Regarding feature films, in 2022, the Fest opened with The Innocents (2021) from Norway (subtitled). From the director of Blind and The Worst Person in the World, Eskil Vogt, this is an outstanding piece of cinema, but not for the faint-hearted. During a bright, long-day Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking. In this original and gripping thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn. Unlike in Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, these kids are not ganging up on their adult carers. At times reminiscent of the more teenage Chronicle, the simplicity of the sparingly deployed effects adds realism that will haunt your imagination long after watching. (Trailer here.)
Rani Rani Rani (2022) is a refreshing South Asian indie (subtitled) that sidesteps mystical and spiritual influences and revels in an SFnal world. Rani, played by Tannistha (Brick Lane) Chatterjee, lives in an almost-abandoned Indian village. For Rani, it’s another ordinary day populated by her feckless husband, his brother and ruthless sister-in-law, all fighting about money. While Rani is seeking out some peace and quiet she happens upon some guys demonstrating an experimental device to a potential buyer. They ask Rani if she will be their guinea pig, and she’s lured into their machine. She emerges seemingly unscathed, but something has changed, the device has created another version of Rani… and that’s just the start of her problems. (Trailer here.)
There were also a few World Premieres. Doctor Who Am I (2022) Documentary filmmaker, Vanessa Yuille (in her debut feature) follows friend and co-director, Matthew Jacobs (British writer of the 1996 TV film, Doctor Who) as he is reluctantly pulled back into the fandom that rejected his work 25 years earlier. The journey not only becomes hilarious and emotionally perilous for the duo but also reveals a touching and quirky face-off between the American Doctor Who fans and Matthew himself. As they explore the fandom, Matthew unexpectedly finds himself a kindred part of this close-knit, yet vast, family of fans. The documentary deals with the desire to belong to a community, and how people can become nourished and enriched by the experience. (Trailer here.)
Another World Premiere was The Deal (2022). After a pandemic has left the planet devastated with insufficient resources to maintain the human population, the totalitarian governing body, The Bureau, has set up ‘The Deal’. The terms are simple: accept The Deal, and you’ll have work, a home and medical care for the next twenty years. At the end of the time period you must sacrifice your life for the greater good. Tala took The Deal when she was pregnant and has spent the ensuing nineteen years selflessly raising her daughter, Analyn so that she would never have to take The Deal herself. Just five days before Tala is scheduled to die, Analyn becomes very ill. A life-saving procedure with Tala as donor is beyond their financial means and so begins their adventure to find a way to avoid The Bureau and keep them both alive. (Trailer here.)
The final World Premiere was Britain's Deus (2022) starring Claudia (Farscape, Pitch Black) Black. Earth is on the brink of an environmental disaster. The population has risen to more than 20 billion and huge areas of the planet are uninhabitable. Against this backdrop, a massive black sphere is discovered in the orbit of Mars. The Sphere begins to transmit a single word in every language: Deus (God). Commercial spaceship, The Achilles is sent to investigate but, on approaching the red planet, it becomes damaged by a strange beam of light emanating from the sphere. Will the crew survive and discover the origin of the sphere and its purpose? (Trailer here.)
And if there were World Premieres, there were UK ones too. Annular Eclipse (2021) from China (subtitled) sees a dystopian future. A cure for Alzheimer’s has given rise to technology that enables near-perfect brainwashing and memory editing. Two contract killers, Ge and Song, carry out daily executions for the organisation. Ge has become a deeply troubled man, sustaining nightmares and flashes of suppressed memory. On their next assignment, Ge’s flashbacks aren’t ones he recognises; it seems that someone is manipulating his memory and their latest target is someone important from his past. The assassins must infiltrate the Brain Science Corporation to find out the truth.
Other films included the A Tear in the Sky (2022). It is a UFOlogy documentary which – being fictional, fake news science – was a little out of place in an SF film fest. (I'm a scientist, no apologies, I have no place for this – what Sheldon Cooper would call – malarkey. Let's keep the balderdash and bumpkin out of science fiction!) I suppose it was on the programme to sucker in sciolists to turn them on to proper science fiction…? (I know, I am lovely and charitable, and try to see some good in everything.) Having said that perhaps Sci-Fi London was trying to inoculate us against stupidity?
For the 2022 Fest, Sci-Fi London organiser opined: "2022 seems to be the craziest year so far. A Russian decides his neighbours are fascists and goes on a killing spree, the leaders in one of the ‘stans think that seeing any part of the female human is dangerous and our politicians no longer care if we catch them lying. It is time to do some serious work on either time travel or multiverse mining. Somewhere, there must be a better version of all this. In the meantime, apart from doing our bit to help our neighbours and our worldship, we need to spend time in science fiction stories… Train your brain, resist the mush, the fakery and those that would have you know more about actors’ marriages than what we are doing to our oceans."
There was also a golden oldie in the mix and for the 2022 Sci-Fi London there was an old, 1973, film set in the then future of 2022, starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson (his last film). Directed by Richard (Fantastic Voyage & 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) Fleischer it was, of course Soylent Green. Based on the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by the legendary Harry Harrison, this film is a cocktail of police procedural and eco-disaster science fiction. The Earth is overpopulated and in trouble. Millions are hungry and homeless, and the Soylent Corporation is supplying Soylent Green. a high-protein foodstuff allegedly made from plankton, but is it? Frank Thorn (Heston), a cynical NY detective is called in to investigate the death of a Soylent executive, and he soon suspects that it was assassination. And so begins the hunt for the truth…
Left: Soylent Green poster. The film is set in 2022.
It has to be said that while both the book and the film are an SF police procedural set in an overpopulated world, the book does not share the film's concluding conceit. Harry did, though, like the film's opening sequence by Charles Braverman. (You can see it here.)
Two ways to attend Sci-Fi London
The other way to attend is to treat it as if it were more an SF convention and go residential at a local hotel. Unfortunately, here Sci-Fi London doesn't really join the dots (no Progress Reports, no information on local hotels, or even which hotel visiting film makers may be staying in) but you do have this article.
There are a number of hotels near the Picture House. Perhaps the most ideal is the three-star Moxy Hotel (86 Great Eastern Road, E15 1GR). This is situated midway between Stratford rail station and the Picture House. Another, two minutes walk just around the corner from the Picture House but further away from the station though under 8 minutes walk from the station, is the two-star Ibis Hotel (1A Romford Rd, E15 4LJ).
As there are no programme items in the morning those staying in local accommodation can spend it in London site seeing. London's Liverpool Street is only 20 minutes away by train and from there it is only a couple of stops on the underground to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Conversely, a more leisurely Central Line underground from Stratford and in about 30 minutes you can get to Tottenham Court Road for West End shopping (including Forbidden Planet bookshop).
As for eating out in Stratford there are a number of restaurants within a 10-minute walk radius of either hotel as well as gastro pubs.
Attending Sci-Fi London more as a convention is also possible as not only are there tickets for individual films, but if you are planning to see more than two thirds of the films you may find it cost-effective to buy an all-Festival ticket/pass. Here there are some hidden advantages.
You see, in addition to the films there are a couple of extras: primarily the opening and closing night receptions. These are usually closed items for film makers visiting the fest, some of the great and good within London's SF community, and those close to the Fest's organisation, sponsors and so forth. In addition, those who have bought all-Festival tickets/passes get into these events too. The opening reception night is also a good way to identify fellow all-event attendees.
Sci-Fi London is an annual event so do check out there website in the spring to see when it is on. http://sci-fi-london.com.