London’s genre film festivals are in rude health and Sci Fi London - which celebrates its 15th anniversary next year - is no different. We met up with organiser Louis Savy and talked about all things SF as well as the real-life logistics of running a film festival.
What made you start a sci-fi film festival?
I was with some friends at dinner, there was a girl there that I thought was gorgeous, she did marketing and we were sitting there chatting away and she said “I don’t like science fiction”. And I said “You can’t! That’s like saying you don’t like Jazz! You don’t have to like Dixie or Miles Davis but you can’t ignore the influence and that’s the same for science fiction. You just haven’t seen the right stuff.”
So I said “let’s go and see some movies” and nothing good was on so I thought, well there must be a festival, and there wasn’t. So I thought, right, okay, I’m gonna start a film festival.
I said to her “You’re gonna PR it, you’re gonna market it to people like you who think they don’t like science fiction.” So I started a film festival.
And the end of the story that gets applause when you’re in a male geek audience is that, 13 years later we’ve got three kids.
What a beautiful story! So how did you actually go about setting it all up?
So the first year we sat down and had a lot of talks about all the things that people who think they don’t like science fiction immediately think of: Star Wars, Star Trek, monsters in rubber suits, space crafts, lots of guns… and we said, right, let’s just not use any of that. Let’s try to program things which are more intelligent than that or much more interesting than that. We’ll look for an international program…
I mean I love all that stuff, you know, I’m a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan and I like all of the guns, explosions and rubber suits, all the cardboard walls from Doctor Who… I’m a big fan of B movies. But I also like Tarkovsky, and my favourite film is La Jetée by Chris Marker.
He just had a retrospective at Whitechapel.
Yeah! So you know, 29 minutes of black and white stills. It’s a beautiful, very well made love story which just happens to be set with a time machine that allows that to happen.
So I managed to get a meeting with the Sci-Fi channel. We gave them our pitch: we want to open people’s eyes to it and say “Look, you think you don’t like it? Well, Sliding Doors is a science fiction film. Because it’s about alternative time lines. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry’s film is a hard science fiction film. And yet it’s a beautiful love story and it’s about the human condition.”
So we pitched that to the Sci-Fi channel and they said this is absolutely what we wanna do. We’re on board. They threw a big party for us, they made a TV commercial which ran 500 times on their channel, they gave us a load of money… It was just… it was unbelievably… unbelievable.
So we started really well, we had Ken Russell’s first DV feature as a world premiere and Ken Russell came and we were at the Curzon Soho… If you were writing a wish list of putting a festival together it just all went “click”.
Then the Sci-Fi channel got bought by Vivendi or Universal or somebody at the time, all the marketing people got changed and it all went away again. There was no money and I just looked at it and thought, well let’s try and keep it going and we managed to get another couple of little sponsors on board and we did the second year and then from there on… we just held our 14th festival so… so we’ve done 14.
What is your favourite part of it all?
There’s two bits really. One is watching all the submissions, watching all the films we get sent and going after movies and seeing what we can get. Seeing all the new stuff that’s made.
And I guess the other bit is actually the festival. Being there. I’ve kind of said this…it’s like.. you’re probably a bit too young for this but when there was a VHS machine…
*protests* (not actually THAT young)
[ignores protest] … and you could go to the local video shop… VHS and video stores changed the way we watch film. Because instead of there just being film made for theatre and television you then suddenly had films which were just being knocked out so they could just be put on video tape because there was such a demand.
You’d go in there, look at something and go “I’ll take those two and see what they’re like” so you’d get the two films, take them home, pizza and beer, invite your friends around. So I just did that on a much much bigger scale. “Come and look what I’ve found!” but I do it with 400 people. And I wanna keep that kind of a feel of discovery and enjoyment of something that you won’t see anywhere else.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if you liked the film or not, it’s more the experience of being together and having a shared viewing experience.
Exactly! So that everyone comes out going “That was a load of rubbish! Why on earth did you put that in the festival?” to which I can say, “Well, it was a really cool idea, it was a really interesting subject”.
The one thing about science fiction is, more than any other genre, it’s all about “what if?” It’s the only format where you can really play around with ideas, and question things and you’re unlimited by your imagination. And at the same time it can be entertaining and fun and if you wanna go watch something being blown up with lasers and all that, you’ve got that.
Keep an eye out for part two, out next week.