Some things improve with age, and that includes film festivals. We spoke with festival director Garen Daly about the lasting impact of the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival (Boston SciFi) and its continuing dedication to bringing genre films to an intelligent, eager audience.
“We are a boutique film festival that specializes in high end storytelling,” Daly explains. The event includes nine days of short films, full length features, webisodes, workshops and more. The final day is a 24-hour film marathon, with an in-memoriam feature, cartoons, trailers, sing-along and, of course, films. Boston SciFi has been dishing out great speculative fiction since 1970s, making it the longest-running genre fest in the United States.
“It’s a real gas,” he says. “We’re a little on the edgy side. We’re looking at all the trends to see what is happening.”
One trend is toward independent films — a result of the ubiquity of filmmaking tools that anyone with a computer, digital camera, and smart phone can access. “The means of production are in the hands of people,” Daly says. And that allows Boston SciFi to find and feature creators from all over the world.
“We’re looking for all those people with new voices and new stories, people who haven’t really made a film before,” says Daly. “We want to highlight them and give them a voice in the entire market.”
Daly estimates that about 63 percent of the film submissions Boston SciFi receives right now are global. He cites examples like Last Broken Darkness, directed by Christopher-Lee dos Santos, a South African film starring Sean Cameron Michaels of Black Sails. Daly read about the film and saw its trailer three years ago; eventually he secured the world premiere for it.
Boston SciFi’s commitment to finding new voices not only draws filmmakers from all over the globe; it also brings in bright, thoughtful audience members, a boon for creators of science fiction. “We have a very, very smart audience, and they’re honest,” he says
The result is that filmmakers, especially new ones, can use the festival for test screenings. “A couple years back, screenwriter Travis Malloy showed his first film (as director) called Somnio here,” Daly explains. He tested it out with our crowd. And what he got back made him reshape some of it. We take pride in that. That’s one of the things we like to do.”
Another promising film that played at Boston SciFi recently is The Landing. “It started 25 years ago as a short,” says Daly. “They (the creators) found the money recreate it, and they used their footage from the short to create a found footage documentary about a failed space mission. That is probably going to get some traction in the next year or so.”
In viewing submissions and seeking out new films, Daly and his team often get a view of emerging trends in entertainment. He says he started seeing zombie apocalypse films around 15–20 years ago, before the trend hit big with World War Z and Walking Dead. “We knew back then that people were concerned about the breakdown in communication with people and what the metaphor of what the zombies were as far as the cultural zeitgeist was,” he says.
So, what are the trends Daly is seeing right now? “We’re starting to see social media as an enemy, and we’re starting to see variations of the found footage, which is a cheap way to make a movie but also a great way to tell a story.”
A good story and good filmmaking are key to everything that gets screen time at Boston SciFi. The films are juried and scored, and they must be engaging. “I like really smart stories,” says Daly. He also uses Twilight Zone as a marker — if Rod Serling would play it, Daly will too.
The festival also gives awards, but as with everything associated with Boston SciFi, quality trumps tradition. Awards are given as they warrant it,” Daly says. “We’re not locked into saying we have to have an award. The quality has to be there first before we will even consider it.”
At the 2017 festival, one of the award winners was Nina_Unlocked. “I loved the concept,” Daly says. “So I brought it in, and the judges liked it. It was really well received. I put it in the marathon. We have 800 people attending the marathon — it’s huge — and those people liked it. That’s all good stuff, and I think it bodes well for Nina_Unlocked and what Recursor.TV is trying to do.”
Visit Boston Science Fiction Film Festival online for more information.