Out of this world: BFI’s sci-fi season lands in Scotland

From Orkney right down to the Isle of Whithorn, Scotland has embraced the BFI’s (British Film Institute) new film and television season, Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, presented together with O2. This three-month celebration of all things weird and wonderful will run from October to December 2014 with screenings taking place across the country.

Working with Film Hub Scotland, an organisation funded by the BFI to develop film audiences, 16 venues are taking part in the season. Over 40 screenings have already been announced, with events featuring special guests, much-loved sci-fi classics and a handpicked selection of rare gems. From favourites like Alien and Ghostbusters to African sci-fi and a strand dedicated to women in the genre, there is something for all tastes in this hugely diverse programme.

Kicking off the season in Glasgow is an out-of-this-world event celebrating the 1968 sci-fi classic Barbarella. San Francisco drag superstar and cult figure Peaches Christ will beam down to Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) on 10 October to present her larger than life stage-show parody Bear-barella. A screening of the ultra-kitsch original film will follow.

GFT will also welcome Stanley Kubrick’s brother-in-law, confidant and regular executive producer, Jan Harlan, following a special screening of A.I Artificial Intelligence. He will give the audience the insider’s story of what it was like to work with Steven Spielberg to bring Kubrick’s original, unrealised vision for the film to screen.

Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss Glasgow Film Festival’s immersive adventure-style treasure hunt through the (not so) mean streets of Glasgow, following a series of thematic clues to locate the venue for a secret screening of sci-fi action masterpiece Escape from New York. Once safely ensconced in the secret venue, audiences will be invited to party like it’s 1981 – with Carpenter-esque synth tunes, a prize draw and on-site bar on offer.

Also taking place at GFT is Africa at the Door of the Cosmos. With the help of programme partners Africa in Motion, Scottish audiences will be introduced to the brilliance of African sci-fi and Afrofuturist films with a mini-season offering bold and imaginative visions of the continent and its diaspora. Specially-curated African sci-fi shorts programme Visions of the Future will tour to four UK venues, while other screenings at GFT will include John Akomfrah’s influential cinematic essay The Last Angel of History and the beguiling Space is the Place, starring legendary jazz giant Sun Ra.

Allison Gardner, GFT’s Head of Cinemas, said: “We’re really excited to take part in the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder season. Sci-fi is such a brilliant genre that encompasses dystopian futures, alternative worlds, mad scientists and little green men. We’re delighted to offer our audiences a wide-ranging programme that reflects all of these themes, a programme that’s alternately thought-provoking, funny, scary and a little bit bonkers!”

Sci-fi cinema has an interesting, if troubled, history with its depiction of women, with female characters often relegated to the role of love interest, sex object, victim or one-dimensional villain. GFT and Glasgow Women’s Library have teamed up to right this wrong: their season Teknowomen celebrates the best examples of powerful, complex sci-fi dames.

Teknowomen blasts off with Fritz Lang’s silent classic Women in the Moon (1929) on 23 November. Regarded as the world’s first sci-fi feature, it stars Gerda Maurus as the gutsy titular heroine who outwits her male companions on an expedition to the moon.

Is Ripley a feminist hero? Film critic Hannah McGill, Professor of Feminist Media Studies Karen Boyle, and author Kirsty Logan come together to answer this potent question following a screening of 1979’s Alien. Meanwhile, cult feminist film Born in Flames (1983) will kick start a discussion between members of The Angelou Centre and Digital Desperados – groups that support women of colour – on feminist experimental filmmaking.

The season also features Tilda Swinton playing three cyborg clones in Teknolust, a unique look at the relationship between sex and the virtual world by artist filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson. And writer Zoë Strachan and comic artist Gill Hatcher dissect the concept of the heroic woman after a screening of entertaining documentary Wonder Woman! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

Karen Boyle, Professor of Feminist Media Studies at the University of Stirling, said: “Teknowomen offers a great opportunity both to see some well-known films again and to explore lesser-known feminist incursions into sci-fi. Sci-fi as a genre offers such rich territory for the exploration of gender and feminist issues – but it’s interesting that it’s literature and television where strong female characters and feminist visions have often been concentrated. The events organised around the screenings will provide a great space to think through some of the reasons why that has been the case. I, for one, can’t wait.”

Science fiction and real science collide in two screenings hosted by Cineworld. The Imax in Glasgow has invited Professor Martin Hendry from Glasgow University to unpack the myths surrounding the moon landings, following a screening of award-winning documentary In the Shadow of the Moon. While audiences at Edinburgh’s Cineworld will be treated to a screening of Another Earth and a discussion exploring parallel universes.

In the north of Scotland, Inverness’s Eden Court will be camping it up with 1950s cult double bill The Man From Planet X and Devil Girl From Mars. Both are black-and-white B movies in which Martians from another planet touchdown in Scotland and proceed to mingle with the locals with entertaining consequences. Also on offer will be a selection of cult, rarely screened films curated by award-winning artist filmmaker Ben Rivers. This includes Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime, Je t’aime, Polish comedy Sexmission, and La Jetée – arguably the most influential sci-fi film ever made.

Audiences at the Phoenix Cinema on Orkney and the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre in Dumfries can get into the Halloween spirit at screenings of the Directors’ Cut of Alien on 31 October. The Phoenix is also offering Aliens as the second part of a double bill.

Film Hub Scotland and Cinema For All (formerly known as the British Federation of Film Societies) are working together to ensure that the sci-fi fun reaches all parts of Scotland, especially the most rural, by supporting 20 community cinemas and film societies to screen a title from the genre. Those taking part include Duirinish Media and Culture Club on Skye with a screening of the critically acclaimed Under the Skin, set and shot in Glasgow and the Highlands, in which an alien Scarlett Johansson stalks Scottish men for nefarious ends. The Community Cinema at Onthank in Kilmarnock are inviting their members to a fancy-dress Ghostbusters party, while Scotland’s most southerly cinema, Machars Movies in the Isle of Whithorn, are playing Ridley’s Scott’s prequel Prometheus, partly shot on the Isle of Skye.

To search all Scottish sci-fi screenings please visit www.scifiinscotland.com.

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