The SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival has been running on over a decade, with the promise of being the Science Fiction festival for people who don’t like science fiction. It has made its name being a great location for original, fascinating, little known and imaginative titles to get an audience who’ll appreciate them and help spread the word. Now they have thrown their hats into the ring of production with the first film produced by the festival, The Search for Simon, a low budget sci-fi dramedy. The end result is a charming little love letter of a film to all fans, dreamers and enthusiasts, showing the escapism the genre offers.
David Jones (Martin Gooch) is a man on a mission… the same one he’s been on for nearly 34 years. When he was seven, his brother Simon was lost. His father told him that he was taken away by aliens. So David spends his time (and lottery winnings) looking for evidence, trying to find some proof of what happened to Simon, and possibly a way to get him back… much to the annoyance of his Mum (Carol Cleveland), his friends, his therapists and many others.
For a low budget production, this film accomplishes a lot. Director Martin Gooch admitted to casting himself in the lead “because it was cheap”, but it does mean that he could use a lot of footage shot on his journeys to various film festivals with his previous feature Death to give the film a much bigger scope. This is guerrilla filmmaking at its best, achieving a lot on a little. For example, fans of sci-fi, especially British shows, will have a great time spotting all the actors and faces from the field who turn up. There’s Sophie Aldred (Ace from classic Doctor Who), Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Tom Price (Torchwood) and Simon Jones (The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). There are even a few names from behind the scenes, like a cameo from Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop co-creator Ian Livingstone. All of these names chip in well, bringing a lot to even small roles of one or two scenes.
The whole thing is very well written, with a wonderfully dry sense of humour. As you might expect, the comedy is of a very dialogue driven, traditionally British nature. It pokes a bit of fun at traditional UFO lore and many a sci-fi trope, but never in a condescending way, it’s definitely a labour of love. The storyline of the film can be a bit episodic, but when it leads to plenty of good scenes like his interview for the highly secretive organisation B.A.S.T.A.R.D.D., that’s no bad thing. It’s very strongly character based, with David having quite the arc to go through on his journey. Indeed, the films’ biggest strength is that alongside the laughs, it’s able to deliver quite a moving drama too, and balance the two well. There are surprises and areas the story goes into that a lesser film may not be able to recover from or fit into the rest, but the sheer charm and soul that goes into this one keeps things sailing smooth.
The Search for Simon is something very unique. It’s able to go from near Python-esque humour and wordplay, to kitchen-sink drama, to fanboy pleasing references (one shout out to the video game Portal is a highlight) to even something genuinely moving. The goal of the SCI-FI-LONDON festival was to demonstrate the width and flexibility of the genre, both to established fans and to those who usually don’t think that science fiction is their thing. The Search for Simon continues that trend perfectly, giving a pleasing character study on the one hand, and a silly, star-gazing romp both at the same time. The fact its’ made for about an episode of modern Doctor Who’s catering budget makes it all the more impressive, and while the lack of funds may occasionally be seen, it’s never an issue, the sheer charm of the film carries it through. Highly recommended to anyone, fan or not. You don’t need to know what a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster is (or where it’s from) to enjoy this, but it just might help.