Festival of Fantastic Films 1997

Jonathan Cowie at the 8th Festival of Fantastic Films, Manchester.


Jonathan Cowie is an environmental scientist by qualification and a science publicist (science writer, event organiser and consultant) by profession both with UK learned science societies and on a freelance and volunteer basis. His main job, though, is to compile scientists' views and to present them to governmental consultations With regard to SF he: founded his Hatfield college's SF group PSIFA in 1978; was on the committee of the BECCON series of SF conventions (1981-87); has assisted with most international UK-venued SF conventions of the 80s and 90s by providing science contacts and press liaison services. His most recent activities have included co-ordinating the Anglo-Romanian Science & SF Cultural Exchange and writing a non-SF text on the greenhouse effect (Climate & Human Change from Parthenon Publishing (Autumn 1997)), in-between the more serious business of enjoying Romanian wine.

The Festival of Fantastic Films is going from strength to strength. With seven already under their belt, the committee know exactly what they are doing, do it well, and the majority of those attending have been before so know exactly what to expect. Notwithstanding this last, the Fest is not cliquey and most friendly. Anyone sitting down at a table can get into the conversation with a simple question such as, 'what films do you like?' or 'is there anything particularly good on the programme?'

The guests this year were Veronica Carlson, Janina Faye, Tudor Gates, and Jimmy Sangster, with special Hammer Guests: Caroline Munro, Ingrid Pitt and Dave Prowse. Also attending were Ramsey Campbell (the horror writer), Richard Gordon, Stephen Laws and Norman J Warren. Indeed I had intended on seeing Inseminoid but got involved with Norman Warren in the bar. It was not until Norman said "well Inseminoid should be ending about now, I've got to go and answer questions," that I realised that once again I'd missed it. All I can say is that things have come to a right state when the Director prevents you from seeing his own film!

That was not my only personal mini-disaster. On the first evening we went out for a Chinese meal in Manchester's excellent China town. We were just starting on the first course when I asked what time it was. Answer: the time the opening ceremony was starting. Unfortunately I was meant to be there in order to convey best wishes from Antuza Genescu (whom the Fest had previously sponsored as one of the Romanian fan guests) and the other Timisoaran SF fans I'd met on my Romanian visit the previous month. A ten minute jog back to the hotel and I was just in time to get up on stage, give a four minute presentation (which was well received -- such was the impression the Romanians had made two years ago), before dashing back to the restaurant, gasping but just in time for the second course.

The Fest films I wanted to see included: The Relic, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Inseminoid, The Uninvited and Pervirella. What I got to see was the recent release Space Truckers (which is now out on video and is great fun), The Angry Red Planet (1959, dated but interesting), Target Earth (1954, utter crap with just a cheap shoe box robot to provide a 5 second giggle) and the 3-D 1954 Vincent Price movie The Mad Magician (it's good to catch a 3-D film and it wasn't bad).

Of the non-film programme items Roy Field and Tony Iles gave a talk on how to film special effects with special reference to the use of miniatures. This was a dry subject but fascinating, and enlivened with film clips -- including one of Norman Wisdom (who I suppose counts as a miniature). Indeed buried within the talk was the potential for a little public understanding of science (even Newton's first law of motion was presented as an acceleration equation at one point). The other talk by Neil Meaghan of the British Board of Film classification on censorship almost faced the chop due to the programme running half an hour late: the irony of the censor talk possibly being cut was not lost on the audience. This item really was absorbing. Everyone there was out to get the censor, especially as in one of the Progress Reports it was announced that he would only accept questions if they were submitted one month in advance. As it turned out he was a charming intelligent individual with great sympathy for film buffs. The problem, it seems, is the law, and that for every film buff there is a Mary Whitehouse who will write to an MP: hence the horrendous Alton bill on home video censorship. With a UK blasphemy law that only applies to (Protestant) Christianity, despite our multi-ethnic society, it is easy to see how ridiculous the legal straight-jacket is constraining the censors. Finally, it transpired that the reason that Neil asked for questions in advance was so that he could look up the reasons why specific films had been cut and exactly how in the Board's files. It was at this point, where obscure films I'd never heard of were being dissected, that I was distracted by the lure of the bar.

Once again, Sachas Hotel was a welcoming venue. The bar was open to 1.00pm on Friday and Saturday with beer at 1 a pint. Need I say more?

Finally, Concatenation was distributed with the programme pack. The reaction to the zine was unnoticeable at first. However as the Fest progressed and more people dipped into their programme pack (which is traditionally read on the journey home) so more and more came up with words of encouragement (and importantly the occasional pint).

As to the future, the Fest has proven so popular that next year it will be extended by a day (contrary to current advertising). Naturally I hope to go, and have so arranged the Institute's (my employer's) scientific committee diary.

The Festival's website is at www.fantastic-films.com

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