With film festivals in every major city these days, it’s pretty easy to drive an hour or two to see some amazing films–sometimes many months before they hit theaters or streaming services.

But the great film festivals give you something more than that: A chance to see, experience, and even participate in something you might not ever do again. That’s part of what makes the Chattanooga Film Festival, now in its sixth year, one of the best film festivals in the South.

I made a point to attend as many events as I could at this year’s festival (without sacrificing too many movies I wanted to see), and the events I chose did not disappoint. Here’s how my weekend went.

Photo by Ricardo Chang

Joe Bob Briggs: How Rednecks Saved Hollywood (Thursday Night)

Joe Bob Briggs, the legendary Texas film critic of “Drive-In Theater” and “MonsterVision” fame, has been going to CFF for years. But thanks to his new gig on Shudder, he’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance, and part of the wave he’s riding includes a traveling keynote on the history of rednecks in film.

And it was absolutely fascinating. 135 minutes of cinematic scholarship stretching all the way back to the Scots-Irish origins of the term “redneck” and cataloguing every bit of hicksploitation that Hollywood has leaned into ever since–beginning and ending with a standing ovation from a raucous audience. It would be a fool’s errand to attempt a summary of the lecture (which he also presented two days later at the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson, MS), so do yourself a favor and go see Joe Bob preach if he comes to your town.

Secret Screening (Thursday Night)

I can’t tell you about it, because it’s a secret, dummy. (I did enjoy the film, though.)

Photo by Daniel Guy

Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady From The Black Lagoon (Friday Afternoon)

Many genre fans grew up adoring the classic Universal monsters, particularly the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But not many people knew that the Creature itself was designed by a woman named Milicent Patrick.

That is, until author/filmmaker/podcaster Mallory O’Meara spent years researching Patrick’s storied career and her many contributions to the world of cinema which she catalogued in her new book, The Lady From The Black Lagoon. O’Meara gave a brief talk on Patrick’s legacy (and how many men tried to cover it up back then, and many men deny it to this day) before fielding questions and signing copies of the book. She also returned the next day to present a free outdoor screening of Creature From The Black Lagoon.

An Evening With Crispin Glover (Friday Night)

Crispin Glover is one interesting dude. The infamous costar of Back To The Future (whom genre fans might also know from Willard and Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter) is more than just an actor—he’s been writing his own experimental/poetic storybooks for 25 years. And he’s a director, too.

His CFF appearance included four portions: a live reading of all eight of his books, a screening of his 2007 film It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine., a lengthy Q&A session, and a book signing afterwards.

I didn’t stay for the film or the Q&A, but I did attend the live reading that began the event, and I can tell you that it was absolutely bonkers and one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen on a stage. (In a good way!) I can also confirm that he’s very nice in person and also very conversational.

Photo by Ricardo Chang

Shockwaves Live Podcast (Saturday Afternoon)

The first half of a genre-friendly podcast double-header was a live recording of the Blumhouse-sponsored Shockwaves podcast hosted by horror aficionados Rob Galluzzo, Rebekah McKendry, and Elric Kane.

Shockwaves typically features special guests, and since they were at a film festival, it wasn’t hard to find a couple good ones: director Gary Sherman, who hosted a screening of his film Vice Squad later that day, and director Jeff Burr, who grew up in nearby Dalton, GA. It was a treat to hear filmmaking insights and advice from two genre veterans as well as anecdotes about working with Vincent Price, Donald Pleasance, Christopher Lee, and other horror legends.

Photo by Ricardo Chang

Junkfood Cinema Live Podcast (Saturday Afternoon)

Part two of the podcast double-header was a live recording of Junkfood Cinema with co-hosts Brian Salisbury, president of the Austin Film Critics Society, and C. Robert Cargill, screenwriter of Sinister and Doctor Strange among other scripts and novels.

Per JFC tradition, the duo picked a movie to discuss—1994’s The Shadow, a super weird superhero movie starring Alec Baldwin, Ian McKellan, Tim Curry, and Penelope Ann Miller—and dissected it from every possible angle, including numerous wildly informative (and hilarious) tangents and sidebars. Salisbury even attempted some Shadow cosplay, but the duct tape had a mind of its own.

Photo by Daniel Guy

True Crime Cinema With Josh Zeman (Sunday Afternoon)

True crime is all the rage these days, with unearthed and under-investigated cases dominating film, television, and podcasts. But veteran filmmaker Josh Zeman has been deep in the true crime world for two decades now, including horrific films and series like Cropsey, Killer Legends, The Killing Season, and Murder Mountain.

Zeman spent an hour conversing on the work involved in true crime filmmaking and commenting on the recent popularity that the genre has enjoyed. He even treated his audience to a sizzle reel of a new project that he’s in the process of pitching—which you’ll hopefully be hearing about very soon.

Yes, it was an eventful weekend, folks.

And that’s not including plenty of other great CFF events like an Everything Is Terrible show, a live Dungeons & Dragons game with C. Robert Cargill, a special FX masterclass from Gary Sherman, a VHS-themed scavenger hunt, a horror trivia night hosted by the Shockwaves crew, multiple filmmaker-centric workshops, and whiskey-filled parties every night.

If you’re within a manageable drive of East Tennessee, or you just want to jetset to a destination film festival for a few days, mark your calendar and make the Chattanooga Film Festival a priority for 2020.