Stingray Sam


29 April – 4 May 2009

Venue: Apollo Cinema

Festival website

Now in its 8th year, Sci-Fi London has developed into a more wide-ranging science fiction festival than ever before. In previous years, 90% of the festival was focused on films and the Arthur C. Clarke awards for sci-fi literature seemed a strange satellite event not fully integrated into the rest of the long weekend. Now, albeit still housed in a cinema, Sci-Fi London includes talks on literature, science and comic books that not only sit alongside the film events in the programme, but provide a dialogue with the screenings: TV and radio writers will discuss sci-fi comedy while comic book artist Kevin O’Neill will talk about his drawings on screen and the film based on them, Hardware (1990), which will be shown afterwards.

Perhaps due to growing maturity, the festival is less embarrassed to be associated with what casual observers might see as the more kitsch aspects of SF fandom than in previous years – the opening film is Eyeborgs, which stars ‘TV’s Highlander‘ Adrian Paul. A perennial and popular strand at SFL is the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 all-night screenings, where fans of SF B-movies watch a TV version of those films, with heckling by an onscreen astronaut and two robots. This year’s festival takes that idea into the realm of stand-up comedy, screening one of the films showing in the festival again with a live redub of the soundtrack by improv comedians. Elsewhere there are different kinds of interaction with SF fans. For the first time in its history, SFL 8 will screen a ‘fan-film’, The Hunt for Gollum, which boasts production values similar to any of the authentic Lord of the Rings films and should keep devotees of the saga happy before the official prequel hits the big screen. In addition, SFL features an on-stage reading of a radio play script, The Brightonomicon, by some of the original cast, allowing the audience to see behind the scenes of something they’d normally only hear.

The films at this year’s SFL are a mixture of old and new, Western SF and films from further afield. As well as The City of Lost Children (1995), featuring a Q&A with co-director Marc Caro, there’s a kids screening of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), Ever Since the World Ended (2003), and four of the best Star Trek movies from the 1980s, which fans can see for free. World cinema is represented by Turkish comedies G.O.R.A. (2004) and A.R.O.G. (2008), Japanese SF epic Twentieth-Century Boys part 2 and a selection of Israeli short films. New films and premieres include Bill Plympton’s Idiots and Angels, Stingray Sam (from the director of The American Astronaut, a low-fi American indie favourite of recent years) and new Japanese / American co-produced animé Afro Samurai: Resurrection, featuring the voices of Samuel L. Jackson and Lucy Liu. Perhaps the most obvious example of combining old and new at the festival is Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which is a remix of the original film, replacing all of the backgrounds and some of the characters with new visuals. Whether Oshii’s interference with his own film is on the level of George Lucas’s endless tinkering with Star Wars – making it worse each time – or Ridley Scott’s various re-edits of Blade Runner – all equally as good and as unneeded – remains to be seen.

Full details of this year’s festival are available online at their website, including last minute changes and additions to the programme.

Alex Fitch