Yeah, it’s great. I really loved the use of the music in it too, that looping song is just beautiful and a great device. Wingard is one of those guys where every time he’s getting great. I think this is going to be a breakout for him.
What are some of the weird, obscure movies you hope people discover sight unseen?
There’s a very quiet little movie that’s barely genre, but it’s from a director that everybody really likes at Fantastic Fest. We’ve shown two of his movies, Fish Story and Golden Slumber. He’s a Japanese director, Yoshihiro Nakamura. It’s a time traveling samurai film, but instead of having to do with action, he somehow lands in modern time and finds out his passion isn’t for being a samurai, it’s for being a pastry chef. So it’s just a bizarre little movie and it’s more of a family drama, but there’s something about this guy’s films that are very sweet, very personal and well done. He’s one that if he’s got a new movie, we look at it. I’ve seen almost everything. I’ve seen everything but maybe four or five movies that are playing. One of the ones I haven’t seen that I’m looking forward to is this movie by Aleksey Balabanov called A Stoker. We played two of his movies in the past, Cargo 200 and Morphia. He’s done a lot of movies, maybe directed twenty Russian films, just absolutely gorgeous filmmaking and storytelling but he always travels into such dark and black, disturbing territory.
Is ‘Melancholia’ kind of a mainstream film since it’s going to get a U.S. release, it’s been at Cannes and has a well known cast?
Yeah, I suppose. We always play a few mainstream films. We’re also, before Melancholia, Lars von Trier doesn’t travel to the United States. He doesn’t fly. But he’s agreed to do a Skype conversation with Devin Faraci of Badass Digest. So we’re going to present him the Maverick of the Year award. I have no early idea how that conversation’s going to go. Hopefully it’s going to be juicy and fun.
Can ‘Zombie Ass’ possibly be as awesome as the title promises?
[Laughs] It’s funny, so I saw Zombie Ass without subtitles, rough cut with Noboro Iguchi the director doing the sound effects basically in my ear. We were just watching it on a laptop and he was making all sorts of odd sounds. I don’t know how you can live up to that title. It’s one of the all time great titles, but there is a sh** covered ass zombie, so it is going to deliver what you expect it to deliver.
Are there some filmmakers who always have a place at Fantastic Fest, like Nacho Vigalondo, Adrian Garcia Bogliano or Noboru Iguchi?
Nobody’s got a guaranteed slot. It’s always difficult. We’ve turned down a few films from veterans, even this year, that just didn’t fit for us, didn’t fit for the aesthetic. It’s nerve wracking when a guy like Nacho, who we love and is an integral part of the festival, has a new film because what if we hate it? Our policy is if we really don’t like something we’re going to tell the filmmaker we don’t like it or it’s not right for us. Luckily, we like Adrian’s movie, we liked Iguchi’s movie and we liked Nacho’s movie so we’re all safe on that front this year.
Are there any films you personally don’t like but know they’re good for the audience?
I try not to program that way. That’s a dangerous road I think. There’s certainly going to be some films that I don’t like the whole thing but I like aspects of it. We have some leeway with some of our other programmers. If they’re really passionate about it and I’m like I don’t know, that’s not really my thing, that could make it in. But somebody’s got to be passionate about it or there’s got to be something about the film, some level of discovery about the film that we think is important and is worth showing for that reason.
I know Hong Kong action. Will the surprise ‘Movies on Fire’ blow my mind?
I’ve seen none of them so these were all curated by Grady Hendrix. I think if you’re really into Hong Kong action then you probably have seen maybe one or two. But according to Grady, only one of them has ever been on DVD in the states so they’re not super mainstream titles. They’re worth checking out. I like to see things at the festival that I haven’t seen so I’m probably going to watch the Hong Kong movies.
Why is Austin the best city in the world?
[Laughs] Wow, I don’t know. Is it the best city in the world? I really like it but then again I really like New York and I really like San Francisco too. It’s a good balance. It’s got the aspects of a big city without being too big. It’s strangely branded itself on things somehow quirky and a loving assortment of oddball characters. It’s got good political sensibilities. It’s a great place. I’m a fan.
Your anti-talking policy got national play this year.
Yes, it has. Yeah.
What is the psychology of people buying tickets to not pay attention to the event they bought tickets for?
I have no earthly idea and I want to have no part of those people’s business actually. There’s plenty of other theaters in the world. I’m happy to relinquish that entire audience. We’re either going to train them to be respectful and polite in a movie theater or we’re going to pass them off to somebody else. I don’t get it at all.
At the Toronto Film Festival, every screening I went to had people talking. How can a prestigious film festival tolerate that?
I don’t know. It sadly has become the norm for people not to have respect for their fellow patrons in a movie theater. We can only fight that fight on our own turf. I can only try to control it at the Alamo. Beyond that it’s somebody else’s game.
Isn’t it shocking that a major film festival would allow it? Except for the Midnight Madness screenings, every movie had someone talking amongst themselves.
That’s crazy. That’s crazy. I guess it’s because it’s big. It’s really big and there’s a lot of people. It becomes a social extravaganza to go see a movie at the Toronto Film Festival and they’re maybe not film fans. It’s like they’re going to see a basketball game or something. It’s sad to hear that. It’s nice though that the midnight screenings were respectful. A lot of times that’s when people get rowdy, so it’s cool.
Well, they still participated, but it was communal. They would cheer but not one person having their own conversation.
That’s right. People sometimes misunderstand my stance on movie talking. I love for there to be a communal experience. I just don’t want somebody ordering a pizza or chatting with a babysitter during the film.
What’s the status of Drafthouse L.A.?
No news yet but we’ve got some real serious prospects so hopefully we’ll be able to be announce something in the very near future, hopefully.
And New York?
Any other cities you’re looking at?
We did announce a theater in Denver so that’s going to be the next one that opens up. We’ll probably have a couple other announcements before the end of the year.
Is Fantastic Fest getting bigger than the Drafthouse now?
It’s a bit of its own thing. The festival’s definitely grown and there’s a lot of press and industry coming to the event now. I think they’ll kind of grow together.
But are there more attendees than seats?
Oh, well, we’re going to cap it. I don’t want it to grow out of control. I like the fact that it’s all at the South Lamar. We’re sold out and I think we’ll just continue to sell out earlier, and that’s based on the number of seats we have at South Lamar. So I honestly think it would start losing something if I started spreading the festival all over town. I want the same group of people to hang out, go to parties, watch movies and talk about movies together all at the same time.
I hope there’s always room for me.
Oh yes, unless you piss me off. [Laughs]
Well, I’ll see you Thursday.
Sounds cool. I can’t wait for Thursday. Let’s get into it.