Film Preview: Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival 2023
By Peg Aloi
This is the event’s 48th year, making the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival the longest-running genre festival in the country.
Like many other film festivals, the beloved Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival found itself grappling with having to run a virtual festival during the pandemic. The event is happening in person this year, and it is also continuing to offer a virtual option. A number of ticket price levels are being made available for both in-person and online attendance by way of a virtual pass option. Regardless of where you sit, the program is full of treats for sci-fi and film buffs. 2023 marks the festival’s 48th year, making it the longest-running genre festival in the country.
The event kicks off tonight (February 15) at the majestic Somerville Theatre’s Crystal Ballroom with a clever gala theme: the Time Traveler’s Ball is a cosplay costume ball celebrating the 60-year anniversary of the classic science fiction series Dr. Who (which premiered on my birthday in 1963). Themed costumes are encouraged! (Daleks and phone booths, anyone?) But any costumes are welcome. Tickets are on sale for $50 on the festival website. In addition to the costume ball, Dr. Who is very much on tap at the festival this year, with a number of screenings and panels dedicated to the wildly popular series.
Some newer films being shown include the trippy soon-to-be-cult-classic All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, a feature debut by Alex Phillips, which premiered at Fantasia 2022. The film was an instant sensation among horror mavens, was acquired by Cinedigm after its festival premiere, and has screened on streaming services Screambox and Fandor. The 2022 documentary Beyond Tomorrow explores the futuristic vision of illustrator Roy Scarfo. Onur Turkel’s 2021 film That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes is a strange and dark urban story that follows in the footsteps of his pandemic comedy Scenes from an Empty Church. The festival also presents the East Coast premiere of the documentary It’s Quieter in the Twilight, about NASA’s longest-running space exploration project, Voyager.
Thursday night features an interactive event called “Robots: An Experiential Game,” which is a live version of a home-based VHS game based on the board game Clue. The long-forgotten VHS treasure was made in honor of a (similarly obscure) 1988 film based on Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel. The 1953 sci-fi novel was Asimov’s playful take on the classic detective. (Tickets are on sale for $15, available at BostonSciFi.com)
Of course one of the highlights of the festival has always been its 24-hour sci-fi movie marathon. Taking advantage of the holiday weekend, the marathon begins at noon on Sunday, February 19, and goes through noon on the 20th. The fest prides itself on presenting an outrageous marathon slate, a generous smorgasbord that includes cinematic masterpieces and absolute schlock, with plenty of oddball stuff in between. Stamina is the name of the game, though the theater sells plenty of great snacks and sugary beverages to keep you going.
This year’s marathon slate features 35mm and digital options, as well as memorial clips of artists who died in 2022, as well as sing-alongs and other surprises. The celluloid specials including Back to the Future 2 (1989) on 70mm, and 35mm screenings of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), 1985’s UFOria (starring Harry Dean Stanton, Cindy Williams and Fred Ward), Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), and post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror comedy Future-Kill (1985). There will be digital screenings of the 2022 breakout hit After Yang, 1954’s original Japanese version of Godzilla (Gojira), Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 sci-fi action hit Total Recall (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), Brad Anderson’s 1990 sci-fi romantic comedy Happy Accidents (staring Vincent D’Onofrio and Marisa Tomei), and Chris Marker’s iconic, influential La Jetée (1962) which inspired Terry Gilliam’s 1995 12 Monkeys.
Other film offerings outside of the marathon program include various cult classics, like the 1984 John Sayles film The Brother from Another Planet, starring Joe Morton as an alien who escapes his planet where he’s been enslaved. Because he looks like a Black human male, he tries to blend in on the streets of modern day Harlem. The campy black-and-white “atomic age” classic Fiend Without a Face (1954) is another must-see, merging themes of nuclear contamination, brain experiments, and evil scientists.
In addition to the many film screenings, there will be panels on Dr. Who and other fandoms, as well as on such industry topics as distribution, animating comics, and film podcasting. Whether you attend in person or virtually, the festival offers a few days’ worth of engaging content for sci-fi fans, spanning decades of sci-fi history and including some exciting new content.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Time, Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found on substack.