Festival: SFW 9

Venue: Camp SFW, North Wales

Date: 23 - 25 March 2018


Have you ever seen an advert for a TV programme or a film and thought, WOW! that looks great!  Well that's exactly how I felt when I saw the advert for SFW 9 on the screens at one of the HRH festivals.  The advert kind of made the event look a bit like a comic-con but better, so not having been to one of those before, I really wasn't sure what to expect.

So just 2 weeks after we'd been down to not so sunny old Wales for the annual HRH AOR festival, we found ourselves hitting the road once more for SFW 9.  Given the time of year, the journey down wasn't too bad, and as we had a wander around the site and down to check out lay of the land and where everything was, and it was great to see so many folks already getting in the spirit of things and already in costume.  

The festival started officially for us on the Friday as we headed on down to reception to collect our wristbands early morning.  The first thing we noticed was even though it was only 10 am in the morning, the whole area down by reception and the two main arenas was bustling with people already.  Luckily for us as well as our wristbands we'd also been handed a free souvenir programme, which told you who was doing what, where and when.  This was a fantastic help as in addition to the signing areas, there were another 6 areas around the site with things going on, and that wasn't including the entertainment that was happening outside either!  Wow indeed!  With so much to see it soon became apparent we'd not manage to make it all so checked down the list and quickly identified the things we were most excited about seeing and went from there.

Unlike the HRH festivals here where generally everything is happening in one of the two arenas, as there were so many different things going on all over the site, all the time, no where felt too crowded, which was just as well given the size and shapes of some of the costumes we saw over the course of the weekend, our own included! 

Each of the locations was given a sci-fi sounding name, which took us a little while to get used to given we were used to calling them by their HRH festival names.  We had the Main Void, which was basically the Main Arena.  There was Spaceport, which we know better as Bonga Wonga.  There was Timeport which was the big area up next to the Mash & Barrel. The Sci-Fi TV Screening Zone was a cinema located just along from the Spa shop near the Mash & Barrel.  There was things going on in the Owner's Lounge and also in Starbucks, plus as mentioned before, signings at the rear of the Main Void. 

We spent most of Friday morning mouching about the various locations and scoping out what was in each of them, as well as making a number of purchases from the various sci-fi markets that were about.  Before grabbing some lunch and heading back for what would be the highlight of the weekend for us both, an interview with Spyros Melaris.  Now if that name doesn't mean a thing to you fear not, it meant nothing to us up to this point until we found out he was the actual creator and director of the Alien Autopsy film.  Remember years ago there was this global phenomena where some guy claimed to have discovered some footage of a real alien autopsy?  For years folks talked about whether it was real or not, well sadly I have to say, it was indeed a hoax and it was Spyros Melaris who's the blame for it.

The interview in the Main Void with him was only an hour long and absolutely flew over, it really was that interesting, I could have easily sat there and listened to him all day.  What a thoroughly engaging and interesting chap Mr Melaris turned out to be.  Talking us through how it all started to how they went about creating the alien body and autopsy setting, right through to what happened when it beamed out across the TV's worldwide and what's happened since then.  Whether you're interested in the film, interested in the possibility of aliens existing, or just interested in model making, the details that came out over the course of that hour were phenomenal.  Hearing all the different details of what they had to consider and do in order to make the film as believable as possible I found particularly interesting, especially given the time at which this was all taking place and that it was more a case of special effects and a lot of very careful planning of every element of it prior to shooting.  

The weekend could have ended there and I would have still felt it had been worth attending just for that talk alone.  If you get the chance to catch one of the talks given by this guy be sure to check him out.  Fascinating is an understatement when it comes to what he has to tell you.

Next up on our agenda was another talk in the Main Void, this time by the legendary Scottish actor Ken Stott.  Now I know this guy was billed as being in The Hobbit, but really that's just such an understatement as he's been a staple actor on the TV for many years, as well as starred in a number of films on the big screen and in theatre productions.  Over the course of the next hour he shared tales of what it was like to work on The Hobbit, as well as his life in general as an actor over the years, and about some of the TV programmes he's worked on such as Rebus.  For such an accomplished actor, he came across as very down to earth with a very dry sense of humour and was very respectful of the interviewer and the audience who had gathered in the room specifically to listen to his interview.

