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UI professors to host science-fiction film conference

BY JORDAN MONTGOMERY | APRIL 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Science fiction is a genre that means entertainment to most. But two assistant professors at the University of Iowa studying the subject will hold a conference to explore how science-fiction filmmakers use futuristic settings to comment on current world issues.

The Visions of the Future: Global Science Fiction Cinema Conference will begin today at 10 a.m. in the Iowa City Public Library Room A, 123 S. Linn St., and will run through the weekend in various locations. The event will conclude with a film screening of "Sleep Dealer" in the Bijou at 9 p.m. April 15. All events are free and open to the public.

Assistant Professors Sarah Ann Wells and Jennifer Feeley of the Division of World Languages, Literature, & Cultures noticed that science-fictions films were being studied through a very narrow scope.

"There doesn't seem to be any book on global science-fiction cinema," Feeley said. "There is a lot of work on U.S. cinema, and to a lesser extent, Japanese cinema."

The pair hadn't seen a book that looked at science fiction in its various mutations around the world, so they have decided to edit their own. But before they sat down to write, one of the first steps was to start a conversation.

"We thought that before we got to the point of making such a book, it would be nice to bring together a variety of scholars and have this conference so we can have some kind of dialogue," Feeley said.

Along with science-fiction film screenings, the Visions of the Future will feature six panels, each with between three and five scholars.

"We have people from all over the U.S. and Canada," Wells said. "From graduate students to full professors and everyone in between. A lot of them are big names in science fiction, so we were really excited with the response we got."

The conference will bring in speakers who are well-known in the field.

"Beyond the chance to see three really cool movies, being able to hear the keynote speakers and other panelists talk will be great," said Eric Hansen, a junior at the UI and a student of Well's and Feeley's. "I'm blown away by the people this conference was able to bring in; there are some really pre-eminent speakers coming, so there's no limit to what I'll be able to take away from it."

Science-fiction conferences are not unheard of in the United States, but Visions of the Future's narrow focus sets it apart from others.

"We're not the first ones, but it's not super common," Wells said. "Especially a conference focusing on global science fiction in film — I haven't ever seen a conference like this before."

The genre is a way to think about potential problems our world is facing. Wells and Feeley co-teach a class at the UI, and many of its themes are closely related to those that will be covered at this weekend's conference. Topics regularly covered in their class are globalization, biometrics and surveillance, migration, reproduction control, and environmental disaster.

"Looking at these films from where we don't expect science fiction coming from allows us to see how different places in the world are dealing with social issues," Feeley said. "We can choose to look at these films as purely entertainment, but they can teach us about such larger things. They give us a starting point for discussing these world problems."


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