Monday, July 29, 2013

G-FEST 2013 Convention Report (Part 1)

Following my grand adventure in 2012, I had been looking forward to G-FEST XX with more excitement and anticipation than any other convention I can recall. Last year’s introductory (for me) experience was a bit of a revelation: G-FEST is much more than an autograph show (which many horror cons have regrettably turned into), but rather a genuine assembly of like-minded aficionados eager to commune with their brethren in the immersive kaiju-lovin’ atmosphere conjured by G-FAN editor J.D. Lees & Co. I had been unable to stick around for the entire weekend’s offerings due to pre-existing obligations, but I made a point of clearing the calendar this time around and was primed to soak up all the radioactive gigantism-related Japanese escapism to be had.

I had been so impressed by G-FEST XIX that I pressed HorrorHound editor Nathan Hanneman to allow me to profile the event in an upcoming issue, pointing out that the convention was just about to celebrate its second decade of annual lovefests, as well as G-FAN having recently passed the century mark with issue #102 a few weeks prior. Seemed a perfect addition to our “giant monsters” themed issue coinciding with the release of Guillermo del Toro’s latest, Pacific Rim. Happily, he acquiesced and, as a result, I found myself again awash in fond memories as I put fingers to keypad and pointer to photos. (HH #42, pp 54-55) So it was with great pleasure that on Friday, July 12, I found myself pulling on my Destroy All Monsters t-shirt and hopping on the CTA Blue Line to join the assembled faithful at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont, IL.

The event kicked off in time-honored fashion with J.D. leading his annual “Intro to G-FEST” panel, where he explained the changes to this year’s program and pointed out some of the highlights that lay ahead. I was disappointed to learn that Dojo Studios, the resident in-house tokusatsu (special effects) thread would not be attempting to shoot an entire faux trailer as they had in 2012, but considering the wealth of panels and special events going on, it was a fleeting blip on the emotional radar. Lees is such a generous and engaging presence, completely down to earth and accessible yet maintaining a sense of quiet authority – one gets the distinct impression that the reason things move as smoothly as they do is because of the way in which he manages the proceedings. I was happy to be able to present him with the aforementioned copy of HorrorHound (which also featured Gojira/Godzilla, King of the Monsters as the latest inductee to the HH Hall of Fame), which he happily accepted.

And then, we were off to the races! First on my schedule was the Pacific Rim panel, which had just opened that day. I knew a few of the dedicated would have sought out the Thursday midnight screening available to early bird G-FEST attendees (following the double double feature of 20 Million Miles to Earth, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Gamera vs. Gyaos, and The X from Outer Space) at nearby Park Ridge's Pickwick Theatre.

I’d been doing my best to avoid any pre-release PR spoilers and had plans to see the film later that following week, but to my great surprise and dismay, pretty much everyone in the room had already gone del Toro the night before and were ready and raring to discuss in detail. Even those who had not yet seen it were happily exclaiming, “We don’t care about spoilers! Tell us the best parts!” I made a hasty exit going “la la la la la la la” until I made it out of the ballroom with blissful ignorance intact. (Really? “Tell us the best parts?” Who are these people?)

I quickly reassessed the situation and headed over to the modeling thread just in time to catch Stan Hyde (aka the "indefatigable Stan Hyde" of last year’s Kaiju Konfessions fame). I’m not a big collector of any kind of memorabilia, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate other people’s collections and obsessions, so it was quite the fine spell of window shopping as Stan scrolled through the latest vinyl figures and model kits from Bandai and X-Plus.

After that wrapped up, I dashed off to listen to Kevin Horn’s panel on the 50th anniversary of Toho’s 1963 sci-fi feature Atragon, although I’ll admit to being slightly put off by the incessant off-topic questions from the audience. (It’s probably a good idea to limit your scope to the film in question as opposed to asking what the speaker thought about the 1998 Roland Emmerich version of Godzilla or Godzilla: Final Wars. Just a thought.) Can’t say that I learned anything new about the flick, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of Atragon enthusiasts on hand. I remember being slightly disappointed when I first saw it, since the only kaiju appearance is that of sea serpent Manda who comes and goes pretty quickly. What can I say – I like the monsters.

