Even with the cosplay parties, technology seminars, and premieres of local and international sci-fi movies, the 2014 Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival couldn't help but begin over the weekend on somewhat of a blue note.
"When I was a kid, we were told there would be flying cars and colonies on Mars," festival co-founder Troy Bernier told Cultist outside the festival's screening room in the downtown Hyatt Regency. "And that was supposed to be in 2000, not 2014."
Like Bernier, fellow co-founder Eric Swain was a fan of a television program called Space 1999.
"On the show," Swain said wistfully, "September 13, 1999 is when the moon was supposed to be blown out of Earth's orbit."
Still, Swain was optimistic about what the next decade holds in store.
"Maybe we'll finally get that microchip in our head!"
Bernier nodded and said that Google is close to releasing a contact lens version of their Google Glass hardware. Indeed, the MiSciFi festival comes at an auspicious time, and not by accident.
Swain told us, "Well, it's easy to get filmmakers from out of town to join us in the winter time, and we picked a three-day weekend so we could fit in everything we had planned."
Inside the theater, a program of short-form documentaries was being shown to students from local schools. Topics ranged from Jane Goodall to ancient alchemists and a laboratory being built a mile below the ocean's surface on the edge of an active submarine volcano.
"Science fiction is where you might imagine science to be going," Swain said. "And when you start imagining, you start asking, 'How?' That's how we got into science."
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is an everyday thing now," Bernier added. "We have submarines that can spend months under water. Back then, we didn't imagine all the steps to get there but that's what science does, is figure that out."
Swain and Bernier first met 17 years ago as hydrologists at the US Geological Survey and, like their absent festival partner "Ed," are both scientists as well as filmmakers.
"Ed's running the machine," Bernier explained. Presumably, he meant the video projector but could have meant a drill that mines for kittenonium, a rare radioactive metal used to power YouTube.
If it was indeed a video projector, it was the same machine used to show The Botanist, a western-tinged steampunk thriller, and the comedy short Cooking with Venus, in which viewers of a intergalactic cooking show become a meal for the exotic beastie that is a main ingredient in the featured dish. There were also films from local artists, including a Miami-set vampire thriller called So Dark that may be reanimated as a television series if its creators have their way.
A panel discussion with South Florida sci-fi writers took festival attendees through the process of initial idea to finished novel or film. Jeff Carroll, the author of Thug Angel: Rebirth of a Gargoyle and who moonlights as a "hip-hop dating coach," explained the process of how he came up with his story of a thousand-year-old gargoyle who gets into a turf war with werewolves.
"I wasn't seeing a lot of diversity in street lit," he said. After publishing a novelization of his film Gold Digger Killer, he set out to write a novel that, one assumes, accurately reflected the way thousand-year-old vampires live alongside werewolves in today's melting pot cities and the tribulations that come along with that situation.
And Troy Bernier, one of the festival co-founders, gave a talk on using social media to promote films. Using Bernier's own analytics, the audience learned how the MiSciFi has been especially popular in New Caledonia due to targeted marketing and the presence of NI-28 Strate-1, a New Caledonia-set feature film in the festival lineup. Certainly, with Bradley Cooper's eyelash transplants having been harvested from New Caledonian indigenous persons, New Caledonia is set to be Hollywood's hottest locale and MiSciFi is using technology to stay ahead of the curve.
Time travel was a common theme throughout the festival. Festival co-founder Eric Swain certainly understands the appeal.
"When I was a child, the original version of the H.G. Wells Time Machine, I just locked onto that. Something about being able to watch the world change around you as you travel through time -- being in a spot and watching things change -- just got me."
Swain's father showed him how to make time lapse films with a 16mm camera and a young filmmaker was born. Now he and his festival partners are producing their own feature sci-fi film. They were mum on the subject matter but time travel seems like a safe bet.
"Of course, Einstein proved that time travel is possible," Swain said, "at least in one direction, by use of velocity. We're all actually traveling in time, at a constant speed. Time travel in science fiction is really just changing that speed. That's all there is to it."
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Just then, the mysterious machine operator Ed emerges from the theater, a driving cap pulled low over his eyes.
"Yes," he agrees. "Unless you have a flux capacitor."
To keep up with the Miami International Science Film Festival's year-round activities, visit MiSciFi.com.