Festival report days 1 - 3

There is no denying that sci-fi/fantasy genre movies are as popular as they have been over the last three decades since Star Wars turned them into a blockbuster successes. However, these multiplex megaliths have proved something of a blessing and a curse for the fans and creators of hard sci-fi based on big ideas and speculative science that is more than just spaceships and aliens. It was to cater to the hard sci-fi fans that SCI-FI-LONDON was started, and also to show to people that didn’t like the high-concept sci-fi of the studios that there are independent filmmakers out there with something intelligent to say without having to spend millions of dollars/pounds.

2012 is a particularly good year for genre films at the multiplexes, with Avengers Assemble, Hunger Games and John Carter (its over-publicised box-office losses notwithstanding) and the forthcoming Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises and the new Spider-Man. For us at SCI-FI-LONDON it has also proved a bumper year, with an exceptionally and consistently high quality of films from independent filmmakers, eight of which are world premieres, with nearly all the others UK premieres.

Death

The festival kicked off on Tuesday with the sold-out world premiere of British film Death, a supernatural sci-fi comedy from director Martin Gooch (interviewed in the latest edition of The Pulse). After the screening the nervous cast and crew received an enthusiastic response from the audience, which continued after the Q&A as everyone piled into the bar for the opening night party that distributors Arrow Fims put on for us, joining the invited filmmaker guests. Arrow also treated the guests to a screening of Clone (formerly know as Womb), a film about a woman who gives birth to the cloned embryo of her dead boyfriend, starring Eva Greene and Matt Smith. This proved to create something of a subdued ending to the evening as it raised all sorts of ambiguous moral issues. Nevertheless, it was a great opening evening to the festival and considering it was a Tuesday evening an extremely encouraging turn out, with the bar and both screenings full.

Extracted

Wednesday brought another great line up of films and the Arthur C Clarke Awards. First in was Extracted, starring Sasha Roiz (of Caprica and Grimm fame), about a scientist trapped in the mind of a convicted murderer when an experiment goes wrong. This is one of our favourite films of the festival (among the many) and it was definitely getting a lot of buzz after the screening.

The Clarke Awards is in an important part of the British sci-fi calendar because it recognises the great literary talent this country has and continues to produce. This year was particularly special for us because our literary editor Rob Grant was asked to be on the jury, which meant reading 60 books. After a certain amount of wine drinking the nominees, previous award winners and guests were ushered into the theatre for some brief speeches and the announcement of the winner, which was…

Due to the popularity of the previous night’s screening of Death, another show as added to the schedule, with the director and some members of the cast there to receive more accolades for this decidedly British film.

Two years back we showed a preview of Radio Free Albemuth, an independent film based on Philip K Dick’s semi-autobiographical novel (Dick, played by Shea Whigham, appears in the film as a science fiction writer). After all the big Hollywood interpretations of Dick’s stories, which are still (mostly) great films, to see one that accurately portrays, as well as captures the essence of, the story is very refreshing. Even more so because it is done without the reliance of massive Hollywood budgets and the accompanying special effects. This was the official UK premiere and director John Alan Simon and producer Elizabeth Karr were on hand to take questions from the almost capacity audience. And additional showing has been added for Monday.

Thursday started early with a free screening for school children that are part of the Film Club programme. It was a chance for them to see Melies’ classic Voyage to the Moon, which they will have heard of if they saw Scorsese’s Hugo. This was shown with Joe Dante’s (one of the jury for this year’s 48 Hour Film Challenge) Explorers.

It was London Mayoral Election day so it was fitting that we had Boris in the house - Karloff that is - with the documentary Kreating Karloff along with his classic The Black Kat. Karloff’s official biographer Stephen Jacobs was on hand to take questions from the audience. We have signed copies of his book, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster on sale at the festival.

The first of our Blink of an Eye shorts programme proved as popular as ever, with more great mini movies. These, along with the quality of this year’s 48 Hour Film Challenge entries, show that short format sci-fi films really work and can tell a great story and convey an idea as well, and sometimes better, than a feature.

One of the most original films at this year’s festival has to be Strange Frame, even if it is just for all the genres it spans - animated lesbian sci-fi rock musical. With a star-studded cast of voice actors from all the great sci-fi shows, it features a unique look of vibrantly coloured cut-out animation that looks nothing like South Park. Writer-director GB Hajim and Shelley Dety, the film’s co-writer and songwriter were on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

The Captains

While the London Girl Geeks were showing that geeks aren’t all scruffy, socially awkward man-boys William Shatner’s documentary The Captains kept a screen full of Trek fans entertained in his inimitable style. It is showing again on Sunday night at 21.15.

The weekend’s here and there is plenty to see and do, so get your tickets and share in the fun.

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