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G-Fest – Finding the Heart of Godzilla, right here in Chicago!

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In my years of fandom, I’ve had the privilege of attending many horror and sci-fi related shows & conventions. I’ve been to the first three STAR WARS Celebrations, an X-Files X-Po, Flashback Weekend, Horrorhound, and numerous Wizard Cons. While I’d consider all of these events to have been positive experiences, evoking countless great memories, none share the warmth and personal connection that G-FEST has to offer.
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G-FEST (Godzilla Festival) recently celebrated its 17th year, many of which took place right here in Chicago. Although relatively meager in size, I can honestly say that (based on my personal experiences) it’s one of the most successful at connecting its fan base to their respective genres. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Japanese kaiju fans are a bit more specialized than the average monster movie lover. This, of course, would naturally attract a smaller and more intimate group of regulars year after year. Or maybe it is due to the fact that it was not created nor sponsored by an organized business/corporation but, instead, a Canadian school teacher named JD Lees along with a group of his like-minded friends. Whatever the reason, G-FEST is a phenomenon that I hope will continue for years to come.
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I attended my first G-FEST back in 2004 along with my six year old son, Alex. That year also marked the 50th anniversary of Godzilla, an occasion that was celebrated at the festival, complete with a monster-sized birthday cake to be shared by all. I was immediately struck by the positive atmosphere and camaraderie that seemed to exist between those running the event, and those in attendance. I was also impressed by how much creativity (be it home made model, art work, fan film, music video, etc) was promoted at this convention. Since that time, we have returned year after year, without fail. It has become as much a part of our yearly calendar as Halloween, Christmas, or one of our own birthdays. Alex, now twelve, lamented to me during this past festival that he “could not imagine life without G-FEST. In that regard, I don’t believe he is alone.
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G-FEST offers something for every kaiju fan – both child and adult. For kids there is an entire room dedicated to Japanese monster crafts, contests, and activities appropriately called Minya’s Place. One of the projects my son made that first year (a Gamera made of craft foam and Popsicle sticks) still adorns my work desk today. Other activities featured over the years include a “kaiju call,” where kids compete by mimicking their favorite monster’s roar, a kaiju poetry contest, and games such as “Please return the egg!” For years Minya’s Place was run by an amazing woman named Barb Weiler. Her ability to connect with the young visitors, as well her immense creativity, was inspiring not to mention crucial to the future of G-Fest. After all, it is the younger fans who will keep this genre (threatened by CGI and more modern special effects techniques) alive. While the youngest fans enjoy Minya’s Place, their older brothers & sisters will more than likely be found in the Video Gaming Room. The room is set up with multiple televisions and Wii game systems, while participants get to duke it out via GODZILLA UNLEASHED.
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200_0073Alex greets Robert Scott Field

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The legendary Stan Hyde runs my favorite room at G-FEST, the model room. This room serves as both a training thread for novice model builders, while also featuring that year’s submissions for judging. The talent displayed each year is absolutely amazing and I find myself making numerous trips to this room throughout the weekend. The essence of G-FEST is not about ego but rather allowing everyone a chance to express their fan fervor.

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The model room is no exception. A child’s Play-Doh Godzilla can sit at the same table as an experienced modeler’s masterpiece. One such pro is Dennis Shannon Reid, whose numerous submissions year after year have also won accolades from the modeling expo, Wonderfest. One of his latest creations featured Godzilla battling the twin Mothra larva amid a Tokyo street. I could have stared at this highly detailed piece for hours and still found something new!

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img_0891 Dennis Shannon Reid’s awesome model!

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The costume contest/parade is also a strong draw at G-FEST. Once again you have experienced costumers walking alongside novices. Everyone cheers whether it is a detailed costume of Destroyah or a child wearing a black garbage bag with red eyes – ala’ Hedorah (The Smog Monster). Since being helmed by Paul Gavins back in 2006, the costuming thread has reached even newer heights. Mr. Gavins blew G-Festers away with his own Mechagodzilla III (Kiryu) costume during G-Fest XII and is now content to teach and encourage new costumers. During this past G-Fest, he helped construct a miniature Japanese city, in scale with the costumed participants.
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This was to become the prime location of a short film, shot this year featuring “G-Fantis” – the G-Fest mascot. To assist in creating footage for this project, I (along with a slew of other eager fans) ran in terror down a Rosemont, Illinois street early that Saturday morning. The aforementioned film will make its YouTube debut later this year. And, yes, at the end of the festival, Paul did encourage anyone wearing a costume to come inside and trash the city, Godzilla-style!
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img_09931Paul Gavins
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The main highlight of most fan conventions, of course, is the celebrity guests they attract. G-FEST is no exception with this year’s guest being, as JD Lees described, “The biggest guest we’ve seen here at G-Fest to date.” Akira Takarada starred in six Godzilla films which include the first, GOJIRA (1954) as well as the latest, GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004).
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He also played in other TOHO film favorites such as LATITUDE ZERO, KING KONG ESCAPES, and HALF HUMAN. Takarada is still an active thespian and remains a prominent celebrity in Japan today. Next month, he will be returning to the United States to appear in a Broadway play titled, “Freddie the Leaf.” I’ll be writing more about my impressions of Takarada in a future blog but, suffice it to say, it was a great honor being able to watch the original GOJIRA with him in the audience at a nearby theater.
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There are still many facets of G-FEST I haven’t touched upon but will hopefully be discussed in upcoming blogs. It has become an integral part of my family’s lives and, year  after year, seems to bring new friends and even better experiences our way. Of course I will continue to attend the numerous other conventions that pop up throughout the year. After all, I do love horror in ALL of its forms be it Japanese Kaiju to Dario Argento. But, to me, G-FEST will always be more like an annual family reunion as versus an organized event.  I would strongly encourage any Godzilla fan to come out next July and check it out!
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Dave Fuentes~
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2 responses

  1. julian

    i attended the 1st fest and the one in 1999 that was in LA and you got a tour of Forry Ackerman’s mansion.
    Also JD Lees edits a great magazine G-Fan and runs an wonderfully convention.
    glad you enjoyed yourself

    August 3, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    • I can not imagine how amazing that first G-Fest must of been! Not to mention a visit to the Ackermansion! Did you get any pictures of the events? I’d love to post them on this blog. Thanks for the feedback and sharing your story. Dave F

      August 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm

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