Beyond the near-perfection of expensive methods by which to jack off our downtime, the current fulmination of entertainment technology has organically empowered the engines of speculative fiction. The sacred texts of restless kids and discontented geeks for most of the last half-century, sci-fi culture (broadly defined as it is) now rules over our various frequencies. It’s not going too far to state that there are probably more outer-limit Web sites pulsing through the wires right now than there have been regular periodicals published in the history of mankind, and with every minute, our accelerated-particle proximity with the techno-nuts futures we’ve been dreaming about since Bikini Atoll is inducing a collective phantasia.
Broadcaster and Web colonizer both, the Sci-Fi Channel is merely a symptom, and it’s no surprise that its first film festival, augmented heavily by online material and donating all profits to the Independent Feature Project, needed to dig deep into the garden for artifacts that hadn’t already been overscreened, analyzed, and co-opted. (Programmed movies aren’t the only attraction: The SFC people have also erected “an interactive screening environment created by renowned designers Filmschool and BIG Room,” featuring a multiscreen barrage of sci-fi clips and images.) Rarely seen shorts, many taken from the channel’s Exposure series, are one of the ways to beat the clock; of the highlights here, you think you’d need to see Tim Burton’s Vincent (as in Price), an adoring tribute to the rotten psychotronic thesp whom Burton holds so close, like so much other childhood dross, to his heart. Jim Gillespie’s Joy Ride and Peter Besson’s Accident are fun, nasty résumé shorts enjoyable for their brevity, but a few Alex Proyas selections raise the bar on everybody, particularly his 1980 student film Groping, a stop-motion nighttime shiver that makes you wish some filmmakers would stick to shorts forever.
Among the features, Geoffrey Wright’s half-parody of teen-slasher movies Cherry Falls and the hagiographic doc The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick come with cachet, but surely the prize—in terms of giving the arcana-seeking subcults what they want, at least—is the newly rediscovered 1965 freakazoid Incubus, a medieval-style morality play written and directed by The Outer Limits‘ Leslie Stevens, shot in Big Sur by Conrad Hall, and starring a pre-Kirk William Shatner as a soldier fending off the spiteful ambitions of beautiful blond demon Allyson Ames. Never released in the U.S., Stevens’s bizarre labor of love was the first film made entirely in Esperanto; the cast’s phonetic readings make it sound like an Italo-Czech mismating—or one of those satanic languages screenwriters used to make up for movies just like this one. For Shatner, bless him, it seemed as if it were mousse melting in his mouth; for the rest of us, there’s a luxury no one got in 1965: subtitles.