SF Utopiales 2014
France's 2014 SF Utopiales was as usual held in Nantes…
France's Nantes Utopiales is now in its fifteenth year and is very well established. My first impressions were: it's big, it's young, and it's female. The numbers are very impressive. Over the four days (30th October to 3rd November) there were 55,000 daily admissions (that works out very roughly at over 10,000 attending the event for one or more days). The average age was between 26 and 35, and the proportion of women was an amazing 47%, both much better than UK Eastercons and most Worldcons.
The event took place in the Centre de Congres, a modern venue within walking distance of the city centre. Admission was €8 for a day ticket, €30 for the whole four days. The 'Art Show' was in the main hall, rather than being tucked away in a side room, and featured Britain's own artist/illustrator Chris Foss with a large number of his original works. As a Guest of Honour he spoke on the Saturday, in French (Bravo Chris!). His work was complimented by another large exhibition 'Les Enfants de Foss', featuring twelve other artists that he has influenced. A third large exhibition showed the work of Francois Bourgeon, a very well thought of French graphic novel illustrator/artist, who has taken many years to produce perfectly detailed drawings of figures and machines. All of his main characters were female, and he seemed to have an obsession with large lightly covered breasts, in fact, for me the whole work had a somewhat lesbian feel. Nevertheless, Francois is a man, and certainly produces beautifully detailed work. Also in the mix were Michael Moorcock, Jo Walton, Christopher Priest and Walter Jon Williams.
Over the four main days there were seventy-four panels – 15 of which were straight science – in three parallel programme stream together with three more devoted to films. Panel topics covering everything from 'Utopia assisted by computers' (Ian M Banks' Culture) to 'Why are the baddies always more intelligent?' and many more. Although the Catalogue Officiel was in English and French, the printed Programme was not. With the exception of Jo Walton, who spoke to a large audience in English (with no translation) this seemed to be a completely Francophone event. (If you don't have a reasonable grasp of French it isn't really for you). This is a parallel universe to the basically Anglophone Eurocons, however I did meet one other Eurocon regular, Pascal Ducommun from Switzerland.
There was a role playing game stream, a graphic novels stream, and a stream for children. 'Real Science' included a demonstration of superconductivity. A major difference with a UK Convention was the important cinematic stream, thirty two feature films over the four days. I went to both sessions of the short film competition and saw many excellent films from ten different countries: 17 US, 5 Australian, 2 British, 1 Canadian, 3 Japanese, 1 Chinese, 1 South Korean and just 4 from the home nation France. There was just one low point, something called Triad, a twenty-four minute film which might have justified a running time of five. (I am a film maker myself). Sad to say, this tedious production was actually British. The final event was the Cosplay (fancy dress) Masquerade. There were many beautiful costumes, and the performances were certainly a lot sexier than the ones at the Worldcon; good to see the French living up to their reputation.
Another interesting difference to a UK convention was Les Librairies Complice de Nantes. This was a co-operation between eight bookshops in Nantes to run a huge joint book display at the festival modestly titled 'the biggest science fiction book shop in the universe'.
Encouraging socialising, there was a bar together with a reasonably-priced fast-food area as part of a large seating area.. There was also a more expensive restaurant.
Despite its size, the Nantes Utopiales is not actually the French national convention (natcon), this took place in Amiens in July, with just a couple of hundred people attending.
Nantes is a fine city with an extensive tram system and a magnificent Chateau/Castle in the centre. It does have rather a fantastic feel, being the birthplace of Jules Verne, having a mysterious free Light Show on the walls of the Chateau every night, and hosting a giant mechanical Elephant.
When the shipyards closed down in Nantes some of the buildings were taken over by a group of workers (Les Machines de L'ile Nantes) who began making mechanical birds, insects and animals. (They built and propelled the giant diver and other figures paraded in Liverpool as part of the Titanic commemoration.) The buildings are open to see them working and to watch demonstrations of their creations. The highlight is the giant self propelled elephant weighing fifty tonnes. It carries people on its back and squirts water from its trunk. Four times life size, it is actually on wheels, but the legs move very realistically. An even more surreal note is struck when one realises that it can actually have three of its feet off the ground at the same time!
I enjoyed Nantes, I enjoyed the Utopiales, and I remembered how much I like France.
See also the various awards presented at the 2014 Utopiales within our 2015 sprint season news page.