Tim League is the founder and executive chairman of the movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse. He is also the co-founder of Fantastic Fest, poster company Mondo, and film distribution company Neon.
What I look for the most when I’m at a film festival is discovery, finding an amazing new talent or seeing a new spin on storytelling for the first time. I started recreationally attending festivals about 20 years ago and then, about 15 years ago, pivoted the business to be able to do it more and do it professionally. The following are my top five films that left me with goosebumps after leaving the cinema during a film festival. Post-movie goosebumps and accelerated heart rate are my favorite barometer for my love of a film. All of these films are currently available on Alamo on Demand!
No verbal dialogue, no soundtrack, no subtitles, and a cast of deaf non-actors are the building blocks of a staggeringly powerful drama set in a deaf boarding school in Ukraine. Written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, The Tribe won the Grand Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival Semaine de la Critique and brought about a night of insomnia (in a positive sense—I was too excited to sleep).
Inspired by atrocious true events, Katrin Gebbe’s debut feature Nothing Bad Can Happen follows Tore, a young lost soul involved with an underground Christian punk movement who falls in with a dysfunctional family curious to test his seemingly unwavering faith. Raw, powerful and very intense, this film is a beautiful and thought-provoking expression and exploration of faith.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s crushingly powerful documentary deals with the continuing dilemma of the 1965 genocide. War criminals still hold office and power today while the families of victims are too afraid to speak up. The Act of Killing was nominated for (and should have won!) the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2014. It is haunting, shocking, gorgeously shot, surreal, singular, and even funny, but it quickly punches you in the cut right after luring you in to smile and laugh.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance played a significant role in the origin of Fantastic Fest. [My wife] Karrie and I saw the film in 2002 while on vacation at the Sitges Film Festival. At the time I didn’t know Park Chan-wook and was utterly shattered by this film (in all the right ways). That night, after that screening, our first conversations about bringing something like Sitges to Austin took place. Four years later, Fantastic Fest launched. The desire to share staggeringly brilliant international genre films with U.S. audiences began with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
At Cannes, I was walking down the street when I heard someone scream my name. It was Colin Geddes, then TIFF Midnight Madness programmer. He said, “What are you doing right this second?” I answered. He said, “No, you are going to see Big Man Japan. It starts in two minutes.” I went, got the worst seat in the house, and had the best time of my life. It also started a 13-year obsession with the comedy genius of Hitoshi Matsumoto. All of his films are incredible. He is one of the all-time most unique and creative voices in comedy.