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Why Fantastic Fest is Championing Movies That Haven’t Been Made Yet

Jenny Dubin for KUT News

For fans of horror, sci-fi, fantasy and oddball films from around the globe, it doesn’t get much better than Fantastic Fest. The nation’s largest film festival devoted to so-called genre films is wrapping up this week in Austin.

The annual eight-day event has been described as the “Geek Telluride” – drawing a fanatical audience.

"It’s probably 75 percent male, probably 65 percent pasty, you know, 70 percent slightly overweight but they’re hardcore movie fans," says Tim League, CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse and co-founder of Fantastic Fest. "What we like to celebrate and at the core of our programming is the idea that just because a film is a genre film or has dark edges or dark subject material doesn’t mean that it can’t be a phenomenal film. So we like to be the champions of putting genre film into a rightful place."

And to that end, this year, League and company have introduced something called Fantastic Market. The goal is to champion movies that haven’t yet been made.

16 filmmakers who have projects in various stages of development were selected from close to 100 submissions. Each filmmaker had 15 minutes to pitch their projects in front of a live audience.

It's kind of like speed dating, with much higher stakes. That’s because the audience the filmmakers pitched included potential investors, production partners and high-profile judges.

"I don’t think I’ve ever sat through a pitch session before," said actor Elijah Wood, who sat on the panel of judges. "It’s not just about what is artistically exciting which is primarily what I was looking for, but it’s also 'Is it viable? Is their plan really solid? What’s their proposed budget and does that actually make sense for the kind of movie that they’re trying to make?'"

Due to the festival’s close proximity to Mexico and Latin America, Fantastic Fest gets a lot of submissions from that region – and the market is focused on assisting those filmmakers.

"It’s an extension of what I think one of the missions of the festival is," League says. "We want to find as many opportunities for young, emerging genre filmmakers as possible."

He believes the Hispanic community has been underserved by Hollywood for far too long.

"You can see the numbers that the Hispanic audience, in terms of movie attendance, is very much on the rise, especially here in Texas. It’s a significant percentage of the overall box office in the United States and its one of the only populations that is growing significantly in terms of box office."

League hopes that whatever emerges from Fantastic Market will begin to feed the growing demand. This year’s Gold Prize went to “The Wrong Place,” a Cuban heist film pitched by director Alejandro Brugues. He’ll get a production support package worth more than $10,000.

As for the other teams who pitched, they say the connections they made were – in a word – fantastic.

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