Genre film festivals have become increasingly important within the indie and blockbuster space in recent years. With the premiere of Trey Edward Schultz’, It Comes At Night, at the Overlook Film Festival last year and the numerous premieres at Fantastic Fest in Austin and Sitges International Film Festival in Spain, genre film festivals have become unusual and surprising stomping grounds for buyers and sellers in the industry. Most of them have still managed to retain their quirkiness and charm while still bulking up their industry presence. But first, what does it really mean for a film to be “genre”?
All of the films screened at these kinds of festivals fall into one or more of the “genre” buckets including – but not limited to – supernatural, horror, thriller, crime, action, creature features, slasher films, dark comedy, fantasy, sci fi, etc. Really, that’s to say that it just needs to fall outside of the straight drama or comedy categories to be classified as “genre.” Some of the best features out there tend to be bold in their decisions to go genre, but disguise themselves as solid dramas such as Jeremy Saulnier’s, Green Room or David Robert Mitchell’s, It Follows, of recent years. But often, you’ll find that many of the great or classic films in cinematic history really belong to genre films including Stanley Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, Ridley Scott’s, Alien and Bladerunner, or one of the biggest franchises that continues today: George Lucas’ Star Wars.*
My first year at The Orchard brought many new and exciting opportunities, including the ability to travel out to some of these genre hubs. July ushered in travel to Montreal, Canada where Fantasia Film Festival takes place. Here, lower budget fare with wacky concepts and smaller, niche genre films reign supreme; a couple higher profile films like the Safdie Brothers, Good Time, made the line-up, but by this time of year, most of the bigger titles have already secured US and/or North American distribution. Lasting two weeks on screens throughout the vibrant, “new downtown” of Montreal, Fantasia brings about a more relaxed, casual environment for buying and selling (as opposed to the frenetic energy of bigger film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, TIFF, etc.). Deals can happen quickly but, most of the time, they linger for weeks or months because the sense of urgency is not as present here. One of the more notable titles to come out of the festival this year (which we tried to secure, but narrowly missed) was the directorial debut of Ryan Prow’s, Lowlife, which drew comparisons to an early Quentin Tarantino featuring a structure similar to Pulp Fiction.
This past September brought about the most notable of genre festivals, Fantastic Fest, which runs out of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. Fantastic takes place for about a week and combines the energy of the hardcore, super fans moseying about the theater lobby all day (there are badges literally titled “fan” and “superfan,” depending on your level of excitement to screen these gems) with the growing presence of industry newbies and execs alike. This year’s iteration incorporated two of our own films in the line-up, Joachim Trier’s, Thelma, and Kevin Phillips’ impressive feature debut, Super Dark Times, but – as with every year – the festival also hosted a good number of world, international, and US premieres such as S. Craig Zahler’s brutal starring Vince Vaughn called, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Mike Flanagan’s Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, and the visually impressive sophomore feature, Let The Corpses Tan, by French filmmaking duo, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Filled with the hubbub of bizarre events each day and screenings taking place every 2-3 hours, Fantastic is all about keeping your energy level up and taking advantage of the full service drink and food menu that the Alamo Drafthouse offers (boozy milkshakes were a godsend at those midnight screenings). While it’s easy to get sucked into the fun of the festival, there’s still a job to do and even now, some of those deals we started are still being negotiated.
Genre film festivals usually end up taking place in the fall and especially surrounding October/November because of their proximity to Halloween. There are a few dozen smaller, more regional genre festivals but these two + Sitges in Spain and the more recent, Overlook, in April really round out the more important genre fests. For us, the focus is less on finding theatrical-worthy titles (as those we typically acquire out of the more prestigious festivals), but more on gaining access to high quality digital performers that we can acquire at minimal risk, but that still have a solid story, some great marketing drivers, and where we can craft a kicka$% digital campaign.
*The use of the phrase “great or classic films in cinematic history” is used loosely when referring to Star Wars: Episodes I, II, III for obvious reasons.