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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #12: The Boston Science Fiction Film Festival
by Jay Seaver

For many years, this has been a "festival" in name only, as naming your event a film festival makes it easier to procure hard-to-find prints. To its attendees, it is known variously as SF/x (the upcoming 2005 edition will be SF/30) or simply "The Marathon".

That is changing, however, as prints of older films become more scarce and the movies themselves are more available on home video. Over the past couple years, the focus of the marathon has shifted to include more recent, foreign and independent films, although "classics" (both legitimate, cult, and questionable) are still the eventís bread and butter. Also, this year, in addition to the Marathon, the festival will also include an opening ceremony and screening, as well as a closing awards ceremony and screening.

This has necessitated some changes to the schedule. In previous years, the marathon has started at noon on Sunday and finished at noon on Monday (Presidentís Day); in order to accommodate travel time for out-of-town attendees, the marathon will run noon Saturday through noon Sunday, with the opening night screening Friday night and the awards ceremony on Sunday night.

Where it is: Boston area (Somerville), Massachusetts

When: Presidentís Day weekend, noon Saturday to noon Sunday; note that after 2005 the schedule may be shifted again to prevent conflicts with BOSKONE, a regional science fiction convention.

Expense: $40 if one registers before December 31st (includes opening and closing events); $45 thereafter (opening and closing events require separate admission).

Number of films screened:: About a dozen.

Value for money:: Hey, the price tag includes not only twenty-four hours of movies, but also a marathon pencil and an atomic fireball, which tradition dictates the entire audience pops as "Duck Dodgers" begins at noon. Also, there are generally enough door prizes to go around.

What you'll see: Twenty-four consecutive hours of science-fiction movies, generally starting with "Duck Dodgers" and a recent Hollywood hit and ending with a preview or "rediscovery" of some sort. In between, there is generally a recent Godzilla movie, several chosen specifically as "so bad theyíre good", and a few chapters of a serial. Occasionally a silent with live musical accompaniment will be featured. It can be pretty tough sledding during the late-night hours, so you might want to bring a pillow if thereís schlock running at 2 AM. Organizer Garen Daly also generally organizes the schedule so that most hard-R movies will run between 10 P.M. and 4 A.M., as many original Marathoners are now bringing their kids.

Celebrity-spotting: There are occasionally guests, but itís not a yearly thing. The event has its own cast of characters, though.

Venue: SF/30 will be held at the Somerville Theater. Though this theater is primarily a second-run theater, the main auditorium is actually one of the largest in the Boston area and is frequently used for other purposes, be they concerts or first-run Bollywood films. This marks a return to the Somerville, where the marathon spent three years (SF/12-14) after the loss of Cambridgeís Orson Welles Theater (the event was originally named "It Came From the Orson Welles"). Between stints at the Somerville, the marathon was held at the Coolidge Corner Theater (SF/15-28) and the Dedham Community Theater (SF/29). So far, there has been no definitive word as to whether Somerville is the new permanent location.

Accommodation: The Boston area has plenty of accommodations, from B&Bs to downtown and airport hotels. Of course, youíll be spending one night in the theater.

Transport: The Somerville Theater is located in Davis Square, fairly close to state routes 16 and 2A. Itís best to avoid driving in Boston if at all possible, though, especially since there is not much parking near the theater. Take the Red Line to Davis Square; the theater is literally steps from the subway exit.

Restaurants: Davis Square has a few nice places for eating; the rub being that you canít exactly plan ahead Ė film times are not announced ahead of the event, so the movie that you really donít mind missing for dinner might not be playing until 2:45am, when nothing is open.

Parties: Redundant. The Marathon is a party, a twenty-four binge of science-fiction films good and bad. Itís been attended by many of the same people for years, including such groups as the "Martian Liberation Organization" dressed in red camouflage (think about it). Talking back to the screen is frequently encouraged, especially during the bombs. There are about a dozen little rituals that may throw newbies, but most catch on fairly quickly.

What needs fixing: Somerville will be the marathonís third location in as many years, and many people took the stability of the Coolidge for granted (there is, among some regulars, some lingering resentment toward the Coolidge board of directors). The DCT was a nice place, but not really suited to the marathon, since the audience had to be split between two theaters and there were numerous framing problems with the projection (partially attributed to the projectionist not being used to Academy Ratio films).

Your Mileage May Vary: Iíve been going for a few years, and the Marathon currently seems to be very much in flux, in ways that are pleasing to some regulars and not to others. Every year, for instance, seems to bring a new round of complaints that there arenít enough movies from the fifties, or the seventies, or too many recent ones, or too many with subtitles, and whatís this I hear about anime even being discussed? from some segment of the audience. Usable prints for older movies Ė especially B-movies Ė are getting harder to find, though, so the shift toward more recent (but often under-appreciated) films is somewhat inevitable.

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for ďBostonís Other MarathonĒ: B, but thatís an average. There are some moments that are the highlight of my moviegoing year, and others that are, quite frankly, naps.

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for SF/30: We shall see.....

For more information on the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, jump to The Official Website (and join in the discussion)

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originally posted: 12/10/04 07:57:52
last updated: 12/13/04 02:23:46
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