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Dark Futures: A Look at L.A.’s Dystopia Sci-Fi Con

If you like your science fictional brave new worlds served up with a twist of paranoia, suspicion, and trouble, then you’re probably a fan of Philip K. Dick or writers like him. Fortunately, there’s a perfect place to celebrate all the dark and psychologically twisty sci-fi you can imagine. It’s the Dystopia Sci-Fi Con and The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival held annually in Los Angeles. We spoke with Daniel Abella, the organizer of the con and film festival, to discover what makes the event so unique.

RECURSOR: How did the Dystopia Sci-Fi Con and The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival come about?

Daniel Abella credit: Bruecool Productions
Daniel Abella
credit: Bruecool Productions

DANIEL ABELLA: The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival started in 2012. I have been a big fan of Philip K. Dick’s (PKD’s) works and felt there was a need for a festival that examines the central themes running through his work, such as what it means to be human, the nature of reality, the existence of other dimensions and universes, and where we are going. The background of his works also includes paranoia, surveillance and secrecy.

Dystopia Sci-Fi Con was inspired by the year 2019, the year when AKIRA and BLADE RUNNER (the adaptation of PKD’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) are set. The event is inspired by science run amok, the cult of surveillance and secrecy, paranoia, and technology out of control. Just look back, and you will see that most of the greatest sci-fi films are dystopian in nature, like BLADE RUNNERTERMINATORTOTAL RECALL, and THE MATRIX

Dystopia offers an opportunity to give us an entertaining look at the world just around the corner—transhumanism, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, time travel, and other mind-blowing realities. It is a mix of future gothic, sci-fi noir, cyberpunk, and dark sci-fi.

How does Dystopia add to the convention scene?

Dystopia Sci-Fi Con is a return to the days when cons were run by partnerships and not global corporations. We are bringing back a time where participants and guests co-created a tribal feel of belonging and connection in a friendly and accessible way. The fact is most corporations run 80% of all the major cons. That is why many cons feel, look and sound the same. Dystopia aims to provide an alternative to the current corporate comic cons.

Dystopia seems like such a broad category. How do you choose what to focus on?

There is no hard or fast rule with Dystopia Sci-Fi Con. We believe that science fiction is becoming science fact. However, we seem to have the same old challenges in getting along and respecting ourselves as human and not commodities. Our con focuses on themes that will transform the culture, themes that are highly disruptive, and research such as the UFO Disclosure Event, time travel, AI, genetic engineering, surveillance with the question of “How can we prevail?”

Case in point: back in the 1970s, John C. Lilly, a pioneer in floating tank technology and the scientist upon which ALTERED STATES was based, woke up in a panic and started raving about the “Solid State Intelligences” that were luring us into downloading our consciousness into their microchipped systems. Guess what? That is what Transhumanism is all about. So, my question to you is: Are we living in a sci-fi universe or not?

What trends are you seeing in the films you accept into the festival?

pictured: JeremiahKipp, CarlosKeyes, NanaGouvea, JonnyBeauchamp, KellyRaeLeGault (cast and crew of Black Wake) credit: Bruecool Productions
Jeremiah Kipp, Carlos Keyes, Nana Gouvea, Jonny Beauchamp, Kelly Rae LeGault
(cast and crew of Black Wake)
credit: Bruecool Productions

Most sci-fi films we are receiving take place 10–20 years into the future — near future sci-fi. We are not getting films taking place 200 years in the future but closer to home. These films are concerned over the abuse of technology and its implication on humanity, from our dating apps and cell phones to transhumanist agendas and the search for Godhood.

What are some of your favorite films that have screened at the festival?  

There are many, but some that come to mind are RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, based one of PKD’s posthumous novels, directed by John Alan Simon. Also, the film HENRI starring Keir Dullea and Margot Kidder about an android who mutates into a human being, only to find out he is about to die. There’s also MISE EN ABYME about a butterfly collector who finds out how it feels to become a specimen collected by a gigantic AI system, and the hilariously funny THE LAST 60 DAYS, a Korean short about a fruit fly who, through genetic manipulation, learns to talk and advises world leaders on how to get along.

What are some of the films screening at Dystopia this year?

So far, we have announced two premieres. The first is the World Premiere of THE GUNRUNNER BILLY KANE directed by M.D. Selig about a rogue doctor’s gunrunning to fund brain experiments. We also have the L.A. Premiere of WILD BOAR directed by Oscar-winning makeup artist Barney Burman in his directorial debut. It is about a colony of mutant boars terrorizing a group of humans in a dystopian future. We will be announcing the rest of the selections by early October.

How do you see the role of festivals like this in helping filmmakers? 

Dennis McKenna, Sarah Hutt (subject and director of The Shaman and The Scientist) credit: Bruecool Productions
Dennis McKenna, Sarah Hutt (subject and director of The Shaman and The Scientist)
credit: Bruecool Productions

There is a supportive eco-system between sci-fi filmmakers, panelists and attendees. The festival offers the attendees more options on how to experience sci-fi. The festival fits nicely within the con because with all the events, it is a complimentary experience to engage fans.

Tell us about some of the events and fun beyond the films you’re showing. What can attendees expect?

We will have amazing exhibitors, artists, sci-fi cosplay, and autographs from some classic horror and sci-fi actors. There will be a panel on BLADE RUNNER and DEEP SPACE 9,panels on EFX and makeup, genetics, and Philip K. Dick. Dystopia Sci-Fi Con is a spectacle, a futuristic sci-fi Mardi Gras. From the minute you step through the doors, you will experience being part of a larger reality and a human current.

You’ll also be having virtual reality, as well as interactive cinema. Tell us more!

We will have virtual reality, a staple of the festival for many years. One of the exciting programs we are introducing is “Deep Interactive Cinematic Experience,” otherwise known as “Deep Ice.” It is a kind of living theater where the audience participates in an unmasking of the secret thread that runs through all the great sci-fi films such as 2001, BLADE RUNNERTHE MATRIX, etc. Fans can attend and learn the secret that unites the fans of these films.

Happening November 8-10, 2019, Dystopia Sci-Fi Con is a 3-day nonstop extravaganza of cyberpunk, future noir, dystopian films, exhibitors, panels, festival films, cosplay, interactive cinema and much more. Among the panels will be cast and crew from Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and other classic shows, covering topics such as classic television and film, stem-based applications to dystopian futures, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and time travel. There will be over 100 exhibitors featuring collectibles, comics, video games, fantasy artwork and artist alley and more. To learn more, visit Dystopia Sci-Fi Con.