Making it three in a row we stayed in the Main Void for the next interview, which was with someone who seemed particularly popular with a lot of the younger ladies in the crowd.  I'm talking of course about Andrew Lee Potts, the young heart-throb star of Primeval.  Whether he realised when he took the role of Connor Temple just what effect he would have on the female teenage population of the UK I don't know, but I think a lot of young fillies would say forget Twilight, we want a man with his own pet Dragon!  Ok so it wasn't really a dragon, it was actually a flying dinosaur but you get my drift.  Young, quirky and immensely funny he came across as someone who still couldn't quite believe his luck with how popular the show Primeval was, although it turns out it's been a bit of a double edged sword, as although he's been kept busy with TV programmes and films over the years, considering how popular that show was, you'd have expected someone else to have snapped him up for much bigger things by now.  This is a young man with a lot of potential for another big hit, so perhaps the casting couch brigade should take more than a fleeting look at him for potential roles in future. 

It was really interesting to hear how they filmed some of the shows in Primeval and then CGI'd in the dinosaurs (what they weren't real? I hear you ask).  One tale in particular had the audience in stitches as he described a scene they were shooting in a large shopping mall where they had to pretend to be running away from a huge dinosaur while a member of the crew chased after them with a big pole and a cone on the top with eyes stuck on it so they knew where to look for where the dinosaurs head would be when it was CGI'd in.  They way he described it was hilarious and you could really imagine how it must have looked to them.  Needless to say he said he couldn't keep a straight face and just act with this cone on a pole swinging about above him so in the end they ditched that and just acted it out as it there was something chasing them.  Also being big fans of the series Ideal with Johnny Vegas, it was really interesting to hear how that came about and what it was like to work with him.  Again the interview was an hour long but flew over.

At this point we'd reached tea-time and were feeling peckish so decided to grab something to eat before we headed over to the Timeport for a session with Geoff Portas, who was billed to talk about his work on the film Hellraiser as an effects artist on prosthetics and the art of horror. We turned up to find an empty venue as it turned out he'd not made the event and so his talk would not be going ahead.  Shame as we're fans of Hellraiser and were looking forward to hearing what he had to say about it.  We had a mouch about the stalls in the area and settled ourselves down for the next event in Timeport, the Jedi Fight Club with Andrew Lawden. Now I should perhaps add at this point that I wanted to sign up for this, but my Hubby said definitely not as it was just for kids, so in the end I didn't, although after watching it I wish I had!  

An actor in his own right with over 20 years experience working in the theatre, on TV and in movies, Andrew found his niche when he stepped in a stunt double for Liam Neelson in The Phantom Menace, who was playing the Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn at the time.  Part of role required him to learn how to use a lightsaber, hence where the Jedi Fight Club comes in. During the session a group of around 20 volunteers of all ages (including adults grrr) learned how to stand in the various positions of battle like a Jedi, how to hold their lightsabers (which glowed in the dark!!! Ohhh pretty!) right through to a mini mock fight between good and evil.  It was great to see so such a good mix of both male and female participants and also the age range as well, as it showed this type of fun is not just for kids and would actually be ideal in an adult only setting for a special occasion.  Hell who wouldn't want a Jedi Fight Club at their wedding even, now that would be a talking point!  

Everyone who took part looked like they were having oodles of fun and even the people like us who were watching from the audience thoroughly enjoyed watching this session.  If you ever get the chance to sign up for one of these sessions do, it really isn't just for kids, it's for big kids too who never want to grow up :)

After a fun packed first day and knowing we wanted to be up early in the morning to catch the second Aline Autopsy talk, we decided to call it quits and headed back for the night.

Saturday started in great style as Spyros Melaris had a second session, this time in Spaceport, to answer questions from the audience and to reveal more about the greatest hoax of our time. After providing so much information the previous day I wasn't sure how good this would be as there really didn't seem much else to talk about.  How wrong I was!  There were loads of really great questions posed to him by members of the audience and in addition to that he also shared some tales of people he'd met after the release of the film including a medium who claimed to be in touch with the Alien in the spirit world!  Wow, how talented was she considering it was just a dummy! By the end of the session, which again flew over way too quickly, I was really pleased they'd included this second session as there wasn't enough time after the first one to do a Q&A, so this second session rounded off a lot of questions people had in response to what had been discussed the previous day.  

