Report from a Beleaguered Fantastic Fest

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This year’s Fantastic Fest was packed with surprises, sexual deviancy, revenge, and sorrow, and that was just on Twitter. The movies were likewise full of intrigue — it was a good lineup, everything else aside (“How was the film festival, Mrs. Lincoln?”) — but the 13th edition of the Alamo Drafthouse’s celebration of genre cinema was overshadowed by behind-the-scenes turmoil that got to the very heart of what Fantastic Fest is all about. It turned a week of decapitations, Scottish zombies, and medieval forest witches into a week of those things plus reflection and self-examination. Who knew the most unsettling encounter we’d have at Fantastic Fest would be with our own feelings?

Unfamiliar with the controversy? Let me break it down for you one (1) time.

An Orange Menace

It began Oct. 7, 2016, when a recording emerged confirming that a syphilitic slumlord named Donald Trump had a fondness for grabbing unsuspecting women by their genitals. (Public reaction was swift: he was elected president.) Among the people in the film community and decent society in general who tweeted disgust at Trump’s proclamation was Devin Faraci, known then as editor of the Drafthouse-owned website Birth.Movies.Death, an outspoken proponent of social justice, and something of a butthole.

Devin Faraci

Now, this article will include some opinions, but that’s an objective fact. I never had any beef with Devin personally, and I enjoyed chatting when we’d run into each other at film festivals, but I couldn’t stand to follow him on Twitter because of his constant bickering with and harassment of others, even when the objects of his scorn (GamerGaters, Men’s Rights Activists, and other trolls) started out deserving it. Anyway, Faraci’s tweet (“The most telling thing about the Trump tape? He wasn’t talking with his best friends. He was boasting to a TV host”) prompted one from a woman he’d known in 2004, before his Drafthouse employment: “quick question: do you remember grabbing me by the p**** and bragging to our friends about it, telling them to smell your fingers?” Faraci’s reply, and the last thing he tweeted: “I do not remember this. I can only believe you and beg forgiveness for having been so vile.”

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The tweets

Faraci quickly resigned from Birth.Movies.Death and fell out of the public view. There was no official statement from Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League, but Faraci’s accuser tweeted that she’d spoken to League, “who was extremely supportive,” and that “it sounds like [Faraci] is genuinely interested in getting help.” League, like Faraci, was known to support progressive causes, but unlike Faraci, League had a reputation for being a good guy. (My reaction to the Faraci revelations mirrored that of many others in our industry: I knew he could be a jerk, but I didn’t know he was that kind of jerk. I’m trying to be more aware of the warning signs now.)

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. When the program guide for this year’s Fantastic Fest went online, several of the 300-word capsules of hyperbolic praise that accompany each film were credited to one Devin Faraci. A mild uproar commenced. League posted a Facebook message saying that “once it became clear that his efforts [to address his addictions and better himself] were sincere, I offered Devin copywriting work at Alamo Drafthouse and have recently expanded that to include writing blurbs for our Fantastic Fest program guide.” Faraci had quit drinking, been to rehab, and was working on being a better person. Second chances and all that, you know?

Tim League

But then it came out that the gap between Faraci’s resignation and his return had been no more than a handful of weeks. Backlash was swift, both from women and their allies and from people who despised Faraci anyway and had been glad to have a specific misdeed to hang him for. (Many people seemed to believe in their hearts that Faraci had resigned not for sexual assault but out of remorse for being Devin Faraci.) League quickly discovered that re-associating this person with the Drafthouse, even in a minor capacity (Faraci had no authority or leadership), was an unpopular idea, especially so soon after his dismissal, and especially on the down-low. It looked like League was giving a longtime friend and employee a pass on sexual assault. A day after his first Facebook statement, League posted another one cutting all ties with Faraci, for realsies this time.

But then it came out that another woman had emailed League last October with details of Faraci’s harassment of her  — verbal, not physical — and that League had downplayed it. (“Thanks for sharing your story and I’m sorry to hear about this experience. I’ve been talking to Devin lately and he is going through some very serious soul-searching right now. I hope that he does emerge from this as a better person. I’d appreciate it if you kept this dialogue between us.”)

The same day that this came out, Todd Brown, a crucial Fantastic Fest programmer and a producer whose name often appears in the credits of Fantastic Fest movies, cut ties with the festival. His statement left the impression that he had other long-simmering issues with League and/or the festival and that the clandestine return of Faraci had been the last straw. “Anyone who has ever suggested that Fantastic Fest and the Drafthouse is just the geek friendly equivalent of the classic Old Boys Club, you have

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