A Change of Plan

I had planned to only see two films on the final day of Sci-Fi London, both in the evening. But my plans for the daytime were scuppered by the weather, so I decided to add an extra item to my festival agenda and head in early. The pub quiz was tempting, as was an extra screening of Radio Free Albemuth… but the decision turned out to be quite easy in the end, because of one of my (very few) complaints about the festival.

Attempting to find out more about what the deal was with the quiz just left me at a page telling me to register my team. As a newcomer to the festival and the only one of my crowd to attend, I knew exactly nobody else at the festival. When the only option for a social event is to say who else you’re doing it with… and you don’t know anybody else, that’s a nice hefty barrier to participation. So I bought a ticket for Radio Free Albemuth instead. Not a great hardship, as it’s a film I’d wanted to see earlier in the week anyway.

This seems like a good time to bring up a small gripe about the festival, but first, I should clarify: I enjoyed the festival immensely. I just had the feeling I was missing something.

There was clearly a social side to the festival that just seemed totally opaque to me. I knew things were happening, but information about it all was remarkably absent… and there was remarkably little provision for folks who weren’t already involved in that side of the things to get involved. If you weren’t already a part of the in crowd, there didn’t really seem to be an on-ramp to change that. It’s difficult to mingle and socialise whilst watching films… and when not watching the films, everybody just seemed to vanish. Having a couple of places near to the cinema called out as “meet here between films” venues would help a great deal… the cinema foyer didn’t really cut it as a social venue much of the time, although I did spend a bit of time chatting with folks at the t-shirt stand later in the weekend!

Film 6 – Radio Free Albemuth

First, a confession: I’ve not read Philip K. Dick’s original book. I have read VALIS, which is a different variation on the story, but not Radio Free Albemuth itself. So this film was going to be both a bit familiar and a bit unfamiliar. I’m never entirely sure what to make of PKD’s work, but I found this film to be both enjoyable and engaging… and quite a bit easier to follow than VALIS.

The semi-autobiographical story follows Nick Brady (a fictional friend of PKD) as he deals with what he believes to be transmissions from an extraterrestrial origin, transmitted to him via a satellite in earth orbit, and setting him against the opressive political climate of a dystopian USA.

Apparently this film was shown at a previous Sci-Fi London as a test screening, and the version shown this year was the completed version, following changes made after those test screenings. Of course, not having seen the previous version, I can’t make a comparison… but given the quality of this version, I’m guessing it paid off.

So whilst I’d still like to have been to the quiz and got involved with the social side, I have no problem with having chosen to see Radio Free Albemuth instead.

Film 7 – Exit

I’m still not sure what to make of this australian film just yet. I know I liked it, but I think a lot of it is open to interpretation… and I’ve not finished forming my interpretation of it just yet. This won’t mean anything to non-gamers, but I got definite hints of Unknown Armies from it. It’s certainly a film about obsession and it certainly shows how obsession can damage people…

The general premise is that there’s a growing number of people who’ve come to believe that their city is a maze, and they’re stepping away from their normal lives to open as many doors as they can, hoping one of them will be the exit. They see their normal lives as just more dead ends in the maze, illusions to be overcome.

Exit is certainly a thought provoking and immersive film, though. Even without being 100% sure of what the final outcome of the film was (although I have theories), the film is still visually (and musically) impressive and I recommend it highly.

Film 8 – The Sound of My Voice

I’d been quite intrigued by this film since it leapt onto the programme at the last minute. It focusses on two would-be investigative journalists who attempt to join a secretive cult to infiltrate, document and expose it. The film opens as, after months of work, they are finally brought into the cult and meet Maggie, the cult’s charismatic messiah figure. What they weren’t expecting was for Maggie to claim to be from the future.

One of the things I really liked about this film was that it didn’t provide all the answers… it leaves a lot open, whilst also still providing a pretty solid conclusion.

Now, this is a film that’s virtually impossible to discuss without spoiling it, so I’ve hastily added a spoiler-block mechanism to my site. It might take a short while to get the kinks out – bear with me if this goes a bit astray.

First set of spoilers – concerning Maggie herself, her story and how some things could make more sense:


[spoiler]One of the things I was initially left a little cold by was when an investigative agency of some kind (I’ll run with FBI) gets involved… because, the way the film pans out doesn’t seem to fit with why and how they would have become involved. At one point, the lead FBI agent mentions that Maggie has held other identities, and has lead other cons, but escaped… and that in each case things have lead to a request that a child be brought to her.But then I realised that the “from the future” and “con artist” personas didn’t have to conflict. There’s no reason she couldn’t be both. After all, she herself says “I’m from the future, I’m not a saint“.

Another possibility that would make reasonable sense is that, as with the child she claims is her mother, the other children in other cities may well have been people she knew in the future.

All of the above could be true, without conflicting with her identity as a visitor from the future.[/spoiler]


Second set of spoilers – concerning outstanding questions about Abigail Pritchett:

[spoiler]This lot is very much a “things left relatively unexplained” kind of deal. I’m going to leave aside the film’s brief revelatory moment right at the very end (which I think was very nicely handled and excellently foreshadowed) and instead ask one question: What was the deal with Abigail. She’s shown as a strange child at the best of times – but the creepy weird structures she was obsessively making from her building blocks struck me as somehow important. The film never dwells on them, so she could just be an odd kid… but it struck me as too big a deal to not be relevant.[/spoiler]

Then there’s her bedtime injections. I got the impression that she was meant to be a child with some health problems, but injections between her toes? That seemed a bit odd to be left mostly unexplained.

(Frivolous edit: especially when the injections were delivered by none other than Dr. Thaddeus Venture himself [aka: James Urbaniak], another fictional character known for dubious parenting!)

So there you go, some spoilery questions and things I was pleased to be left wanting to know more about…

Festival Verdict?

I paid under £70 to see eight films and a pile of short films.  I’ll be going back, I think!