By SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie: While many in the world’s science fiction community had eyes on from afar this year’s somewhat controversial Worldcon in Chengdu – as many were not there – a far smaller event was taking place in Manchester, Great Britain, with this year’s Festival of Fantastic Films.
It has to be said that in recent years the Fest has been through its trials and tribulations following the sad passing of its co-founder, Harry Nadler. For a number of years his succeeding principal organizer found it difficult to delegate, but at least the Fest continued. When he too passed in 2020, a new, broader committee formed composed of past Fest regulars and the first of this new incarnation of Fests took place in 2021 (the 2020 Fest itself was cancelled due to CoVID lockdown).
Numbers attending the Fest had dwindled over the years to a few score but the 2022 Fest, under the latest management, saw numbers rise to around 100 – a good trend – and this year’s fest, word had it, saw a further increase to about 150 (a welcome trend continuation).
Yet, even before we knew of the increase in attendance, on arrival we could see that things were a little different. The programme book, compared to what it had been, pre-CoVID, five years ago, was a far superior production: it was a full color, A3 folded to A4, saddle stitched, 20-page affair with all the information you could want (including some welcome statistics to which I’ll refer shortly).
Despite the Fest’s small size there were a good few guests including: actor Andy Nyman (Kick Ass 2); Madeline Smith (actress in countless horrors and Bond’s Live and Let Die cf. the magnetic watch unzipping); Jenny Runacre (actress in many horror films and notably Miss Brunner in The Final Programme adapted from Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novel of the same name and which was also screened at the Fest); Jane Wymark (actress in some horrors and Morwenna in the Poldark series as well as Joyce Barnaby in the Midsomer Murders series); David McGillivray (actor, producer, playwright); Toby Hadoke (actor, writer, comedian) and horror author Ramsey Campbell who is the longstanding president of the Fest (his 2022 novel is reviewed here).
Of course, all SF film fests have their own respective foci – for example, Sci-Fi London’s forté is recent international, independent SF films – and the Fest of Fantastic Films is vintage horror, with much else of the fantastic film spectrum greatly diminished. Indeed, this last so much so – and in desperate need of a fix of quality, recent SF – Saturday morning saw a few of us abandon the Fest for the nearby Manchester’s IMAX (one of the largest in Europe) to see Gareth Edwards’ (whose break came with his short presented at Sci-Fi London film fest over a decade ago) latest film: the visually stunning, artificial intelligence, war film The Creator.
The Fest’s genre focus was reflected in the short film submissions to this year’s Delta Award competition: 40% horror; 38% fantasy; and 21% science fiction (ignoring figure rounding). (The Delta Award being named after the former Delta SF group that the Fest’s founders, the late Harry Nadler and the still extant, Knight of St. Fantony, Tony Edwards, belonged to and which made homemade SF shorts, including with SF luminaries such as the author Harry Harrison.)
Short film submissions for the Delta Awards this year came from: Britain; Canada; China; France; Ireland; Italy; Macedonia; Slovenia; Spain; Taiwan; and the USA. The winner of the Delta’s SF category was Sincopat (Spain). That offering looked at a new technology, on the verge of a mass roll-out, which transmitted sound/music directly into the brain. What could possibly go wrong…?
The Best Fantasy Delta winner was Opulence (France) and the Best Horror Family Night (Ireland). The judges’ Norman J. Warren Award (Norman being a cult director who had been a Fest regular) for Best Short in Festival went to the aforementioned Sincopat. The Audience’s Choice Award went jointly to The Script (Macedonia) and Voyagers From Eclipse Sea Coasts (Spain).
The Fest also saw a number of book launches including one about Nigel Kneale’s The Beasts series.
The Fest ended Sunday night following the traditional quiz and curry. However, with the bar having closed, chat continued on in the hotel’s foyer lounge to 01.00 (at which point I retired, what with my stamina having the breaking strain of a chocolate Mars bar) and apparently beyond. The Fest has never embraced the SF convention tradition of the past few decades of having the bar open late on the last night (albeit with reduced staff) for a ‘dead dog party’. (Perhaps this is something the committee could consider for future years and it might encourage a few more to stay on for an extra night, which the hotel itself would like?).
The Fest was undoubtedly a success and has clearly turned a corner in its near one-third of a century history, even if there are a good few rough edges to knock off, including the registration process (reliant on EventBrite with the inherent data protection issues therein – a back-up alternate registration route for the digitally protective minority, as well as those who really do not want to have to create an EventBrite account, would be welcome) and for getting the hotel discount (a good few – a sizeable minority it would seem – didn’t: the linkage between the Fest’s web page and the correct hotel contacts I was told seemed to be the issue (the hotel’s booking page apparently takes you through to their London office who wanted to charge one couple in US$), though I myself, and at least a few others, used our respective, local, travel agents for the booking). But these are all fairly easy to sort out with a little thought and sensitivity to the digital diversity of attendees (one size does not fit all), especially now that the new committee has had a couple of years of experience bedded in. In short, the future looks bright if not – dare it be said – fantastic.