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Sion Sono, award-winners, and a donkey named Crackers wrap up Fantastic Fest

(Photo: Fantastic Fest/Jack Plunkett)
(Photo: Fantastic Fest/Jack Plunkett)

Eschewing the typical film-festival awards ceremony, Fantastic Fest announced its awards at its closing-night party, held this year at a backlot-style “ghost town” that’s a favorite for Old West-themed weddings in Austin. There, the winners had to compete with a dunking booth, mechanical bull, karaoke room, free tattoos (a Fantastic Fest tradition whose recipients are chosen by lottery), and everyone’s new best friend, Crackers the donkey:

(Photo: Fantastic Fest/Jack Plunkett)

Unsurprisingly, word-of-mouth hit Green Room won the Audience Award, followed by the Hungarian comedy-fantasy Liza The Fox Fairy, which I’m still kicking myself for missing and was not made available as a screener. The second runner-up was something of a surprise, going to Stand By For Tape Back-Up (B-), an experimental video essay that uses an old videotape recorded by director Ross Sutherland’s grandfather as the entry point into meditations on death and the search for meaning. In practical terms, this means a British guy performing pesudo-freestyle raps over clips from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and using Ghostbusters as a metaphor for his asthma, which, while creative, can come across as self-indulgent. Der Bunker received a special “Next Wave” commendation for debut feature, with Demon took home the Horror award, The Brand New Testament (another film I missed that was not available to critics after the fact) winning Best Comedy, Man Vs. Snake claiming Best Documentary, and under-the-radar Chilean thriller The Club winning best overall feature.

After the closing-night festivities—which, indeed, were pretty good, which is why this final report is coming in on a Monday—and the trip back to Chicago, I caught up with a couple of screeners of films available for press online. First and foremost was Love And Peace (B), the new movie from Fantastic Fest favorite Sion Sono. Given his last feature, last year’s blood-soaked Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, it may seem improbable to report that Sono’s latest is a family film. But it is, and a Christmas movie to boot. Love And Peace applies Sono’s madcap sensibilities to a story about a loser who achieves his dreams of rock stardom after flushing his beloved pet turtle Pikadon, who gains magic powers after encountering benevolent drunk Pa and his Island Of Misfit Toys in the Tokyo sewer system. Predictably from the director of Love Exposure, the film is about a half-hour too long, but it’s also heartfelt, funny, and even cute.

Doglegs (B-) also falls into the general “ain’t Japan weird?” category. It documents a real-life wrestling league where people with disabilities fight able-bodied folks as well as each other. Doglegs is more challenging than a feel-good documentary like Murderball; the motivations of its protagonists are often difficult to understand—BDSM is frequently invoked as a justification for able-bodied heel “Antithesis” Kitajima’s taunting of disabled face “Sambo” Shintaro—and some of the wrestling scenes are uncomfortable to watch. But director Heath Cozens does show a sensitive eye, and his special commendation in the Documentary category at Fantastic Fest was well deserved.