Interview: Dan Abella (Founder, Philip K. Dick International Film Festival)

The 1st Philip K. Dick International Film Festival is to promote original or adapted material inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Robert Anton Wilson, Franz Kafka and others who have explored the metaphysical, the eerie in all its manifestations. The aim of the festival is to push the cinematic form to new levels of creativity and originality without sacrificing  narrative cohesion and with an eye to the ineffable. We look at films that challenge the viewers reality  with ideas and concepts not normally found in conventional stories.

A variety of competitive awards are available, including Best Dramatic, Best Science Fiction Feature, Best Web Series, Best Trailer, and Best Documentary, among others.

Confirmed films for the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival include the festival hit ‘The Last Push‘ starring Alien’s Lance Henriksen, Tribeca selection ‘First Winter‘ from Benjamin Dickinson, and ‘Radio Free Albemuth‘ starring Alanis Morrissette and ‘Twilight”s Ashley Greene.

We managed to chat with the festival founder Dan Abella to discuss the Dec 7-9 event, as well as the state of science fiction in New York City and the differences between Philip K. Dick and other prominent figures in the field of science fiction and the metaphysics.

But Tickets for The 1st Philip K. Dick International Film festival – HERE

TRAILER – The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival from Isaiah Everin on Vimeo.

Personally, what is it about the genre of science fiction and/or the study of metaphysics that made you want to organize the festival?
My father was a self taught man who studied philosophy and metaphysics.  This made me very interested in science and the stories.  As a young man I remember seeing the original ‘The Fly‘ with Vincent Price and it made a very deep impression me.  I knew from then on I wanted to study science and physics.

Do you have an educational background in science?
Yes, I graduated from Columbia University where I studied sciences.

When did your interest in the author Philip K Dick start?
I was always interested in Jorge Luis Borges, who was an Argentine metaphysics writer and I remember reading a review about Ursulla Le Quin where she said that Philip K. Dick is our own Borges so I started reading him and I was hooked, especially towards his later work.  I feel like this is where he strayed from more traditional science fiction into more philosophy, agnosticism and parallel realities.  It left a deep impression on me to the point that my last feature ‘The Last Equation‘ had several references to Philip K. Dick.

How would you differentiate an author like Philip K. Dick to, let’s say, a science fiction author like Ray Bradbury?
Philip K. Dick tends to be much darker.There are commonalities and idiosyncratic reasons one may prefer Philip K. Dick over Bradbury.  For me it is the agnostic references and his way of dealing with the questions of technological advancement in an ever complicating world.

Do you have a personal favorite Philip K. Dick film adaptation? I am a big fan of ‘Blade Runner’, but I have to say that I think my favorite is ‘A Scanner Darkly’.
A Scanner Darkly‘ was good, although I could have done without the Roboscoping.  The story is complicated enough (laugh).  Despite some legal problems the estate is having with the producers though ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘ is very good actually.  A really nice adaptation.  Then there is obviously the classic film ‘Blade Runner‘, even though there are differences between the film and the short story.  What Hollywood tends to overlook is the introspective aspect of his writing.  They seem to focus on the action and the technology but if you familiar with the writing it is mostly characters thinking and internal conflict, interacting in a very lo-fi world.  It definitely is not Tom Cruise jumping from one place to another.

So you have been a filmmaker?
When I was at Columbia I was a member of the filmmakers club and over the years I have written some screenplays.  Around 2000 I began to seriously devoting myself to film as a way of telling my stories.  I studied at the NYU accelerated film program and also at SVA.  I wrote and directed about a dozen shorts and then in 2005 I started on ‘The Final Equation‘.  We shot it in Super 16mm and had it edited by 2009.  There are some definite disadvantages to shooting on film in this modern age but I truly appreciate that grainy texture and quality to the image which one cannot get on a mini DV or digital camera.

All of these projects are routed in science fiction?
Yes, they are rooted in science AND fiction AND technology.  They have a basis in futuristic science and real science as well.  Each short has some kind of exposition where we talk about the science itself and the science behind the characters motivations.  My first short was based around the idea of magical realism, but they all have that element of thriller combined with science.

Since this is the first of what is going to be an annual festival.  How long has the idea of of the festival been circulating around in your mind?
About three years.  We had a trial run last year at the Millennium which was a one evening screening of films and we did pretty well so we decided to go for the three day festival.  The thing with the festival is that we are borderlined between science and science fiction so this is something I want to explore.  We have various panels including UCONN physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett who is working on a way to send particles back in time.  Another panel is one of African American science fiction writer at the Museum of the Moving Image.  Finally, we also have a panel on the UFO experience featuring some very respected writers talking about the UFO phenomenon.  These panels fall perfectly in our festival frame.  I mean, we don’t really know what’s going on out there but we know something is going on and I want to explore this.

What did you find to be the most difficult part of organizing the festival?
The attention to the tiny details that make a big difference in running a festival.  We had a good group of people and then after the Hurricane many couldn’t stay on board since they were affected by the disaster.  Delegating specific tasks is also difficult.  Sometimes people tend to get overwhelmed by the overall experience so you have to assign very specific tasks.  It’s a challenge but it’s part of the process of running a festival.  The logistics are very important.  The key thing is that when people come to the festival they leave with an impression and come back year after year.  I am focused on the filmmakers and the audience having an overall experience.  Something more interactive then just screenings.

What criteria were you looking at when reviewing submissions for the festival?
That they deal with the themes that Philip K. Dick explored, like the influence of technology on humanity and how that humanity reacts.  I tend to focus more on introspective, dark stories rather then very flashy films.  Although, in all fairness we do have several films that are 100% pure film.  We have zombie film ‘Juan of the Dead’ and another one about gigantic spiders, but then we also have very deep and exploratory science fiction.  We want to have a nice balance and not overwhelm people with too much philosophy.  One thing we stay away from is gratuitous violence that passes for science fiction sometimes.  I would rather focus on real provocative films.

So, in other words, you would rather focus on a “thinking” film as opposed to the exploitation side of the genre?
Right, I would like to void that very much.  This is why this is primarily a sci-fi festival.  We do have some supernatural themes but it is grounded in sci-fi.

What is your ultimate vision for the festival?  Do you want it to be a nice annual destination to showcase the films or do you see it growing into a major stop on the sci-fi literary circuit?
The latter is more of what we would like to do.  We are talking with the science fiction society and possibly in the future we could have a series of ‘Best Philip K. Dick Adaptation’ Awards for example.  I would also like to see it as a literary center and have more writers appear.  I guess I would like to make it more of a convention, so we have films but also writers and content creators.  Also, we would like to include cutting edge scientists to present some of their research since their are plenty of them out there.  Realistically though, a lot of the growth of the festival will depend on the support of our fans and the support of our sponsors going forward.

What is the prominence of the New York City science fiction community?  Does this even exist?  Is there a scene for metaphysical science in this city?
That’s a really good question.  Since New York is such a big and diverse town there is a science fiction community but its not necessarily unified.  If you look at other towns like London, which has a similar construction, they have a London sci-fi film festival which is extremely popular.  I think we are generally the only ones doing science fiction on the festival circuit here but reaching and getting to know people makes me confident in coming support for our endeavor.














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