It’s a celluloid invasion! The Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival

The Blazing World film still. Image: supplied

It launched last year with 34 films. This year, the Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival will host almost three times that number of films from around the world. Festival director Simon Foster spoke with Rita Bratovich about the amazing range and quality in the 2021 program. 

Since the inaugural Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival (SSFFF) last year, festival director Simon Foster has been very busy networking with international sci-fi film festivals including Berlin, London and Boston. Thanks to his efforts, the Sydney festival has not only seriously augmented its content in terms of quantity, but also in diversity of styles, genres, cultures and subject matter.

“A lot of my films are a bit more soulful, a bit more melancholy; they have a human element to them that I find really interesting. Science fiction/fantasy films that sort of delve into the human experience and the human emotions within that genre framework are what really impact me,” says Foster, explaining how he curates the program. 

The genre itself has morphed beyond giant rampaging insects and shiny silver space suits. The narratives are more complex, nuanced, cross-sectional. 

Vera de Verdad film still. Image: supplied.

“The term ‘science fiction’ I put under the banner of speculative storytelling; that’s the term that’s used around the world to indicate that this is a work of the imagination in terms of looking forward or imagining a different world – and that is what I look for in my science fiction/fantasy films,” says Foster. 

“Sci-fi is such a broad term and people who hate sci-fi will still go and see a Marvel movie at the cinemas, which is essentially a sci-fi/fantasy film,” he says. 

An example of non-conventional sci-fi is the festival’s opening film, The Blazing World, about a young woman dealing with a past trauma through self-destructive behaviour. She returns to the origin of the event and enters a PTSD fantasy world in an attempt to self heal. 

Other noteworthy films include Vera de Verdad, an Italian/Chilean film which explores themes of mortality, transference and reincarnation; Wyrmwood: Apocalypse, the sequel to the very popular Aussie zombie horror, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead; and Annular Eclipse, a Matrix style film from China about two assassins caught between warring gangs in a futuristic world. 

Simon Foster, festival director of the Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival. Image: supplied.

Another highlight is a visually stunning film from South Africa called Glasshouse, which combines elements of nostalgia with dystopia. It concerns a group of people who live inside a sealed glasshouse after a pandemic ravages the planet. Their routine life is interrupted when a stranger enters the glasshouse. 

On a lighter note, Claw is a classic B-grade horror-comedy and a modern take on an old cliche: young couple whose car breaks down forcing them to spend the night in a ghost town only to be accosted by resurrected raptors. 

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Proving that all sub-genres are represented in this festival, A Guide to Dating at the End of the World is a charming rom-com fantasy that tests the utterance of the phrase: “Not even if you were the last man on Earth!”

There are several documentary offerings including Kalpavigyan: A Speculative Journey, about the sci-fi industry in India; The Ascent Of the Robots, which follows three scientists who attend Art Safiental, a land and environment art exhibition in Switzerland; and The High Frontier, a film about space stations and whole continents floating in space, which was the vision of author Gerard K. O’Neill back in the 1970s.

There are 78 short films in the festival this year, many being shown together with the features or in packages. They have high production values and complete, self-contained narratives.

“We’ve got some great CGI and animated films screening this year using techniques that you wouldn’t see in feature films but that you can see embraced and enhanced in the short film format. So that’s an exciting thing about watching short films,” says Foster. 

The Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival is being held live at the Actors Centre Australia, Shop 30A, the Italian Forum, 21-23 Norton Street, Leichhardt from Thursday, 11 November to Sunday, 14 November, 2021, and online from Thursday, 4 November to Thursday, 25 November, 2021. For full program and tickets, visit www.sydneysciencefictionfilmfestival.com.au.

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.