After that we took a bit of time to have a look at the Dalek collection and the Retro Gaming collection (some of which we actually still have ourselves) and to take photo's of some of the fabulous costumes people were wearing both inside Spaceport and outside in the communal area.  They were truly outstanding and the thought and effort that had gone into the creation of some of the costumes was amazing.  Whether 5 years old or 65 years old, there were loads of people dressed up in every character imaginable and a few more besides.  Not one person refused a photo, which I always asked in advance if it was OK to take just in case.  I guess that's the beauty of being on a holiday park like this, you can dress up as whatever you want and no one other than a group of like-minded people are going to see you, so you don't need to worry about getting hassles by any passing yobs.  

Another thing that I really enjoyed was the vast array of stalls dotted throughout both Spaceport and Timeport which sold a wide variety of geek related merch at largely reasonable prices. In addition to this there were  stalls that were both selling but also demonstrating how to make different cosplay items with their construction kits.  There were also some stalls that included film and TV props for sale, or even professional wasteland ware. Some of the pieces of display and for sale were quite stunning and would make great statement pieces for a geek or film buffs house.

We managed to catch some of Tom Paten's interview about his new film, which was interesting. before heading back to Spaceport to check out the work of some of the artists who've worked on the 2000AD magazine and to watch people whack the living daylists out of ewoks on the Ewok-a-Mole game.  

We watched the Cosplay Judging which took a lot longer than we thought as even more people in fabulous costumes came out of every nook and cranny that room had to offer.  In fact there were so many people packed into the room at one point they were having to turn folks away at the door as they just couldn't fit any more in.  

After the cosplay judging we headed back across to the Main Void and were lucky enough to catch most of the interview with Ross Mullan, which was both interesting and hilarious in parts as he shared tales of his time working on Dr Who, Game of Thrones and Clash of the Titans.  He's might have a really serious face to look at him, but deep down his has an impish sense of glee and just lite up the stage with his flamboyant descriptions of events that took place. 

After having viewed the works of some of the artists behind the 2000AD magazine. the next event in the Main Void was a panel interview with four of the artists to discuss the life of Judge Dredd and more.  For what might seem like quite a dry subject it was actually really interesting.

Next up was more light relief in the form of the hilarious version of Just a Minute, which even included a rather tiddly Jonni Davis on the panel! What can I say, it was madness, it was mayhem, it was bloody good fun to watch!  We headed back to our lodge for a quick bite to eat and a costume change before heading back to the Main Void for the Cosplay Finals.  

Now given that this was our first SFW, we had no idea just how packed or popular this would be and given we're regular HRH event goers, we never dreamed it would be laid out in quite the manner it was.  The whole of the lower level was seated in rows, but also the top area was fully seated with tables and chairs.  Great idea I hear you say, well yes, but only if you knew this in advance and had come in early, as although we arrived before the session was due to start, we had a job getting in and even got scolded (yes scolded) by some folks for obstructing their view even though we were standing at the side, which resulted in us being asked to stand in the entrance to the toilet area near the bar by the security staff!  So basically we and a few others who arrived after us, ended up more out of the room than in it and with next to no view of what was going on at all.  

After such a great and relaxed atmosphere the rest of the weekend this put a bit of a smudge on our overall enjoyment and when we saw people weren't moving on after the finals, we discovered there wasn't going to be any room for us (and the folks who were crammed behind us) to stay for the remainder of the evening. So we left the Main Void and headed back to the Spaceport where we thought thinks were supposed to be happening as well.  We hung around for what seemed like ages, although it probably was only about 20 minutes and nothing seemed to be happening so we decided to call it a day.  A shame as we really wanted to see some of the acts that were due on in the main void later that day.  However, we'd had a great weekend overall and were not about to let this little hiccup of perhaps too many tickets being sold ruin it for us.

Overall this was a fabulous event with so much to see and do you were spoilt for choice.  The location felt very safe so if you wanted to dabble with cosplay you could without fear of any hassle.  The merch stalls were fabulous and had something to offer that would appeal to most. The talks were great and the guests gave a real insight into what it's like working in their respective worlds. There was plenty to keep the younger attendees occupied as well, which must be a huge bonus for any parent who wants to attend these things but doesn't want to have to spend a fortune paying for things to keep them entertained once they get there.  We also learnt what a Flamboyant Potato is, which was something very new and unexpected for us.

Would we do it again?  You bet ya, bring it on!

Review & Photo's by: Little Linda  




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