I scooted upstairs to catch the last few minutes of Mike Sutton’s "Kaiju Music Challenge," where he played music cues from the first five Godzilla films and contestants had to guess the song titles and from which movie. Tough stuff, but impressive to see how many folks were getting 90-100% of the answers correct. Note: G-FEST competitions are not for the weak.

We were then graced once more with by Mr. Hyde’s presence as the Vancouver resident told us about his adventures living in the city where Legendary Studios was shooting the new Gareth Edwards-helmed Godzilla flick. Being the uber G-fan that he is, Stan had made it a priority to get himself onto the set somehow and eventually wangled his way into being an extra in the film.

Due to legal obligations, Stan couldn't/wouldn’t tell us anything about the story or the look of the monster or even much about what he was asked to do (I respect this enormously, by the way), but he still managed to fill an engaging hour with stories of walking around town and seeing tanks and radiation warning signs and stolen shots of Elizabeth Olson and Bryan Cranston. This is the true spirit of G-FEST – where we all sit around and listen to another G-fan talk about being this close to a post-production monster and say, “Wow, that’s awesome.”

This was followed by yet another example of spirited camaraderie as the big ballroom filled up with fans eager to see the world premiere of superfan and burgeoning indie filmmaker Billy Dubose’s Godzilla: Battle Royale. The trailer had screened at Chicago’s own Sci-Fi Spectacular earlier this spring and as you can see HERE, it’s a whole lotta fun. The feature delivers the cheesy goods big time, with hammy acting and dicier plotting, but it’s really all about the guys in suits beating the tar out of each other while creating as much miniature carnage as possible.

Introducing the film, Dubose apologized for the fact that he hadn’t been able to complete all the sound editing before the show, and that it was still very much a work in progress. But the crowd didn’t care – here was one of our own who had actually done the deed and made a film: SALUTE!

Time for a little dinner break (while watching Goohead Cinema’s big screen presentation of Gamera vs. Viras), then we bore witness to an amazing round of “Godzilla Jeopardy” (or “G-Pardy”) as three mind-bogglingly versed G-fans matched wits and buzzers against one another in a variety of trivia categories. Gotta say, that home version of Jeopardy is pretty darn cool.

Skip Peel, our back-to-back champ for the past two years, took over Alex Trebek duties, performing ably and admirably.

(I apologize for not remembering his name, but the gentleman on the far left ended up taking the entire tournament, thanks in no small part to an “all in” Final Jeopardy round here.)

This picture.  Just because.

I had missed the opening ceremonies last year, so I sat myself down front and center as J.D. introduced our special guests for the weekend:

Shinichi Wakasa, creator of most of the monster suits seen in the Heisei and Millennium series Godzilla movies,

Tsutomu (Tom) Kitagawa, the man inside the big green stomping machine for the five Millennium series films,

Robert Scott Field, the android star of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), who’s about as cool as cool can be,

Cleve Hall, star of the SyFy reality series Monster Man (and the creator and performer inside the Godzilla suit in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure),

Shizuo Nakajima, director of the ultimate fan film, Legendary Giant Beast Wolfman vs. Godzilla (more on that HERE),

But the most memorable and moving portion of the evening was when the tokusatsu team headed by Paul Gavins, Krys Baioa, Billy Dubose and Richard St. Andrews presented our Master of Ceremonies with a lovingly created life-sized suit of the convention’s official mascot, Gfantis, designed and built by Richard "Rick" Baker and his son Jake. 

(Gavins later informed me that Dubose had driven to Arkansas and back in less than 24 hours to pick up the suit since the Fabulous Baker Boys were unable to attend the show themselves and they really wanted J.D. to have it this weekend to commemorate "two decades of destruction."  One more example of how amazing these G-Fans are.) 

Truly an amazing gesture, one both extremely personal and completely universal. This was perhaps the highlight of the weekend, watching a man who had given so much to G-Fans being rewarded in kind. A great way to wrap up the night.

Next up: DAY 2!

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