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Not So Fiction Anymore: The Fantastic Planet Film Festival

Zombies, cross-dressing Big Brother-types and eternal life through science – these are just a few of the topics set to challenge and entertain us at the inaugural Fantastic Planet Film Festival launching this week at a couple very handy locations around town. Sister festival to the A Night of Horror festival which runs every March, Fantastic Planet urges us to see the future through a murky blend of science and fiction.

Festival founders and co-directors Dean Bertram and Lisa Mitchell were overseas at a horror-fantasy festival a few years back when they realised there was nowhere for Australian genre film-makers to showcase their work in their own home country, so they decided to do something about it.
A Night of Horror started with a single evening of short films and in four years has expanded to a week of the dark and gruesome. With content pouring in from both Australian and international filmmakers, Dean and Lisa soon began to see a gap just waiting to be filled by yet another genre. This year, they have given breath to A Night of Horror’s newest baby brother, Fantastic Planet.

Scoring a huge coup, Fantastic Planet is premiering Zombieland on Halloween. Starring Woody Harrelson as a AK47-toting cowboy with a thing for Twinkies, Abigail Breslin breaking out her comedic chops yet again (this time as a bit more of a grown-up) AND a great cameo by Bill Murray, Zombieland is the comedy everyone is already talking about. Frankly, what’s not to love about a banjo in the face and a zombie who’s a bit of a bleeder? Oh, and if you turn up in Halloween attire, you’ll score yourself a prize.

Dean points out that there is “an ebb and flow in all genres”, but there has been a huge explosion in the sci-fi oeuvre this year, with films such as Moon and District 9. It has enabled us to see that the genre isn’t limited to fan-boys, geeks and girls who think a vial of their lover’s blood makes for a great accessory – in fact, sci-fi can be relevant, poignant and accessible.

As Lisa says, “more and more chicks are getting into sci-fi”, and that may have something to do with arse-kicking heroes who just so happen to be girls and plots that manage to bring something a little more than “science” to their science-fiction. More often than not, they seem to tap into the human zeitgeist and ask the questions we keep asking ourselves: the impact of genetic manipulation and cloning and viral infection, what makes us human, and the future of the planet and globalisation. These films are culturally and socially relevant now, not in some distant future.

Opening Night brings another feature-length premiere, this time from young Australian filmmaker, Nathan Christoffel. Eraser Children tells the dystopian future story, only it’s all too eerily close to home. Described as the bizarre love child of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the creepy 1984 and the classic Metropolis, Eraser Children describes a world where consumerism is paramount. Dean describes it as the perfect film to open the festival because it “hits all the sci-fi buttons perfectly”. As Australians, we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously and Eraser Children manages to deliver that “light-hearted” effect just perfectly. Shot in both HD and Super 8, the film’s cinematography is equally creepy and beautiful.

Dean is also excited about other feature films on the program, including a raw and “blood-hungry post-communism satire” called Strigoi , headed up by a female director Fay Jackson, which won Best Independent Feature at the Toronto After Dark Festival. I assure you, there’s nothing teen about this vampire outing!
Lisa’s pick is a martial arts spaghetti western (aka a sushi western!) called Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf which she describes as “Kill Bill on steroids”. Samurai’s director, Kurando Mitsutake, will be on hand at the festival for a post-show Q&A.

Both Lisa and Dean couldn’t rave enough about Cryptic’, a Twilight-Zone-esque thriller about time travel, and 2B a near-future genetic/robotic modification flick where, scarily, the science is not fiction. 2B stars James Remar, whose sci-fi credentials are pretty impeccable: Battlestar Galactica, Blade Trinity, Jericho and, wait for it, Sex and the City.


And that’s just some of the feature-length films – we haven’t even mentioned the excellent shorts programs. With Animation Fantastique, Australian Showcase, Flights of Fantasy and The Future Attacks, there’s a wealth of fun and fabulous films to feast your eyes on.

For something a little super-extra-special, Fantastic Planet is also hosting a Q&A where you can get face-time with 4 of Australia’s best sci-fi filmmakers in a forum on “How to Make a Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Action Feature Film”.

The festival is primarily screening at the Dendy cinema in Newtown, with a couple at Club 77 in Kings Cross and Metro Screen in Paddington. Check the program for more details.

Tickets can be purchased from the Dendy website. I suggest you get in pretty quick for some of the big nights, as tickets are sure to disappear in a flash.

Fantastic Planet kicks off this Friday night, October 30th, and winds up with an awards ceremony and after-party the following Friday, November 6th.

words: Kristen Hodges


October 28, 2009 at 4:06 PM Mazz said...

Yeeeew, great story on the festival. A small piece of me is dying at the fact I can't be in Sydney to enjoy it :o(

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