There's an Annual Festival for Superfans of the Movie 'Shrek' — and It's More Bizarre Than You Could Ever Imagine (Video)
This story originally appeared on ThisIsInsider.com.
The first "Shrek" movie came out in 2001. But the green ogre, it seems, is everywhere.
Including the real world.
Shrekfest, an event that celebrates all things "Shrek," celebrated its fourth year in September. It's an all-day event held in Madison, Wisconsin, complete with pin the tail on the donkey, a costume contest, "Shrek"-themed merchandise, a screening of the first movie, and an onion-eating contest (ogres are like onions: they have layers).
Shrekfest started out as a joke. Literally. In 2014, far before fake Facebook events were a meme, someone made an event on Facebook for a Shrek-themed festival.
Grant Duffrin, a video editor living in Milwaukee, and his friends thought it was real and wanted to make the trip to Madison to attend.
"We were pumped to go to this thing called 'Shrekfest,'" Duffrin told INSIDER. "We should have known it was a prank, though. Because I think that if you read the description for the event, it said it was a five-day event. And all the bands they had listed — we should have known it was not a real thing."
A week before the purported event was due to take place, Duffrin and his friends did some sleuthing. A supposed sponsor of the festival let them know it was a hoax.
A hoax wasn't going to stop them from making Shrekfest a reality.
More than anything, they were disappointed. But they still wanted to go to a "Shrek"-themed festival.
As did, apparently, the thousands of others who said on Facebook that they wanted to go to the event. Dammit, if "Shrekfest" didn't exist already, then they would just have to do it themselves.
"We saw an opportunity where there were people that wanted this thing, but no one was stepping up to make the thing real," Duffrin said.
So Duffrin called the Madison Parks Department and told them he wanted to throw a festival. He told them he was from 3GI Industries to sound more official ("It sounds much better when I call the Parks Department and tell them I'm from 3GI Industries," Duffrin said). It's the name Duffrin and his group of friends have for themselves when they make low-budget movies in their spare time.
Duffrin and his 3GI Industries friends have been obsessed with "Shrek" for a long time. They've made a series of short films that are a sort of goofy horror genre take on the "Shrek" universe, but with a heavy dose of pothead humor. It started out with "Shrekronomicon," then "Jurassic Swamp" and "Shrekalypse Now." hat love of "Shrek" made them want to follow through with making Shrekfest a reality.
3GI Industries had never thrown a festival before, but the Madison Parks Department was helpful in setting them up in a small park. The event took place on Saturday, July 26, 2014, the very same day that the hoax event was planned for.
It turned into a huge success.
There were some obstacles. The group couldn't get the permits they needed to sell things the first year, so they had to make the whole thing free to the public instead of charging for tickets. They also couldn't sell merchandise, so they gave it all away instead. They designed tie-dye T-shirts with Shrek's face on it, green ears to wear on your head, and green slime parfait. At the end of the festival, they hosted an outdoor screening of "Shrek" on a shower curtain stretched out between PVC pipes.
To help with the festival's costs, they took donations instead. Duffrin found that there were plenty of Shrek fans who wanted to help.
"People were so generous with the donations, because we were doing it all for free," Duffrin said. "It was so much fun."
Shrekfest gets bigger every year.
Duffrin and his friends decided to do it all again the next year. That time, they got a bigger park. Shrekfest later moved to James Madison Park, where it's been since. It's a short walk from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and from the state capital building, which gives them a lot of traffic.
"It's a party. There's free beer, there's a free screening, and it's free to show up," Duffrin said, musing on the event's success. "You cannot not have a blast."
The event is a success. People have flown in from the United Kingdom and Canada, Duffrin said, technically making it an "international event." The first year, the festival had a budget of around $800 and drew in around 50 people. This year, the budget grew to $5,500 and drew more than 300. Last year, it even drew a profit.
"I really don't mind [losing money], because I think this is an investment," Duffrin said. "I think it's only going to get bigger and bigger. I would pay to be a part of this."
Unlike other pop culture relics of the 2000s, "Shrek" has staying power.
"Shark Tale" and "Hoodwinked" are forgotten. "Chicken Run" and "Howl's Moving Castle" are beloved, but seldom referenced. "Shrek," however, is a touchstone on the internet. It's not just a meme, but offers a catalogue of material to use for memes.
There is also "All Star," the opening song of the first "Shrek" movie, which is itself often used in memes and a is a frequent subject of web culture. Together, "All Star" and "Shrek" support each other, twin memes linked by the song's use in the movie.
"Shrek," as a movie and as a character, has staying power because they're funny in ways that other things aren't. It has a meta-humor that was smart for its time — and especially for kids who watched the movie — years before anything like "Deadpool" or "The Lego Movie" existed.
The movie is, in other words, in on the joke. Everyone who watches it is in on the joke, too. You can build a community around that feeling. That's also why "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "21 Jump Street," "The Muppet Movie," and "Rick and Morty" have such huge and passionate followings as well.
For Duffrin, Shrek's appeal is the character's edginess and rudeness. He, like many attendees of Shrekfest, grew up watching the movies (his favorite is "Shrek 2"), and was enthralled by how impolite their protagonist was.
"He's rude and crude," Duffrin said. "He's cussin' all the time. He's funny 'cause he farts."
Those qualities also explain why "Shrek the Third" and "Shrek Forever After" haven't reached the same success as the first two movies. The third is oddly serious, with Shrek and Fiona playing a game of thrones to figure out who should rule the land of Far, Far Away. And the fourth takes place in an alternate universe, apparently because the writers ran out of ideas.
Shrekfest is poised to keep growing.
Because of Shrek's staying power and the enthusiasm of 3GI Industries, the festival is poised to keep growing. Its proximity to the University of Madison-Wisconsin means that a lot of its future attendees will be people who grew up with the movies. It's also a fun, humorous festival that pokes fun at the more high-profile festivals that young people attend.
"As much as 'Shrek' is a parody of fairy tales, Shrekfest is a parody of festivals," Duffrin said.
DreamWorks Animation, which produces and distributes the "Shrek" movies through Universal Studios, hasn't registered any awareness of the festival. Duffrin is optimistic that they won't make any kind of copyright claim and hopes they'll embrace it instead.
Duffrin also credits the name of the event — bestowed by Joe Copeland, who created the original fake event on Facebook— for its success.
"Shrekfest. It sounds like 'breakfast,'" Duffrin said. "It's just a perfect name. Shrek. Fest."