Sci-fi London Film Festival 2010

3rd May 2010 – 1.45 pm

The ninth annual London Film Festival of Science Fiction and Fantasy is another six days of genre films, panels and events. I book a few tickets for myself and a friend and we head down for a full day and night of film watching.

We first watch the second of two shorts programmes. The festival selects a number of short films to be played before every feature, and also combines the shorts in to a collection to be enjoyed in one sitting. The quality can vary but they generally are interesting and enjoyable, and it is good to be able to watch a dozen or so at once on the big screen. The End of Evolution is an interesting look at identity and funny in a quirky way. The director was at the screening so I hope he appreciated the audience's reaction. Consciousness explores a robot learning how to feel, and did so with the most wonderfully fake robot that it puts you at ease and draws you in to the story. Matt Berry stars in The Search, where he looks to the stars for contact but finds it closer to home, and has the most muted voice I have ever heard from him. I didn't even know he could talk normally.

When Will It Be Silent is an Israeli film that uses the short format perfectly, presenting the scene and provoking a reaction at each step until the touching end. Reign of Death looked interesting, with good production values, but although the motives of the characters can partly be explained by the ending they are questionable until that point and detract from the plot, clichéd as it is. Clone is presented as an experimental work, and really didn't offer anything but a visual effect or two. A twist on the zombie genre, Choreomania has people being infected with a disease that causes them to dance continuously, and is nicely shot with a keen sense of comic timing. It is well worth a watch. Homeland is an odd little animation where a woman knits a jumper, but for a strange creature that continues to grow new arms, so that the jumper continuously needs to be adapted and the knitting never ends. I'm not entirely sure what was going on but the short is surprisingly moving.

Extending the utility of a modern GPS unit has a man guided in to making better decisions, and has a lot of charm and some fun jokes. My favourite of the shorts must be Übermencsch, a tale looking at the consequences of a certain extra-terrestrial craft landing in Germany instead of elsewhere. It has a clever look back at an altered history as well as a powerful message. The last film in the programme, Ergo is difficult to gauge. Although it certainly looks interesting, as it is played upside-down, back-to-front, and temporally reversed it is really difficult to follow. When it ends, I hear someone say 'that was a strange ending', to which I say to no one in particular, 'technically, sir, it was an odd beginning'. Thankfully, it is animated and wordless, or it would have been even more bizarre. I would really like to see this played the right way around, as it looks like an interesting story. I speak with the festival director afterwards and he tells me that when they got a 35 mm print of Ergo they wanted to play that instead of the submitted DVD, but a previous projectionist spooled it incorrectly. Never mind, I think I got the gist anyway.

After the shorts we see a Mexican production. It is the year 2033 and a totalitarian government is in power and has banned religion and freedom of expression. Control is maintained by developing secret additives to drinks that suppress a person's will. A promising young man destined to be a future leader learns from a cult leader that his father is not dead but being held by the government, setting in to motion actions that draw him in to the rebellious underworld. The story and motivations in 2033 are well-plotted and don't feel contrived, and the acting is consistently solid. The production design and values are excellent, even without considering the tiny budget the director had to work with, and the film overall is interesting and enjoyable. The ending is deliberately left open for a sequel, but in doing so it doesn't quite provide a strong enough conclusion for the single film, but that is a minor quibble. A Q&A session with the director afterwards reveals that 2033 is planned to be the middle part of a trilogy of films, the next one to be shot being the first of the three, once this film hopefully makes back its money.

The director of fan-film Batman: Dead End has created a feature, Hunter Prey. A ship crashes in to a remote planet and its dangerous cargo is on the loose. The small squad of soldiers from the ship have to hunt down the creature and capture it alive for its return, but it soon becomes unclear who is actually being hunted. Hunter Prey looks fantastic and has some clever ideas and nice technology. The moralising can get a little heavy-handed in places but it is not overly distracting. The ending gets rather convoluted in the intricacy of the plot, not enough that it can't be followed but the level of consequence is perhaps a little difficult to believe. The film is pretty good and certainly worth watching, and it will be interesting to see what the director does next, with the increasing attention he is getting.

Lastly, the two of us stay to watch the comedy all-nighter event, four really bad films played back-to-back with comic voice-overs. The first is the Rutger Hauer film Salute of the Juggers, which looks to be a confusing mess of post-apocalyptic violent games. For this film a small group of comedians provides a new dialogue. I am not a big fan of improvisation and although there are occasional moments of comic genius the improvisation mostly consists of saying what is happening on the screen and is a little dull as a result. Salute of the Juggers may not have been the best film to provide new dialogue for, as the number of extended fights were difficult to make interesting, but it was a good attempt. Next is a live recording of the Cinematic Titanic crew performing their riffs over the gloriously low-budget The Alien Factor. The film is laughably bad and the jokes from the CT crew make for an amazingly funny experience, and even though this was played from about 2 am onwards I didn't feel sleepy once. Being able to watch the crew riff from their scripts is excellent too.

Two MST3K films follow, first The Unearthly with two shorts beforehand. The shorts were information films for kids and were funny in themselves, trying to encourage children to have good posture and then show what parents get up to when the kids aren't around. The main feature is amusing but a bit slow and I unfortunately miss a fair bit of the plot once I can't recognise the difference between two male characters, and grab forty winks instead. First Spaceship on Venus I have seen before and I try to stay awake but don't quite manage it, as the plot is rather dry despite Joel and the robots spicing it up. I still catch a fair bit of the film and am awake for the ending. It is interesting to see that both MST3K films are Joel episodes too. And after the hilarious Cinematic Titanic showing I am definitely going to see some more of their new films.

Sci-fi London continues to bring interesting and thought-provoking films to bigger audiences than they would normally receive. Even though I don't manage to see all I want at the festival, the programme and promotions make me aware of all the films being shown, which will allow me to try to see the ones I am interested in another time.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed.