Sci-Fi Film Festival Foresees a Hybrid Future for Its In-Person Return
Other Worlds comes to Galaxy Highland and beyond
By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 3, 2021
Hybrids have always been the future. Whether it's Dr. Moreau's human-animal hybrids, the Terminator with flesh over metal, or Data growing a metaphorical human heart under his synthetic skin, the ability to combine the new and the old has been central to science fiction. So as the pandemic continues, it's no surprise that Other Worlds – Austin's film festival with an electronic eye to the possible future – is keeping the streaming component it launched last year, even as it returns to the Galaxy Highland for theatrical screenings.
"We knew we want to be in person, no matter what," said founder and Artistic Director Rebecca Bears Fonté, "but we also know it wouldn't be fair to some people who were immunocompromised or just don't feel comfortable yet to have to miss the festival." So the rule for 2021 was simple: Every film accepted had to be willing to screen both at the in-person component (Dec. 2-5) and as part of the virtual event (Dec. 6-12).
That's meant fewer titles from distributors, and more from independent filmmakers, but that's not impacted the quality, and Fonté noted that Other Worlds Senior Programmer Dan Repp has called this the festival's best lineup in its eight-year history. Thematically, many of the titles deal with a couple of themes: claustrophobia ("being stuck in one place, either in a house or on a planet or in a spaceship") or dealing with the consequences of a new and ubiquitous technology, "and that speaks to our drive right now to get to the next thing," said Fonté. However, that's not directly been inspired by the pandemic. In fact, only one feature, Underworlds horror strand selection Wicked Games, was filmed during the pandemic. Instead, the rest were filmed before COVID, and the filmmakers just took the time to finesse and refine them. "The visual effects are better than we expect," said Fonté, "and there are more of them."
After her hairdressing horror The Stylist played as part of the festival's Return to the Galaxy all-dayer last May, UT alum Brea Grant comes back in a double roll – as co-writer of opening night SF identity comedy Madeleines, and to deliver the festival's virtual keynote address. At the closing end of the in-person event will be Residents of Arcadia, which Fonté described as "a film about immigrating, made in Canada by an Italian, so it's not the immigration you normally think about, but it's also about immigrating to a virtual world." In between, that recurrent theme of the perils of being an early adopter is highlighted in both centerpiece selections, augmented reality thriller Sight Extended and smart house chiller Dark Cloud. Fonté noted that both films are from first-time directors and both "deal with that technology issue of, 'Here's something new, I wanna try it,' and getting in over your head."
All those titles and more (including Defender of the Universe retrospective honoree, classic Eighties kids space adventure Flight of the Navigator) will be available to badge holders, whether they're watching everything at home or just want to catch up on what they missed at the movies. After all, Fonté said, "You can't be in three theatres at once." Or maybe someone just needs to work on cloning and time travel ...
Other Worlds Film Festival 2021, Galaxy Highland, 6700 Middle Fiskville, Dec. 2-5; streaming via Eventive, Dec. 6-12.
Passes and info at otherworldsfilmfest.com.